Child development refers to how a child becomes able to do more complex things as they get older. Development is different than growth. Growth only refers to the child getting bigger in size.
When we talk about normal development, we are talking about developing skills like:
- Gross motor skills: using large groups of muscles to sit, stand, walk, run, etc., keeping balance and changing positions
- Fine motor skills: using hands to be able to eat, draw, dress, play, write, and do many other things
- Language skills: speaking, using body language and gestures, communicating, and understanding what others say
- Cognitive skills: thinking skills including learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering
- Social skills: interacting with others, having relationships with family, friends, and teachers, cooperating and responding to the feelings of others.
What are developmental milestones?
Developmental milestones are a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range. Your pediatrician uses milestones to help check how your child is developing. Although each milestone has an age level, the actual age when a normally developing child reaches that milestone can vary quite a bit. Every child is unique!
For general ranges on what developmental milestones are often expected at various ages, check out the following guides:
How does my child’s doctor check my child’s development?
Assessing your child’s development is a team effort. Your family plays an important role. At your child’s well-child visit, your pediatrician will spend time watching your child and talking with you to find out about what your child is doing since your last visit. Tell your child’s doctor about any worries or concerns you may have. Your pediatrician may also use developmental screening in the office. Screening involves a series of questions and observations that gets at your child’s ability to perform certain age-appropriate tasks. Using developmental milestones as a guide can help pediatricians identify children who may be at risk for developmental delay.
What if my child is not reaching developmental milestones?
If your child’s doctor finds anything that may be of concern, they can refer you to a specialist and/or work with your family to identify services that may help your child. If your child is delayed, you should start intervention as early as possible so your child can make the best possible progress.
- Indicadores del desarrollo (CDC)
- Developmental milestone information for preemies (AAP)
- Speech and language development guides and en espanol (ASHA)
- Social and emotional development guides for children at birth to 12 months, 12 to 24 months and 24-36 months (ZerotoThree.org)
- Early Head Start is for low-income babies, toddlers and pregnant women and their families. EHS programs enhance children's physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development; assist pregnant women to access comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care; support parents' efforts to fulfill their parental roles; and help parents move toward self-sufficiency. (HHS.gov)
- Head Start is a national, community-based child development program for three- to five-year-olds that promotes school readiness. (HHS.gov)
- Zero to Three is a leading resource on the first three years of life. They offer great tips and information to parents on the development of babies and toddlers.
- Child development information (CDC)
- Learn the Signs: Act Early (CDC)
- The Milestones Quiz (CDC)
Reviewed by Layla Mohammed, MD
Updated March 2017