Early Childhood Development Stages

Couples making the transition to parenthood often describe it as being one of the most joyous, exciting, and life-changing experiences of their lives. While that is true, it can also be one of the most challenging and nerve-wracking experiences as well.

As parents quickly learn, the health and safety of their children become their number one priority. It is therefore not surprising that tracking a child’s growth and development becomes a topic of concern. All parents, whether it’s their first child or not, experience this to an extent. It usually starts from the early moments a couple’s pregnancy is confirmed, increases the moment the baby is born, and it continues for years to come.

In this guide, the development timeline of a child’s first 3 years of life will be examined, as well as what you can do as a parent to help your child through these stages. The main aspects of development can be summed up in 4 categories:

· Emotional and social development

· Language and communication

· Cognitive (learning, thinking, and problem-solving)

· Movement and physical development


Emotional/Social: Smiling at people, sucking on their fingers or toes to calm themselves down, and eying for their parents are the early signs of their social/emotional abilities.

Language and Communication: They turn their heads towards the direction of sounds, and they vocally react by cooing or making gurgling sounds which is an indicator of their language skills developing.

Cognitive: They also start to pay attention to faces, recognizing people, and follow with their eyes. These are signs that your baby is cognitively growing.

Movement and physical development: They can hold up their head or push themselves up when they’re down on their belly and you will generally notice smoother, more controlled movements.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Engaging with them verbally and emotionally, through playing, talking, and cuddling. Make sure to use clear language and be more animated when your baby reacts with excitement.

· Creating a daily routine of sleeping, feeding, and playing times

· Observing and understanding your baby’s likes and dislikes. This will help both the baby and the parent in being more comfortable and confident.

· Have mirrors around at a safe distance so your baby can look at herself.


Emotional/Social: At this stage, your baby’s existing skills continue to develop, and you will notice a lot more engagement and curiosity. They smile at people and like to play with them, and they being to copy the movement and facial expressions.

Language and Communication: They also become more vocally expressive. They begin to babble often, and you will notice they have different cries that reflect different emotions such as hunger, pain, or being sleepy.

Cognitive: Your baby’s cognitive development in this stage will present itself in their physical and emotional response to people and objects in close proximity. They follow people and sounds with their eyes and they start to reach for and visually analyze objects around them. You will also notice that your baby starts to recognize people at this stage which is an extremely exciting transition for those close to the baby but not the parents.

Movement and physical development: At this stage, your baby’s ability to control their movement also increases. They have a steadier hold of their head, they start to roll over, get up on their elbows, hold, shake, and swing objects, and push down their feet when on a hard surface.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Continue talking to your baby and keep up the animated and cheerful dialogue. Copy your baby’s sounds and sing to them.

· Continue the routine that you set earlier, make adjustments as needed but make sure to keep a daily routine of sleep, eating, and playing.

· Play with your baby as much as you can. You can play simple games like peek a boo or use toys and colorful objects. You can place toys in your baby’s close proximity and encourage them to reach them.

· Make sure to have some quiet time and connect with your baby. Sing or talk to them in a peaceful tone. You should also start teaching your baby to stand up. You can put them upright on a hard surface and talk or sing to them as they stand with your support. This is a great bonding moment


Emotional/Social: At this stage, babies start to recognize themselves in the mirror and will distinguish between familiar faces and strangers. They love to play with others and often respond to other people’s emotions with happiness.

Language and Communication: They respond to sounds by making sounds, they try to speak, mainly in vowel language (ah, oh, eh) as well as consonant sounds (m, b, da). They also know their name at this stage and will react to you calling them.

Cognitive: Sight, touch, and taste become very prominent at this stage. They look at objects around with curiosity, reach, grab/touch, and taste what’s accessible.

Movement and physical development: Their movement and physical development at this stage will allow your baby to roll over in both directions, bounce if you stand them up, and sit without support.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Play with your kids on the floor and read books to them on a daily basis. Books are the best “toys” to help your child’s development. Especially colorful ones.

· Be more sensitive to emotions you read such as happiness and discomfort. Continue doing what makes your baby happy, reciprocate by copying their smile and sounds that reflect their pleasure and satisfaction, and take a break to soothe your baby when they when show discomfort.

· Talk to your baby about things they notice such as toys, objects, tv, doorbell, etc., and point out things and name them.

· Encourage your baby to move and roll over by placing toys and colorful objects in close proximity. Hold your baby up when they sit or use pillows for support so they can sit up and look around.


Emotional/Social: Babies at this stage start to develop “favorites”. Favorite people, favorite toys, favorite food, etc., and at times they show a lack of pleasure, fear, and discomfort in strange settings or around strangers.

Language and Communication: They begin to understand language especially commands such as yes or no and they often try to copy gestures of others. They point at things and try to verbalize what they want by using a lot of different sounds.

