A child stacking large blocks.

Raising and working with children can be overwhelming. There are many things to watch out for, including their safety and development. Every child develops at their own rate, however, there are physical and mental developmental milestones that ensure the child is on a successful track.

Developmental milestones help guardians and educators keep an eye out for any developmental problems or delays a child may have. A developmental milestone is an ability or an achievement a child reaches at a certain age. These developments can be:

  • Physical;
  • Social;
  • Emotional;
  • Cognitive;
  • Communicative.

Knowing the developmental milestones not only helps parents and teachers, but also healthcare professionals. Those who are interested in becoming occupational therapists must understand which developmental milestones to watch out for so they can better treat their pediatric patients.

However, it’s important to remember that all children develop at different rates. For instance, some children begin walking at nine months while others begin walking at 11 or 12 months. This does not mean that one child is better than the other; it simply means that each child has different developmental interests.

While each child is unique, many child experts have a clear range of when a child should hit certain milestones.

Infant Milestones

Babies grow exponentially in the first year of their life. Their weight often doubles in a few short months, basic words start to form, and they start to experiment with movement. Reactions are automatic, however, after their nervous system matures, babies are able to put more thought into their actions. Sometimes a newborn can have conditions that may concern you at first. These include:

  • Jaundice;
  • Infant acne;
  • Conehead;
  • Birthmarks.

It’s important to note that all these conditions are normal and most will fade with time. Below are the major milestones for infants.


  • Jerky arm thrusts;
  • Strong reflex movements;
  • Keeps hands in tight fists;
  • Stretches out legs;
  • Supports upper body with arms;
  • Opens and shuts hands;
  • Brings hands to mouth;
  • Shakes hand toys;
  • Reaches with one hand;
  • Sits with and without support.


  • Focuses on objects eight-to-12 inches away;
  • Recognizes sounds;
  • Eyes wander;
  • May turn toward similar sounds;
  • Follows moving objects;
  • Smiles at voices;
  • Begins to imitate;
  • Tracks moving objects.

Social and Emotional

  • Begins to smile;
  • Likes playing with others;
  • Expressive;
  • Imitates facial expressions;
  • Becomes more expressive;
  • Enjoys social play;
  • Interested in mirror images;
  • Responds to expressions and emotions.

Toddler Milestones

As children grow up, so do their attention spans and verbal skills. Toddlers are able to string together sentences and express how they feel while taking instruction better. Toddlers are growing in height and weight, which can make them sleepy. This may lead to tantrums, which many parents know as “the terrible twos.”

However, they are also refining their gross motor skills and becoming more aware of their body. Playtime is an important aspect for them, especially with other children their age. Toddlers like to touch and experience a number of things and could benefit from a sensory room as a safe place to explore.


  • Walks in a straight line;
  • Is able to balance on a balance beam;
  • Skips, hops, and jumps;
  • Less bumping into others;
  • Better hand-eye coordination;
  • Picks out their own clothes;
  • Can use utensils;
  • Is able to walk backward.


  • Likes listening to books;
  • Identifies shapes and colors;
  • Learns the alphabet;
  • Learns to count;
  • Likes to listen to music;
  • Answers easily to their name;
  • Can point out objects from far away.

Social and Emotional

  • Starts to understand emotions;
  • Uses simple expressions to show how they feel;
  • Learns to share;
  • Starts to show empathy;
  • Shows affection;
  • Becomes focused on winning when playing;
  • Establishes friendships.

Tween Milestones

By the time children reach their tween years, they will have experienced major growth spurts. At this age, girls tend to grow faster than boys, and both boys and girls will start showing signs of puberty. These physical changes can make children easily embarrassed, as most of the time they don’t understand what is happening with their bodies.

The child is also navigating complex social situations at school, which may lead to dramatic outbursts. This often makes it difficult for parents and educators to manage tweens, as they have the beginnings of an adult understanding yet exhibit childlike behavior.


  • Improved agility
  • Better coordination;
  • Oily skin;
  • Increased sweating
  • Hair growth;
  • Improved handwriting;
  • Growing pains and cramps;
  • Menstruation in girls;
  • Muscle development in boys.


  • Forms opinions;
  • Expands research skills;
  • Reads books for fun;
  • Analyzes stories;
  • Understands long-term consequences;
  • Becomes competitive in sports;
  • Understands responsibility;
  • Applies logic;
  • Becomes aware of complex concepts.

Social and Emotional

  • Imitates older people;
  • Questions authority;
  • Accepts familial beliefs;
  • Better decision-making skills;
  • Might resist physical affection from parents;
  • Forms strong friendships;
  • Might start a rebellious streak;
  • Develops personal morals.

Teen Milestones

Many children experience a mental shift when they reach their teen years. This can result from an awareness of societal norms and a desire to fit in. They may be distressed because they aren’t developing at the same rate as their friends.

Teens are also maturing and gaining skills they will need in the real world. This can be overwhelming for teens as the pressure from friends and the sudden need for independence can bring up a few struggles. Additionally, the thought of entering the real world can put a strain on teenage kids, as they want to feel ready before they leave the nest.


  • Experiences rapid changes in appearance;
  • Growth patterns can differ widely between genders;
  • Experiences sexual maturity;
  • Girls reach full height;
  • Boys’ voices grow deeper;
  • They need more sleep.


  • Develops logic;
  • Solves complex academic problems;
  • Focuses on the future;
  • Sets personal goals;
  • Challenges assumptions;
  • Defines work habits;
  • Makes their own schedule and plans.

Social and Emotional

  • Concerned about physical appearance;
  • Wants independence;
  • Questions authority;
  • Seeks advice from friends;
  • Recognizes strengths and weaknesses;
  • Interested in romantic relationships;
  • Regulates emotions;
  • Shows signs of confidence;
  • Keeps commitments.

What to Do if Your Child Isn’t Hitting Developmental Milestones

Remember that it is common for kids to hit milestones later or earlier than others. However, there may be cause for concern if:

  • Your child’s movements are stiff;
  • Your child is unable to read by a certain age;
  • Your child is struggling academically;
  • Your child exhibits drastic changes in mood or behavior;
  • Your child isn’t learning new words;
  • Your child doesn’t show a wide range of emotions;
  • Your child struggles to make friends.

If a child seems to miss developmental milestones, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Consult a professional: Those who have studied occupational therapy are experts in analyzing and providing appropriate care for children who may be developmentally behind.
  • Consider developmental screening: This type of screening identifies children at risk of developmental delays early in life. A child will be given a brief test which will tell the doctor which skills need improvement.
  • Make the most out of playtime: Playtime fosters many developmental milestones, including physical and cognitive. Ensuring that your child is having fun and learning can help develop their skills.

Raising children is hectic and overwhelming. There are many things to watch out for, and it’s possible for parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals to be concerned about a child’s development. By knowing when they should reach certain milestones, you can easily know if your child is on a successful developmental track.

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