What are the developmental milestones a child should achieve?

When we think of caregiving we usually associate it with adult children taking care of their aging parent with some type of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). And we associated AD with losing the ability of doing simple things that come easily and naturally for the rest of us – the sort of things that we all instinctively learn to do during our developmental years. But there may be a reversal of this process; parents – who are the original caregivers – providing extra care for children who never learned to do those things in the first place. Children who, like David Bowie, never wave ‘by bye,’ or accomplish other developmental milestones that signal a cognitively, behaviorally-sound child and that get so often taken for granted. Parents should pay attention to these milestones – or their absence – so that they can act early and help their child lead a full life.

Important developmental milestones

Age: 2 months

Social and emotional

·         Starting to smile at people.

·         Briefly calming him/herself (e.g., bringing hands to mouth to suck on).

·         Trying to look at parents.


·         Cooing, making gurgling sounds.

·         Turning head toward sounds.


·         Paying attention to faces.

·         Starting to follow things with eyes.

·         Recognizing people at a distance.

·         Beginning to act bored with unchanging activity.

Movement/physical development

·         Holding head up and beginning to push up when lying on belly.

·         Making smoother arm and leg movements.

Warning signs

·         Not responding to loud sounds.

·         Not watching things as they move.

·         Not smiling at people.

·         Not bringing hands to mouth.

·         Not holding head up when pushing up when on belly.

Age: 4 months

Social and emotional

·         Smiling spontaneously, particularly at people.

·         Playing with people and crying when playing stops.

·         Copying some movements and facial expressions.


·         Beginning to babble.

·         Babbling with expression and copying sounds.

·         Crying in different ways to express hunger, pain, tiredness.


·         Letting parents know he/she is happy or sad.

·         Responding to affection.

·         Reaching for toys with one hand.

·         Using hands and eyes together; e.g., seeing a toy and reaching for it.

·         Following moving things from side to side with his/her eyes.

·         Watching faces closely.

·         Recognizing people and things at a distance.

Movement/physical development

·         Holding head up steady without support.

·         Pushing down on legs when feet are on a hard surface.

·         Possibly being able to roll over from tummy to back.

·         Holding a toy and shaking it and swinging at dangling toys.

·         Bringing hands to mouth.

·         Pushing up to elbows when lying on stomach.

Warning signs

·         Not watching things as they move.

·         Not smiling at people.

·         Inability to hold head steady.

·         Not cooing or making sounds.

·         Not bringing things to mouth.

·         Not pushing down with legs when feet are placed on a hard surface.

·         Trouble moving one or both eyes in all directions.

Age: 6 months

Social and emotional

·         Knowing familiar faces and beginning to know if someone is a stranger.

·         Liking to play with others, especially parents.

·         Responding to other people’s emotions.

·         Often seeming happy.

·         Liking to look at self in a mirror.


·         Responding to sounds by making sounds.

·         Stringing vowels together when babbling.

·         Taking turns with parent while making sounds.

·         Responding to own name.

·         Making sounds to show joy and displeasure.

·         Beginning to say consonant sounds.


·         Looking around at nearby things.

·         Bringing things to mouth.

·         Showing curiosity about things and trying to get things that are out of reach.

·         Beginning to pass things from one hand to the other.

Movement/physical development

·         Rolling over in both directions.

·         Beginning to sit without support.

·         Supporting weight on legs and possibly bouncing when standing.

·         Rocking back and forth, sometimes crawling backward before moving forward.

Warning signs

·         Not trying to get things that are in reach.

·         Showing no affection for caregivers.

·         Not responding to sounds around him/her.

·         Difficulty getting things to mouth.

·         Not making vowel sounds.

·         Not rolling over in either direction.

·         Not laughing or making squealing sounds.

·         Seeming very stiff, with tight muscles.

·         Seeming very floppy, like a rag doll.

Age: 9 months

Social and emotional

·         Possibly being afraid of strangers.

·         Possibly being clingy with familiar adults.

·         Having favorite toys.


·         Understanding “no.”

·         Making a lot of different sounds.

·         Copying sounds and gestures from others.

·         Pointing at things with fingers.


·         Watching the path of something as it falls.

·         Looking for things he/she sees parents hide.

·         Playing peek-a-boo.

·         Putting things in his/her mouth.

·         Moving things smoothly from one hand to the other. Picking up things between thumb and index finger.

Movement/physical development

·         Standing, holding on.

·         Ability to get into sitting position.

·         Sitting without support.

·         Pulling to stand.

·         Crawling.

Warning signs

·         Not bearing weight on legs with support.

·         Not sitting with help.

·         Not babbling.

·         Not playing any games involving back-and-forth play. Not responding to own name.