Cognitive: They show a lot more engagement. They can follow movements and paths, recognize missing items when you play-hide with them, use alternate hands to holds objects, and grab edible items between their thumb and index fingers.

Movement and physical development: They develop physical skills such as pulling on something or someone to stand and standing while holding on, crawling, and sitting without support.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Pay attention to situations and people that make your baby uncomfortable and distract them by doing things that make them happy.

· Stay close to your baby at all times so they know you’re near.

· Continue routines that you have been following in the previous months. The daily routine at this stage is crucial.

· Talk to your baby about their feelings (you’re sad, happy, etc.) and ask for behaviors that you want (time to eat, no standing, etc.)

· Start to use toys and material that teaches your baby cause and effect such as cars or balls that roll back and forth and colorful blocks and puzzles.

· Continue playing with and reading to your baby and give your baby a safe space to independently play and explore.


Emotional/Social: They start to show fear in certain situations and will act shy or nervous around strangers. They still have their favorite people and may get upset and cry if mommy or daddy leaves.

Language and Communication: They use sounds to get your attention, will participate in actions such as putting clothes on by extending his/her arm or leg, and demand what they want like handing you a book to read for them. They start to understand more words and commands and respond to simple requests. They use hand gestures to communicate when they can like waving bye. They start to say “mama” and “dada”. They make sounds with several tones and try to repeat what you say.

Cognitive: They explore, identify, and find their surroundings. They bang, shake, and throw objects around, look towards an object when it’s named, and follow simple directions like “bring your doll”. They start to use tools such as a spoon or cup correctly and copy adult’s gestures.

Movement and physical development: This age is amongst the most exciting stage as most children start to walk around this age. By this age, your baby should have no problem pulling up to stand, and walking while holding on to people or furniture. They may stand alone and even take a few steps on their own without holding on to anything.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Teach your child how to draw and color. Provide them with crayons and paper and let them draw freely.

· Play with material such as blocks, shapes, puzzles, and other cognitive toys as well as musical toys that helps them make noise.

· Continue reading books to them and sing songs with actions, like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus.

· Provide an environment for your toddler to explore. Place any kind of safety measures necessary (ex. safety gates and lock doors to kitchen cabinets and outside doors)


Emotional/Social: They show more social and emotional reactions to people and their surroundings. They get affectionate towards familiar people, show obvious fear of strangers, act clingy at times, throw temper tantrums, and they get extremely curious about their environment and objects. They point at things that they find interesting and would go on to explore them.

Language and Communication: You will also notice that your baby starts to communicate with gestures, words, and direct actions. For example, they’ll point to the candy that they want from the countertop or shake their head yes or no if you ask them a question.

Cognitive: Their cognitive ability at this stage drastically increases as well. They know ordinary items such as cups, toothbrushes, water, etc., and can identify body parts. They will point to get attention from people around and can follow simple demands like “come here”. They often mimic their parents and imitate their actions. An example of that would be feeding a doll or rub a paper towel on the coffee table to “clean”.

Movement and physical development: They can walk on their own, go up the stairs, and even run. They can eat with a spoon and drink from a cup, and they often seem very keen on dressing or undressing on their own.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Provide a loving and safe environment that is consistent and predictable. Make sure to praise good behavior and point out the bad ones but only use brief timeouts as punishment.

· Use words that describe feelings and emotions and encourage them to get in touch with their emotions by asking them if something makes them happy or not. Teach and encourage them to be empathetic towards other children.

· Read books and talk about pictures using simple and clear phrases. Ask simple questions and copy their words.

· Provide toys that encourage their sense of curiosity, independence, imagination, and movement such as:

o -Books

o -Puzzles

o -Blocks

o -Balls so they kick, roll, and throw

o -Toys that they can use to pretend play such as dolls and telephones

o -Toys they can push or pull like cars and shopping carts

o -Bubble blowers

· Help them gain more independence by encouraging them to eat with a spoon and drink from a cup


Emotional/Social: At this age children become more and more independent. They like playing with other children and at times act defiantly to show you that they’re in charge. They will copy their parents and other adults and older children.

Language and Communication: They can follow commands, recognize, and point at pictures or people when they’re named, they know names of familiar people and body parts, and they can form short sentences of 2 to 4 words.

Cognitive: Their cognitive skills at this stage should allow them to think and problem solve. If you hide an item under a few sheets, they’d be able to find it. They know and distinguish between shapes and colors and they can build towers of 4 blocks or more. They can complete familiar rhymes and name items in a picture book, animals, body parts, etc. You will notice that your child is using one hand more than the other and they are now able to follow instructions.

Movement and physical development: They can stand on their tippy-toes to reach high surfaces, climb up and down furniture on their own, and walk up and down the stairs without holding on to the handlebars. They begin to run and are able to kick a ball or throw it overhead. They can draw lines and copy shapes.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Give them simple chores such as putting their toys away and encourage them to help you with your chores and don’t forget to praise them. When they start walking well, ask them to carry small items for you.

