Important Behavioral Development Milestones In Childhood

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Parenthood can be an exciting prospect for those who are expecting, and many can't wait to welcome their bundles of joy into the world to love, cherish, and guide through the journey that is life. For parents who have already delivered, they are going through this process right now and maybe already are well aware of the joys and rewards of having a child.

Parenthood comes with many responsibilities, however, and one of those major responsibilities is making sure that your child is receiving the best quality of care and is developing to the same extent and at a similar pace as their peers, both physically and mentally. That being said, it can be difficult to know what to expect as your child grows up, especially if you have no other children to compare them to in terms of their behavior.

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Fortunately, we know a significant amount when it comes to what to expect from our children as they hit important milestones and develop into their individuals. If you are an expecting parent or you are already a parent who is curious about your child's progress and where they should be given their current age group, let's walk through the various behavioral development milestones that you should expect to see as your little one matures!

Age Two To Three Months

Babies are well-known for being adorable and fascinating, and you will start to notice that your child is developing their personalities, likes, and behaviors at a very early age. Starting at as young as two to three months, babies will start to showcertain behavioral traits and signs that they are beginning to develop mentally, such as:

  • Smiling at people
  • Calming themselves (often with their hands)
  • Using coos or gurgling sounds like a form of communication
  • Learning to recognize faces and respond accordingly
  • Acting bored when they are engaged in a certain activity for too long

As with any type of development, progress will continue, and it is important that you treat each step as an opportunity to further engage with your child so that they are prepared for further development as they grow older. In the case of babies around this age, some recommended things to do with your child to make sure that they are on track include:

  • Talking and playing with your baby during feeding, changing, bathing, or any other activity
  • Continue teaching your child how to calm themselves (it is okay if they use their fingers and hands to do so, just make sure to clean them to prevent your baby from getting sick regularly)
  • Setting routines for your baby to help them learn how to stick to a regular schedule
  • Taking the time to learn more about what your baby likes and doesn't like
  • Acting excited when your baby makes noises and sounds
  • Using a mix of normal language and copying baby noises (also, talking, reading, and singing to your baby is recommended)
  • Playing games with your baby like hide-and-seek
  • Placing a safe mirror in front of your baby

Each of these activities will serve to spur development and keep them on the right path to the next set of expected behaviors.

Your Baby: Age Four Months

At the incredible age of just four months, babies have undergone an immense amount of behavioral growth. Children in this age group will often start to exhibit behaviors such as:

  • Smiling more and spontaneously (this will often happen in the presence of other people)
  • Wanting to and enjoying playtime more than previously (crying when play stops)
  • Learning to copy facial expressions like frowning or smiling
  • Babbling rather than using cooing or other sounds
  • Copying sounds that are heard
  • Learning to cry in different ways to express certain needs
  • Starting to display a wider range of emotions
  • Responding to affection given to them
  • Recognizing people and places familiar to them and reacting accordingly

As with the previous age bracket, you should seek to pursue the same activities that we recommended for two- and three-month-olds. The only recommendation that differs from the previous section is to engage in more play with your child to improve both mental and motor skills.

Your Baby: Age Six Months

After another two months pass, you will start to see some of the previous behaviors begin to progress and your child will start moving into more complex behaviors as their mental skills improve and their brains start to develop more. When your child reaches the six-month milestone, you can expect to see the following behaviors.

  • Babies will begin to recognize familiar faces easily and will start to be able to distinguish people they know from strangers
  • Your baby will like to play with you more and will start to like playing with others
  • You will see your baby start to respond more to the emotions of other people (luckily, your baby will generally be in a happy mood)
  • Your baby will like to look at themselves in the mirror
  • Language skills will start improving as you will hear your baby responds to sounds with sounds, will start pairing vowels together, will start sounding out their first consonants, and will use more of these sounds to express their emotions
  • Your baby will start responding to their name
  • Curiosity will begin to manifest during this period, and your baby will try to get a hold of things and learn more about them

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Because curiosity is peaking and the brain is developing during this period, you will want to continue with your usual routine but will want also to make sure that you are starting to teach your baby about the world around them. This is especially fun for them if you use a book or a toy to do so!

Your Baby: Age Nine Months

Nine months can be an exciting milestone as you are almost ready to celebrate your child's first birthday. Over the past three months, you can expect your child to have developed quite a bit, and the many behaviors you previously took note of will have evolved and grown more noticeable by now. Here are some of the behaviors you can expect in this age bracket.

