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Birth to Five Years: Knowing Your Child’s Developmental Milestones

From the moment your baby first enters the world, they are ready to learn. In fact, one of the most crucial time periods in a child’s development and learning is from birth to 5 years old.

“Eighty-five to ninety percent of a child’s brain develops by age five,” said Ruth Letizia, MD, a pediatrician with Banner Health Center in Mesa, Ariz. “This means your child is able to grow and develop new skills quickly—from thinking and speaking skills to social and emotional skills. As parents, it is important to make sure our children are in places that nurture and encourage this important development: either at home or in high-quality daycare.”

Understanding your child’s changing and emerging growth and development is an important part of parenting. As your newborn grows into a toddler and child, they may encounter physical, emotional and other common issues. Recognizing and treating those early can help them in the long run.

We share a general guide to help you better understand developmental milestones and how they can be used to guide your parenting journey.

What are developmental milestones?

Developmental milestones are a set of skills or age-specific tasks that most children achieve by a certain age. Milestone skills help parents, doctors and teachers to pick up on when development is not going according to plan.

It’s important to remember, however, that growth and development can vary from child to child. One child may start walking at 10 months, while another child may start walking at 15 months. Some children will have 20 words at two years old, and others may have 50 words or more.

“Developmental milestones, like walking and talking, have a wide range of what is considered normal in the first two years,” Dr. Letizia said. “But if parents have concerns, they should definitely talk to their child’s doctor.”

What developmental milestones are evaluated?

Your child’s developmental milestones can be broken down into four categories:

  • Social and Emotional: child’s ability to express emotions effectively, follow rules and directions and form positive, healthy relationships
  • Speech and Language: child’s ability to absorb and learn to speak language
  • Cognitive: child’s ability to think, learn and solve problems
  • Physical: child’s ability to learn large and fine motor skills, such as sitting up, crawling and walking

How are developmental skills tracked by age?

For general ranges on what developmental milestones are often expected during the first five years, check out the following guide*:

The First Five Years Infographic

Will my child’s doctor check my child’s development?

Regular well-baby and well-child visits during the first several years of life are critical to identify health, behavioral and developmental problems that could have long-lasting effects.

During their regular check-ups, their doctor will spend time watching your child and talking with you to find out if your child is meeting normal developmental milestones. The visit will also include a physical examination, immunizations and tests for hearing, vision and other functions.

What if my child is not reaching developmental milestones?

As a general rule, trust your instincts. If you have a concern about your child’s development, talk to their pediatrician or health care provider. If your child is developmentally delayed, the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better your child’s progress will be.

“The good news is that delayed development is treatable,” Dr. Letizia said. “But, if we are going to treat any delays, it means that we need to diagnose as soon as possible and start early interventions.”

If the doctor doesn’t seem concerned, but you are, persist in asking questions, such as, “Why aren’t you concerned?” “When would you be worried?” “What can I do at home to help in this area of development?”

“Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand,” Dr. Letizia advised. “Trust your parental intuition.”

If your concerns persists, you can also contact your state’s early intervention program for a free developmental evaluation. No referral is required.

For additional resources regarding developmental milestones and delays, visit:

Children's Health Parenting

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