From the first time they smile through their first steps and more, childhood development behavioral milestones can help you to track your child's growth and learning as they age. Delays in meeting these milestones could indicate an underlying concern and let you know when to speak to your child's pediatrician. Below, we’ll discuss important developmental milestones in a child’s first five years.
What Are Developmental Milestones?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental milestones “are things most children (75% or more) can do by a certain age.” The ways in which a child learns, moves, speaks, and plays can offer insight into their developmental progress.
Babies at this age can usually hold their heads up while lying on their stomachs, move both arms and both legs, and briefly open their hands. A two-month-old baby typically watches you as you move and often spends several seconds staring at a toy or another interesting object.
They also usually calm down when you speak to them or pick them up, look at your face in response, smile, and seem happy when you approach. Babies at this age often react to loud sounds by crying and can typically make sounds other than crying.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies at four months old can usually do the following:
- Hold their head steady without support while being held
- Push up to their elbows or forearms when on their stomach
- Hold a toy when it’s placed in their hands
- Bring their hands to their mouth
- Use their arms to swing at toys
- Open their mouth when seeing a breast or bottle if they’re hungry
- Examine their hands with interest
A four-month-old baby can also usually smile on their own to get your attention; chuckle when you make them laugh; and move, look at you, or make sounds to get your attention. Babies at this age often use cooing sounds, frequently in response to something you say. You may also notice that they turn their head toward the sound of your voice when you speak.
Babies at this age can usually roll from their tummy to their back, lean on their hands for support while sitting, and push up with straight arms while lying on their stomachs. A six-month-old baby often puts things in their mouth to explore them, closes their lips when they aren't hungry or don't want more food, and reaches to grab toys or other objects they want.
At this age, babies usually recognize familiar people, laugh, and enjoy looking at themselves in a mirror. They often take turns making sounds to “talk” to you, blow raspberries, and make squealing noises or other sounds to get your attention.
Babies at this age can typically get into a sitting position by themselves, move objects from one hand to the other, sit without support, and use their fingers to pull food toward themselves in a raking motion. A nine-month-old baby also tends to look for objects dropped out of sight, such as food, bottles, or toys, and typically can bang two objects together.
At this stage, a baby may be clingy or fearful around strangers, smile or laugh when you play “peek-a-boo,” look when you call their name, show multiple facial expressions, and react when you leave. Babies at this age often lift their arms to indicate they want to be picked up, and they often make many different sounds, such as "bababa" or "mamamama.”
Babies at this age can usually put something into a container, such as a shape-sorter toy, and look for objects that they see you hide. A one-year-old baby also typically waves goodbye to people, understands and briefly pauses when they hear the word no, and calls parents by special names.
At this age, babies usually enjoy playing games or singing songs with you, such as patty cake and the Itsy Bitsy Spider. They can also typically pull themselves up to stand, pick things up between their thumb and pointer fingers, walk while holding onto something, and drink from a cup without a lid if you hold it.
Children at this age can typically copy other children while playing, show affection with hugs or kisses, clap when excited, show you objects they like, and hug stuffed toys or dolls. A 15-month-old child usually also tries to say one or two words other than the special names used for parents, points to ask for something or your help, follows directions given by word or gesture, and looks at familiar objects when you name them.
Also, they often try to use objects like books or cups correctly and stack at least two small things, such as blocks. Children around this age can also usually take a few steps on their own and use their fingers to feed themselves some of their food.
Children at this age often feel confident moving away from you while watching to ensure you stay close. They may also help you dress them, point to show you things that interest them, look at pages in a book with you, and put out their hands for you to wash them. An 18-month-old child also typically tries to say three or more words aside from the special names used for parents and usually follows one-step directions without gestures.
At this age, a child also may mimic your behaviors, like pretending to sweep while you're doing chores. They can often walk without any support, climb onto and off of sofas or chairs without assistance, scribble on paper, try to use spoons, drink from cups without lids (with occasional spills), and feed themselves with their fingers.