  • Recognition skills will have developed to the point that your child may be afraid of strangers and may become very clingy with adults that they do know
  • They will start to discover their likes and dislikes further, especially when it comes to things like toys and other objects
  • They will start to understand the meaning of the word “no” (although they may not always respond favorably to it)
  • Their babbling will become much more complex to signal their emotions and to try to communicate with those around them
  • They will start to copy the sounds and body language of others
  • Your child will start to take notice of things and point at them
  • They will better understand the mechanics of play, move around more, and interact more with different things (watch out as this is often the time when they start putting everything in their mouth!)

As things will have changed rapidly since the previous milestone, there are a few more ways that you can ensure your child is keeping up with their development. Here are some of the most notable that stand out from the six-month milestone.

  • Now that your child has more distinct likes and dislikes, you are going to want to try to keep them around things or in situations that make them comfortable and happy
  • Since your child is clingier, you will need to make sure that they know you are right by them at all times
  • Play games that are a bit more complex and allow for your child to be more expressive and mimic your actions
  • Try to talk about what your baby is feeling to help them better understand different emotions
  • When your baby is looking at or touching things, make sure to describe and explain what these things are
  • Start asking them to engage in behaviors that you want them to do
  • Start teaching your child about cause and effect by playing games or doing tasks like rolling balls around or pushing little toy cars

Your Child: One Year

Congratulations! Let's take a moment to celebrate this milestone and the fact that your child has moved onto their first year of life. One year is a big deal, and as such, there are a lot of changes that have taken place in their development. (It will only continue to change as they grow rapidly from here.) Here are some of the behavioral differences you can spot once your child has reached their first year.

  • Children at this age will be much shyer and nervous with people that they don't know
  • They will often cry when you leave to go to work or other places
  • You will start to notice that they have managed to define their likes and dislikes better and will have favorite things and people
  • In certain situations, they will start showing fear, a relatively new emotion for this age group
  • They will start being more vocal about things they want to do or will hand you things to get you to do certain things with them
  • Your child will start repeating certain sounds or actions to get your attention
  • They will start to respond to basic requests and will give out their basic gestures to communicate more effectively
  • They will start using tonal changes to communicate emotions and feelings
  • You will hear more basic phrases in the right context
  • They will start to become more exploratory and will start using different objects correctly such as combs or cups

The one-year mark is a turning point in your child's development, and there will be different actions you will need to do to keep them learning and engaged. Here are some ways you can continue development at this age.

  • Start giving them toys or other objects that act as their caregivers and keep them calm, safe, and protected
  • Be more firm in your use of the word "no" but do not engage in physical punishment efforts (a brief timeout can often do the job more effectively)
  • Reinforce good behavior with hugs, kisses, and praise and spend more time praising this behavior than you do punishing the bad
  • Be vocal with things that you are doing with your child and make sure to be very descriptive during the process
  • Try to read with your child every day
  • When your child says something or tries to describe something, build upon their observation to help them learn more vocabulary so that they can be more expressive
  • Give your child more activities that help them release and express their creativity

Your Child: 18 Months

At 18 months, your child is going full speed ahead, and you are going to see more exciting changes in behavior as they become little people. Things will become much more complex from here as we start focusing on yearly milestones, so it is important that you keep up! When your child reaches the 18-month mark, here are some behavioral developments you should expect.

  • They will start to enjoy sharing and handing things to others as they interact more with other children
  • They will start to express their anger in the form of temper tantrums
  • You will see your child start to play pretend in simple scenarios
  • Your child may be afraid or hesitant about new situations and will cling to you or another familiar adult when surrounded by new things or new situations
  • They will be interested in new things and will share this interest with others
  • They will start to explore more on their own as long as you are close by
  • You will hear your child use single words, use basic body language, and point to things to communicate their needs, emotions, and wants
  • Your child will have a better understanding of how to use certain objects and will respond to basic commands with ease

When your child reaches the age of 18 months, it is important to do the following:

  • Make sure that the environment is safe, loving, and stable, ensuring that they feel secure and can predict how each day will go
  • Describe their emotions to help them better understand and process those emotions
  • Encourage your child to play pretend more often
  • Help your child understand the importance of empathy
  • Use simple words and phrases that help your child understand emotions and actions
  • Ask simple questions when you need something from your child
  • Start teaching your child essential problem-solving skills

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Your Child: Two Years

At two years old, your child is beginning to develop some of the skills that they are going to need to interact with other children successfully, and they will also start to show some of their personality. Your two-year-old may begin to display behaviors such as…

