Parents need to consciously keep track of developmental milestones in case of developmental delays that need to be monitored by a healthcare provider.

A lot of little steps need to happen incrementally over time to make for a capable and confident child. Such development may not always be noticed by parents and can take someone new to exclaim, “Your son has got so much taller” or “Your daughter is talking so much now!” to spark deliberate observation.

If you want to find out the age-appropriate developmental milestones to ensure your child is trekking along in the right direction, then keep reading.

What is a developmental milestone?

A developmental milestone tells you how much your child is progressing physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially. Developmental milestones are not huge monumental tasks, but simply a collection of everyday activities.

Many of these milestones cover gross motor skills (walking, running, lifting, kicking) and fine motor skills (building a tower, tying shoelaces, holding a pencil). These are things that we as adults can take for granted, but for a child who is new to it all, it takes a lot of brain power, coordination, energy and persistence.

Why are milestones important?

Parents need to know about developmental or development milestones because it can very quickly tell you if your toddler requires additional support. There are clear guidelines that have been created by paediatricians to help parents have some definite parameters and know what to look out for.

When milestones are not being met by a child, early identification is crucial for understanding the cause. There can be a variety of reasons as to why a child is not meeting milestones. It could be as simple and harmless as that they’re just taking a little more time to get there. Or it could be something more serious like a physical or cognitive condition that is hindering progress.

While these milestones reveal a lot about baby development, it is important not to compare your child to another. Mums have enough guilt to deal with. When (or how quickly) our babies develop should never be a race.

As paediatrician Dr David Hartshorn points out, “The first thing to say about development is that there’s a range of normal that we accept as being normal.”

Don’t compare what your baby can do to another of the same age. Keep your focus on the guidelines, but remember, they are guidelines. Some children start walking at nine months, others at 18 months.

Watch what Dr Hartshorn has to say about developmental milestones in the video below.

If you have thoroughly read the guidelines, are actively observing your child’s development and notice a slightly different course of action appearing, seek a medical opinion. You may be told not to worry or be encouraged to get early intervention to support your child.

Is my child meeting the milestones?

As already mentioned, child development varies slightly from child to child. However, here are a few key things to observe.

At the same time, as Dr Hartshorn points out, “It’s important to not get fixated on one particular skill, but that development is a process.”

1 month

  • sucking motion with mouth
  • cries
  • moves arms and legs

2 months

  • smiles
  • makes eye contact with familiar faces within a 20-cm distance

3 months

  • raises their head
  • opens and shuts hands
  • brings hand to mouth

4 months

  • lots of vocal sounds for communication (cooing)
  • turns head to listen
  • swings arm to try and reach toys

6 months

  • starts making more vocal sounds (babbling)
  • stays in the sitting position assisted
  • rolls from tummy to back

7 months

  • may be able to start the beginning stages of crawling

9 months

  • stays in the sitting position unassisted

12 months

  • tripled their birth weight
  • responds to their name
  • pulls themselves up holding onto things
  • able to hold the standing position
  • may take their first steps
  • may be able to say “Mum” or “Dad”
  • understands simple instructions
  • connects with objects and toys actively
  • has 1–8 teeth
  • understands the concept of play and actively engages in play with familiar people

18 months

  • actively trying to feed themself
  • scribbles with a pen
  • climbs on the couch unassisted

2 years

  • language development has improved to a vocabulary of 30–40 words
  • able to connect a couple of words to make an incomplete sentence
  • throws a ball overhand
  • can stand on one leg
  • eats with a spoon

3 years

  • attempts to catch a ball
  • cuts paper with scissors
  • cognitive skills are at the level of being able to understand basic cause to effect (the fire is hot, I could get hurt)
  • can have a good conversation
  • social skills have improved to the level of engaging as a team playmate
  • can draw a correct shape if asked
  • can dress mostly unassisted
  • can work with small objects
Free developmental milestone checklist

How do I support my child’s development?

If you want to support your baby’s development, there are some key things you can do to help. Whether you have a newborn or a young child, they all require kind and loving interaction. They need you to be there for them, to make them feel welcome and loved. They need a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Talk to your baby, laugh, play and communicate with them even if you think they don’t get it. Show them that you care by responding to them and their needs. Don’t leave them unattended crying for long periods, or in a soiled nappy or dirty clothes. Support them with regular feeding and sleeping rhythms to ensure they are well-nourished and rested. Protect them from stressful environments or people, and don’t allow people to care for them that you are unfamiliar with or cannot trust.

Your child will readily repeat whatever you model to them, whether good or bad, so if you want a socially healthy, kind and responsive child you need to model that first.

Remember that normal development can look slightly different for all children, and certain milestones come at different ages. Love and support your child the best that you can, and if you do have concerns seek the advice of a medical professional.

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