Children at this age can usually notice when other people are upset, react to emotions displayed by others, and look at a person’s face to gauge how to respond to a new situation. A two-year-old child can also typically say at least two words together, use gestures beyond waving or pointing, point to at least two body parts when asked to identify them, and point to objects in a book when you ask them to find things.
At this stage, children can also usually hold an object in one hand while using the other, play with more than one toy simultaneously, and try to use knobs, buttons, or switches on toys. They can also typically kick a ball, eat with a spoon, run, and walk up a few stairs without climbing or receiving help.
Children at this age can usually play next to and with other children and follow simple routines, such as clean-up time. They may also say, "Look at me," to show you what they've done. A 30-month-old child can typically say around 50 words; use sentences of two or more words with one expressing an action; say words such as "we," "I," or "me"; and name objects in a book if you point and ask them to identify them.
Also, they may often play pretend, demonstrate that they know at least one color, show simple problem-solving skills, and follow two-step instructions. Children around this age can often jump off the ground with both feet at once and use their hands to turn things like doorknobs, turn book pages one at a time, and take some clothes off by themselves.
Children at this age can usually notice other children, join them to play in groups, and calm down within 10 minutes of being separated from their caregivers. A three-year-old child also typically has the following abilities:
- Have conversations involving at least two back-and-forth interactions
- Ask "who, what, where, when, and why" questions
- Talk well enough that people outside their family can understand them most of the time
- Identify actions in a picture or book when asked
- Answer their first name on request
At this stage of development, a child can also typically draw a circle if you show them how, and they can usually avoid touching hot objects, such as the stove or fireplace, after you warn them it will hurt. Children around this age can also usually use a fork, partially dress themselves, and string items like large beads or macaroni together.
Children at this age can typically pretend to be someone else during play, ask to play with other children if none are nearby, change behavior expectations according to their surroundings, and avoid danger, such as by refusing to jump from a tall slide. In terms of language and cognition, a four-year-old child can also usually use sentences with four or more words, answer simple questions, memorize some words from favorite songs or nursery rhymes, and talk about at least one thing that happened to them that day.
A child at this stage may also name a few colors, draw someone with three or more body parts, and say what happens next in their favorite stories. They can generally catch a large ball most of the times they try, hold writing utensils between their fingers and thumb rather than in a fist, serve themselves food or pour water with supervision, and unbutton some of their buttons alone.
Children at five years of age can usually follow rules and take turns when playing with other children. They can also typically complete simple chores like clearing the table and can perform for you by singing, dancing, or acting. In terms of physical ability, they can typically hop on one foot and button some of their buttons.
A five-year-old child can also usually do the following:
- Tell complete stories they either heard or made up that include at least two events
- Use or recognize simple rhyming words
- Answer simple questions about a story you read together
- Keep a conversation going through three or more back-and-forth interactions
At this age, a child can also usually count to at least 10, name some letters or numbers when you point to them, write some of the letters in their name, pay attention for five to 10 minutes during a structured activity, and use words such as yesterday, tomorrow, morning, or night in relation to their understanding of time.
How Therapy Might Help You As A Parent Or Caregiver
If you have concerns about your child’s development, you might consider speaking to your pediatrician. They may refer you to speak with a professional who specializes in assessing children’s development. In the meantime, you might consider finding support for yourself as a parent or caregiver. Concerns about the development of a child can cause stress and anxiety for caregivers, who deserve support as they nurture young children.
If you don’t have time to visit a counselor’s office, you might consider online therapy, which research has shown to be just as effective as in-office therapy. As a parent, you can work with a therapist online through a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp. You can communicate with a licensed therapist via audio or video sessions at a time that works for your schedule.
A licensed therapist might help you develop positive, practical parenting strategies and healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress and frustration. With BetterHelp, you can contact your therapist in between sessions via in-app messaging if you have questions or concerns, whether they’re related to parenting or something completely different.
According to mental health experts at the American Psychological Association, online therapy provides numerous benefits and comparable results to traditional treatment in an office setting. Virtual therapy is generally less expensive, tends to have shorter wait times than in-office treatment, and offers the convenience of attending from the comfort of your home.
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