·         Not seeming to recognize familiar people.

·         Not looking where parents point.

·         Not transferring toys from one hand to the other.

Age: 1 year

Social and emotional

·         Shyness or nervousness with strangers.

·         Crying when parents leave.

·         Having favorite things and people.

·         Showing fear in some situations.

·         Handing parents a book when he/she wants to hear a story.

·         Repeating sounds or actions to get attention.

·         Putting out arm or leg to help with dressing.

·         Playing games like “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake.”


·         Responding to simple oral requests.

·         Using simple gestures, like shaking head “no” or waving “bye-bye.”

·         Making sounds with changes in tone.

·         Saying “mama” and “dada” and exclamations like “uh-oh!”

·         Trying to say words parents say.


·         Exploring things in different ways, like shaking, banging, throwing.

·         Finding hidden things easily.

·         Looking at the right picture or thing when it’s named.

·         Copying gestures.

·         Starting to use things correctly.

·         Banging two things together.

·         Putting things in taking them out of a container.

·         Letting things go without help.

·         Poking with index finger.

·         Following simple commands like “pick up the toy.”

Movement/physical development

·         Getting to a sitting position without help.

·         Pulling up to stand, walking holding on to furniture.

·         Possibly taking a few steps without holding on.

·         Possibly standing alone.

Warning signs

·         Not crawling.

·         Inability to stand when supported.

·         Not searching for things that he/she sees parents hide.

·         Not saying single words like “mama” or “dada.”

·         Not learning gestures like waving or shaking head.

·         Not pointing to things.

·         Losing skills he/she once had.

Age: 18 months

Social and emotional

·         Handing things to others as play.

·         Having temper tantrums.

·         Being afraid of strangers.

·         Showing affection to familiar people.

·         Playing simple pretend, such as feeding a doll.

·         Clinging to caregivers in new situations.

·         Pointing to show others something interesting.

·         Exploring alone but with a parent close by.


·         Saying several single words.

·         Saying and shaking head “no.”

·         Pointing to show someone what he/she wants.


·         Knowing what ordinary things are for.

·         Pointing to get the attention of others.

·         Showing interest in a doll or stuffed animal by pretending to feed.

·         Pointing to one body part.

·         Scribbling on his/her own.

·         Ability to follow one-step verbal directions without any gestures.

Movement/physical development

·         Walking alone.

·         Walking up steps and running.

·         Pulling toys while walking.

·         Helping undress him/herself.

·         Drinking from a cup.

·         Eating with a spoon.

Warning signs

·         Not pointing to show things to others.

·         Inability to walk.

·         Not knowing what familiar things are for.

·         Not copying others.

·         Not gaining new words.

·         Not having at least 6 words.

·         Not noticing or minding when a caregiver leaves or returns.

·         Losing skills he/she once had.

Age: 2 years

Social and emotional

·         Copying others, especially adults and older children.

·         Getting excited when with other children.

·         Showing increasing independence.

·         Showing defiant behavior.

·         Playing mostly beside other children, but beginning to include other children, such as in chase games.


·         Pointing to things or pictures when they are named. Knowing names of familiar people and body parts.

·         Saying sentences with 2- 4 words.

·         Following simple instructions.

·         Repeating words overheard in conversation.

·         Pointing to things in a book.


·         Finding things even when hidden under two or three covers.

·         Beginning to sort shapes and colors.

·         Completing sentences and rhymes in familiar books. Playing simple make-believe games.

·         Building towers of 4 or more blocks.

·         Possibly using one hand more than the other.

·         Following 2-step commands such as “pick up your shoes and put them in the closet.”

·         Naming items in a picture book.

Movement/physical development

·         Standing on tiptoe.

·         Kicking a ball.

·         Beginning to run.

·         Climbing onto and down from furniture without help. Walking up and down stairs holding on.

·         Throwing a ball overhand.

·         Making or copying straight lines and circles.

Warning signs

·         Not using two-word phrases.

·         Not knowing what to do with common things.

·         Not copying actions and words.

·         Not following simple directions.

·         Not walking steadily.

·         Losing skills he/she once had.

Aged: 3 years

Social and emotional

·         Copying adults and friends.

·         Showing affection for friends without prompting.

·         Taking turns in games.

·         Showing concern for a crying friend.

·         Understanding the idea of “mine” vs. “his” or “hers.”

·         Showing a wide variety of emotions.

·         Separating easily from parents.

·         Possibly getting upset with major routine changes.

·         Dressing and undressing self.


·         Following 2- or 3-step instructions.

·         Naming most familiar things.

·         Understanding words like “in,” “on,” and “under.”

·         Saying first name, age, and sex.

·         Naming a friend.