· Be present when they play with other children and encourage them to share their toys.

· Do arts and crafts with them using crayons, paint, and paper. Praise them for their art and display their final work on the ridge or on the walls around the house.

· Give them attention and praise them for following instructions.

· Continue encouraging them to play games that help develop their movement and cognitive skills such as blocks and puzzles and a ball for them to kick and throw.


Emotional/Social: They demand more independence, show a variety of emotions, and constantly mimic adults. They copy adults and show affection for friends and concern for others’ sadness and unhappiness. Their independence allows them to easily separate from their parents, get dressed and undressed on their own, and understand the idea of “mine” and “his” or “hers”.

Language and Communication: They can follow more complicated instructions that require two or three steps. Their vocabulary expands and they start to understand words such as “in”, “out”, and “under”. They know their own and often their parent’s names and they can name most familiar things. They know their age and sex and can carry conversations using a few sentences. They should be able to talk well enough for strangers to understand them.

Cognitive: They can play well with toys that have moving parts, they get good at puzzles with a handful of pieces, they can build higher towers, and they will play and try to find functionality in items around the house such as screwing and unscrewing jar lids or doorknobs.

Movement and physical development: They can walk up and down the stairs, run, climb, and pedal.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Put them in playgroups and around other children often and encourage to get along and share with other kids. Take them to outdoor playgrounds, parks, and trails and let them play freely.

· Talk to them about their emotions and work with them to problem solve when they’re upset

· Read to them every day and provide the arts and crafts material on a daily basis. Count with them every day as they start to understand the concept of numbers.

· Set rules and stick to them so they learn about discipline. Praise good behavior and use short timeouts when they misbehave.

· Play matching games as well as counting games. Ask them to match pictures in the book with items around the house and count stairs, pages, fingers, and toes.


Emotional/Social: They enjoy doing new things. They’re more cooperative and like playing with other kids than alone. They play “mom” or “dad” and use their creativity to play make-believe. They talk about their interests and likes but often can’t tell what’s real and what’s make-believe.

Language and Communication: They tell stories and can sing-song along or sings songs from their memory. They can say their first and last name and they know basic grammar and can correctly use verbs and adjectives.

Cognitive: They understand the concept of counting and count numbers. They also begin to understand the idea of time. They can name colors and can draw a person with 2 or 4 body parts. They remember parts of a story and can tell you what they think will happen next in a book. They can play board or card games, use scissors for their arts and craft, and will begin to write/copy some capital letters.

Movement and physical development: They can jump, hop, and stand on one foot for a couple of seconds. They can pour, cut, and mash food. They get very good at catching a bouncing ball.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Encourage them to use words, share toys, and take turns playing games. Give them choices when it’s possible on simple things such as what to wear to school today, or a snack to pick at the grocery store.

· Pretend play but let them be the one in charge. Give them toys that help their imagination like kitchen sets, doctor sets, and Lego.

· Take your time answering the “why” questions. If you don’t know an answer encourage and help them to find it from a book or on the internet. Use proper grammar when you speak to them and start to speak to them more like adults. Use words like “first” and “finally” to help them learn the sequence of events.

· When you read with the point out colors and pictures and ask them to count common items. Ask them what they think will happen next as you read through the story

· Encourage outdoor games and when indoors often play their favorite music and dance with them.


Emotional/Social: They’re more independent and demanding at times but still very cooperative. They often understand and agree with rules and can tell what’s real and what’s not. They’re aware of gender and they want to make, mimic, and please friends. They sing, dance, and act.

Language and Communication: At this stage, children can speak very clearly. They can use present, past, and future tense properly. They are able to tell you stories using full sentences and know names and addresses.

Cognitive: They count up to 10 or more, are able to write/copy letters and numbers, and can draw shapes such as a triangle or a square. They know items that are used on a daily basis like money and food.

Movement and physical development: They can use forks and spoons to eat. They’re potty trained and don’t need help using the toilet. They can hop and stand on one foot for 10 seconds and they can swing and climb.

Tips to help your child’s development at this stage:

· Teach them addresses and phone numbers

· Go on walks with them in the neighborhood and continue encouraging outdoor games like a scavenger hunt or riding a bicycle. Take them to the park and teach them how to climb a monkey bar and move their legs back and forth on a swing.

· This is also a good time to explain to them about “private parts” and that no one should touch them except for a doctor or a nurse

· Teach them days of the week and months in a year. Also teach them time concepts like morning, evening, today, and tomorrow.

· Encourage them to play with toys, draw and paint with crayons and do arts and craft projects and read books. Continue asking them what they think will happen next in a book to improve their imagination.

· If they use profanity or talk back to you do not give it a lot of attention. Just give them a brief timeout. Praise them when they are polite and ask in a nice and calm manner.