  • Copying other children and adults
  • Getting more excited about being in the presence of other children
  • Beginning to show more independence
  • Starting to move from tantrums to defiance (although tantrums may still be present)
  • Including children in their play when it comes to certain activities
  • Knowing how to identify people, things, and places
  • Saying sentences with around two to four words
  • Following basic directions
  • Repeating overheard conversations
  • Understanding different shapes and colors
  • Completing more complex sentences within books

At the second-year mark, you should be engaging with your child more frequently and doing things such as…

  • Having your child help with basic chores at home and praising them for being a great help after they have completed a task
  • Making more scheduled play dates to increase social capabilities and teach your child important lessons such as sharing (they can also learn this regularly at home if they have a sibling)
  • Teaching your child more about things such as body parts, animals, and other common things that they should know or encounter regularly
  • Helping your child learn words rather than allowing them to simply point to what they want, which is a more common behavioral trait for younger children
  • Participating in puzzles and other fun games that teach more about shapes, colors, and problem-solving skills
  • Engaging in more creative activities with your child and displaying that art proudly around the house
  • Playing more active games that help your child's motor skills and development

Your Child: Three Years

Once your child becomes three years old, they are fast approaching the age when you may begin considering sending them off to preschool. If you choose to skip over this schooling opportunity, you will still need to prepare them for kindergarten within a couple of years. This indicates that education and development are vital in these upcoming years, and you will want to make sure that your child is getting their needs met and are responding appropriately. Here are some of the behaviors that will appear at three years of age.

  • Your child will begin to show affection toward family and friends without asking them to do so
  • Your child will start to show more consideration for others by wanting to take turns during games, share their things, and show concern for their friends if they are upset
  • They will have a better understanding of what belongs to them and what things belong to other people (ownership)
  • A child this age will have and express a much larger range of emotions than previously seen before
  • Your child will become easily upset if a routine is disrupted
  • You may have a child that separates more easily from you and your spouse in the continuing quest and test of independence
  • They will start using more complex sentences and can express their emotions and needs well enough so that strangers can understand

At this age, you will want to encourage growth in your child by…

  • Continuing to have your child play in groups with other children
  • Helping your child with problem-solving by working through issues when one presents itself
  • Starting to set more rules and limitations for your child and providing suitable punishments when rules are broken
  • Giving your child more complex tasks and directions

Your Child: Four Years

At four years, your child is beginning to develop more complex emotions and can understand concepts much easier than before, resulting in complex behaviors that will carry on into later years as they start reaching adolescence. Some of the behavioral developments that will manifest in this age group include:

  • Enjoying taking part in new activities (a major step from the apprehension that many children feel toward new things in their lives)
  • Making believe that they are part of a family (playing mom and dad)
  • Becoming more creative in the way that they use imaginary play by themselves and with their friends
  • Feeling the need to play with others more often than they play on their own
  • Cooperating better with other children
  • An inability to distinguish what is real from what is make-believe
  • Becoming more vocal about what they like
  • Understanding language rules, songs, stories, and more complex sentences and will be able to communicate better than those who are three years old
  • Staring to understand and use things such as numbers and time

To ensure that things are moving along properly, some things that you should continue doing with your child include:

  • Playing more games that involve imaginary aspects and letting your child take the lead role in these games and scenarios (Also, having them explore imaginary events that might make them nervous)
  • Giving your child choices in certain things but only giving them simple choices and limiting choices to two or three at a time
  • Allowing your child to handle their issues but assisting when needed
  • Helping your child learn more about complex things such as time, grammar, and sequence of events through stories and games
  • Giving your child guidance on how to better interact with others and compromise on certain things

Your Child: Five Years

We have been through an exciting and long journey, but we are finally to the fifth year of your child's life, one that sets the course for the rest of the way as your child starts school and begins learning a whole new set of skills that will develop over time as they quickly approach adulthood. Of course, your child still has a lot more to experience and learn to carry them there, and we will cover that a bit further into this article. For now, some behavioral developments your child will experience include…

  • Wanting to be like their friends and make their friends happy
  • Starting to become more agreeable with rules that are enforced at home or school
  • Liking to engage in creative activities such as acting, singing, or dancing
  • Becoming more aware of self and understanding the difference between reality and fantasy
  • Beginning to want more independence from parents
  • Acting either very cooperatively or resistant (depending on mood)
  • Speaking very effectively to communicate emotions and needs (language skills will be much more developed at this age)

When your child reaches five years, you will want to help them along their journey by doing things such as…

