What are the key milestones in development for children?

Watching a child grow is a special experience. Whether it’s your child or belongs to a close friend or family member, it’s amazing how they can grow from a tiny baby to a child with their own distinct personality.

All babies spend a lot of time sleeping (whether that’s when you want them to or not), and one of the reasons for this is because they have a lot of learning and growing to do. The early years are crucial for development, and as such children are more sensitive to the things they experience.

Here, we run through some key milestones to help you learn what to expect.

In the womb
A mere three weeks after conception, neurons are produced, which transmit information between the brain and the nervous system. The neural plate is formed, and the nervous system develops from this base.

The plate then folds in on itself to form a tube, which eventually becomes the brain, the spinal cord, and the nervous system. During prenatal development, the brain makes up close to half of the fetus’ weight – this shrinks to 10% at birth.

First few months
When a baby is born, they have generated almost all the neurons they’ll have. Five weeks into their life, a baby also starts to develop learning and memory skills. At around 25 weeks, the auditory system is fully formed and becomes functional, allowing the fetus to hear. You’ll notice your child getting startled by loud sounds, and soothed by soft sounds, as well as smiling in reaction to familiar voices.

Gross motor skills
Whilst your child should develop their gross motor skills from birth, at the nine-month mark, you should notice them beginning to move around themselves. This might be pulling themselves up to sitting, crawling, tentatively standing, as well as walking with support (hands held, or using furniture). Anywhere between the 10-18 month mark, you can expect to see your child start trying to walk. Whilst it’s important to let them develop at their own pace, there are a few things you can do to develop and promote their walking skills:

● Babyproofing. Falling over is an inevitable part of the learning process, so make sure your home is safe in case they take a tumble, and ensure an adult is always around to be there when they do.

● Avoid using walkers. Walkers may seem like they’re supporting your child, but experts suggest that not only do they hinder children’s physical development, but they can also be a threat to your child’s safety if used incorrectly.

● Use incentives to encourage movement. Placing a toy just out of reach is a great way to get your child moving – it will encourage them to engage their muscles and pull themselves up to reach it. Again, just be sure to stay close to prevent any accidents.

Between 7-12 months, your child should start to get their first simple words out and recognize requests from you such as ‘come here. You may find that they start to babble to themselves when they’re alone, and perhaps say common phrases such as ‘bye-bye’. At this point, you may find that they copy simple words, but they don’t yet know what they mean – they can’t use them when needed.

Speech development really kicks off between one to two years and will be different for every child.

Fine motor skills
To complement their gross motor skills, children learn the fine motor skills we all rely on, such as using our hands and upper body. This includes hand-eye coordination and coordination with the rest of the body.

Babies will start with bringing their hand to their mouth (0-3 months), before progressing to reaching for toys with both arms (3-6 months), passing items from one hand to another (6-9 months), putting objects into a container (9-12 months), clapping their hands (12-18 months) and turning the pages of a book (18-24 months).

Each child is unique
When it comes to developmental milestones, it’s important to remember that each child is an individual – they won’t all speak at exactly 15 months, for example. But being aware of the average development time can be helpful for identifying any areas where a child might need support, as well as keeping an eye out for any issues like hearing loss.

Parents should not worry if their child is not hitting these milestones exactly on schedule. However, if you are concerned about your child’s development, it is always best to consult with your doctor.