·         Saying words like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “you” and some plurals.

·         Talking well enough for strangers to understand most of the time.

·         Carrying on a conversation using 2-3 sentences.


·         Working toys with buttons, levers, and moving parts.

·         Playing make-believe with dolls, animals, and people.

·         Doing puzzles with 3-4 pieces.

·         Understanding what “two” means.

·         Copying a circle with pencil or crayon.

·         Turning book pages one at a time.

·         Building towers of more than 6 blocks.

·         Screwing and unscrewing jar lids or turning door handle.

Movement/physical development

·         Climbing well.

·         Running easily.

·         Pedaling a tricycle.

·         Walking up and down stairs, one foot on each step.

Warning signs

·         Falling down a lot or having trouble with stairs.

·         Drooling.

·         Very unclear speech.

·         Inability to work simple toys.

·         Not speaking in sentences.

·         Not understanding simple instructions.

·         Not playing pretend or make-believe.

·         Not wanting to play with other children or with toys.

·         Not making eye contact.

·         Losing skills he/she once had.

Age: 4 years

Social and emotional

·         Enjoying new things.

·         Playing “Mom” and “Dad.”

·         Increasing creativeness with make-believe play.

·         Preferring to play with other children than by him/herself.

·         Cooperating with other children.

·         Inability to tell what’s real and what’s make-believe.

·         Talking about likes and interests.


·         Knowing some basic grammar rules.

·         Singing a song or saying a poem from memory.

·         Telling stories.

·         Saying first and last name.


·         Naming some colors and numbers.

·         Understanding the idea of counting.

·         Starting to understand time.

·         Remembering parts of a story.

·         Understanding the idea of “same” vs. “different.”

·         Drawing a person with 2-4 body parts.

·         Using scissors.

·         Starting to copy some capital letters.

·         Playing board or card games.

·         Telling you what he/she thinks is going to happen next in a book.

Movement/physical development

·         Hopping and standing on one foot up to 2 seconds.

·         Catching a bounced ball most of the time.

·         Pouring, cutting with supervision, and mashing own food.

Warning signs

·         Inability to jump in place.

·         Trouble scribbling.

·         Showing no interest in interactive games or make-believe.

·         Ignoring other children or not responding to people outside the family.

·         Resisting dressing, sleeping, and using the toilet.

·         Inability to retell a favorite story.

·         Not following 3-part directions.

·         Not understanding “same” vs. “different.”

·         Not using “me” and “you” correctly.

·         Speaking unclearly.

·         Losing skills he/she once had.

Age: 5 years

Social and emotional

·         Wanting to please friends.

·         Wanting to be like friends.

·         More likelihood to agree with rules.

·         Singing, dancing, and acting.

·         Awareness of gender.

·         Ability to tell what’s real and what’s make-believe.

·         Showing more independence.

·         Sometimes demanding and sometimes very cooperative.


·         Speaking very clearly.

·         Telling a simple story using full sentences.

·         Using future tense.

·         Saying name and address.


·         Counting 10 or more things.

·         Drawing a person with at least 6 body parts.

·         Printing some letters or numbers.

·         Copying a triangle and other geometric shapes.

·         Knowing about things used every day.

Movement/physical development

·         Standing on one foot for 10 seconds or longer.

·         Hopping; maybe being able to skip.

·         Doing a somersault.

·         Using a fork and spoon and sometimes a table knife.

·         Using the toilet on his/her own.

·         Swinging and climbing.

Warning signs

·         Not showing a wide range of emotions.

·         Showing extreme behavior.

·         Unusual withdrawal and lack of activity.

·         Trouble focusing on one activity for more than 5 minutes.

·         Not responding to people, or responding only superficially.

·         Inability to tell what’s real and what’s make-believe.

·         Not playing a variety of games and activities.

·         Inability to give first and last name.

·         Not using plurals or past tense properly.

·         Not talking about daily activities or experiences.

·         Not drawing pictures.

·         Inability to brush teeth, wash and dry hands, or get undressed without help.

·         Losing skills he/she once had.


Missing some or all of these milestones could be – though not necessarily is – a sign of an underlying condition, including but not limited to:

·         Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity disorder.

·         Autism spectrum disorder.

·         Cerebral palsy.

·         Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

·         Fragile X syndrome.

·         Hearing loss.

·         Intellectual disability.

·         Kernicterus.

·         Muscular dystrophy.

·         Tourette syndrome.

·         Vision problems.

A parent/caregiver can use the table above to keep track of their child’s development. If the parent – or a teacher, or a healthcare provider – is concerned about how the child plays, learns, speaks, acts or moves, they should talk to a doctor and ask about developmental screening.

Related: The Link between Smoking and Autism