  • Continuing to make sure that your child is interacting with other children and allowing them more freedom to dictate the course of their interactions and solve any potential issues
  • Talking back (this can be alleviated with the proper punishment and then positive reinforcement when your child does something the right way)
  • Teaching your child important things such as their address and phone number
  • Talking to your child about private areas and that no one should be near them except for certain caregivers and other people such as doctors
  • Helping your child to understand times of the day, days of the week, and other time-oriented topics
  • Allowing your child to learn more about their interests through different things in your community (For example, if they love fire trucks, going to see a fire truck at your local fire station)

For the most part, five years old is the cap for most behavioral development milestones as the ages coming after it will simply build upon the many skills that they have learned up to this age. For example, those aged six and above will start to build their intelligence, will often require more independence, will begin developing their personality and sense of individuality, and will start developing more complex emotions. Obviously, adolescents will experience the bulk of these developmental stages, and these age periods will be accompanied by puberty and hormones that may complicate the process.

Just as it is important to keep an eye on your child's development and to make sure that they are successfully thriving and keeping up with other children their age, it is also important to keep an eye out for potentially problematic signs that possibly indicate your child may be having issues with their development, regardless of where in their life your child is.

For younger children, issues that could require attention and may indicate behavioral development issues or mental health problems include:

  • Feeling worried or anxious often and voicing these concerns
  • Feeling irritable often and throwing tantrums
  • An inability to sit still or quietly (unless doing something such as watching a video or playing a video game)
  • Having sleeping issues such as sleeping too much and being tired during the day or sleeping too little or having frequent nightmares
  • Experiencing stomachaches or headaches regularly without an apparent cause
  • Repeating actions and checking things repeatedly as they experience the fear that something bad may happen if they do not
  • Having difficulty socializing or showing no desire to make friends
  • Struggling with their grades

In older children and adolescents, these behavioral issues will often manifest in different ways, such as:

  • Losing interest in activities that they previously enjoyed
  • Engaging in risky behavior such as smoking, drinking, or drug use (this includes other risky behaviors as well, but substance use will often be the most notable)
  • Having periods of high energy and activity and requiring less sleep than normal
  • Withdrawing socially and spending more time by themselves
  • Showing signs of self-harm such as cutting or burning the skin
  • Having thoughts of suicide or showing behaviors that could indicate them
  • Fearing weight gain and either exercising or dieting excessively (or both)
  • Having low energy

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7, or you can text the word “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

If your child is exhibiting any of the behaviors listed above or is clearly not demonstrating all of the behavioral development milestones that you should expect, it is important to seek out the help of someone who will be able to further help you understand what you will need to do for your child and someone who could also help your child directly. Many of these behavioral issues could be indicative of a serious mental health issue which, if left untreated, can lead to further problems down the road. If they are younger, this is especially important as these initial years set the foundation for how they grow and develop as they reach maturity.

While this sounds easy enough, many individuals may not know where to turn or may attempt to seek help but may not have access to resources or are unable to find the right individual who can provide the help needed for both parent and child. If this is the case for you, one great resource that is BetterHelp. If you believe that you could benefit from this, simply click on the link above to answer a short questionnaire and connect with the right counselor for you!

When a parent goes to therapy, there’s many ways it can help them become a better parent. One recent study showed that mothers who went to therapy passed along those skills to their children. When the mothers became less depressed, their toddlers had improved attachment security, and that the mothers became better at reading the toddlers’ moods while the toddlers became less angry and fussy. Romper has an additional list of ways that therapy could help you become a better parent.

Online therapy is something that it’s a great option to consider. With a young child, you likely don’t have a lot of free time. BetterHelp allows for flexible scheduling and cuts out the hassle of getting to an office. Online therapy also tends to be more affordable than traditional therapy.

If someone’s story helps you make your decision, here are some recent reviews by BetterHelp users about working with their counselors.

“We have just completed our last session together and I was honestly happy but sad at the same time. Joy has not only been a great impact on my first year of motherhood, but has been an efficient, kind, and down to earth counsellor. I couldn’t have asked for a better counsellor during these past 2 months. I genuinely looked forward to our sessions together that we had weekly because she honestly felt like a friend. We were able to joke with each other when necessary as well as share common interests. She responded in such a timely manner and was there when I needed her the most. She did her best to accommodate me and my schedule to ensure that I got an appointment time that was best for me. She offered multiple resources for me, including articles, worksheets, and videos. Her efforts to help me overcome my anxieties and fears, as well as issues dealing with family members with addiction has been the help I've been longing for. Thank you, Joy.” Read more about Joy Moseri.

“Kristen has been a wonderful guide and a caring soundboard for me on countless occasions. Non judgemental, but also not so neutral that I’m no better off than when I started. Well worth the time and investment, especially for a busy full time front line worker, parent, and plain old human being.” Read more on Kristen Hardin.

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