Child development milestones

by | Babies and Pregnancy

From birth to 2 years, children develop very rapidly. These changes affect motor skills, vision, comprehension and communication. During the first 2 years, infants progress from being totally dependent on their carers to meet their needs to being able to run, speak over 50 words and feed themselves with a spoon.

Developmental milestones are things most children can do by a certain age. They can be broadly categorised as physical (motor), cognitive (learning and problem solving), social,  emotional, speech and language, and behavioural.

See below for the childhood developmental milestones for each age.

Do all children develop at the same rate?

While development usually happens in the same order in babies, the timeframe may not always be the same. Developmental milestones are a useful guide to track your baby’s progress, but remember differences are mostly nothing to worry about. Most babies will move through the milestones at their own pace.

If your baby was born prematurely, use their due date (not their actual birth date) as the baseline for their developmental milestones.

You may hear people talk about gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Put simply, gross motor skills are those involving the bigger muscles, such as the legs and arms, and fine motor skills involve smaller muscle groups such as the hand and the wrist. Examples of activities using gross motor skills are running, jumping and climbing stairs. Fine motor skills are needed for precision and control, such as when grasping objects, putting objects in a container, or using scissors. 

What can you do to help your baby’s development?

There is much you can do to help your baby’s development. For each category of development and at each age there are ways you can help your baby develop skills.

Some overarching things you can do are provide a stimulating environment, have lots of interaction back and forth – this has been shown to help brain development, talk to them often, sing and read books, give praise and encouragement, provide good nutrition, and give your baby frequent opportunities to play. Experts say you can’t spoil a baby – they need constant attention and encouragement to grow. 

There are many guides online for activities you can do at each age stage, e.g. Ages and Stages.

I think my baby has developmental delay

If you do have concerns that your baby’s development is not on track, you can talk to your GP, paediatrician or child health nurse. If you notice delays in more than one area or your baby seems to go backwards, this is even more important. The earlier you get help, if it’s needed, the better.

Can a child catch up with developmental milestones?

If a child’s development is lagging behind the milestones, with appropriate therapy they may be able to catch up. For example if they are behind with motor skills, they may be referred for occupational therapy and you may be given exercises to do with them to improve their motor skills.

What are some of the causes of development delays?

Sometimes a child may just be reaching milestones a little later than other children. But if the developmental delay is persistent it is known as a ‘developmental disability’. These delays may indicate a child has a condition that is causing them to be delayed in development, such as autism, hearing problems or fetal alcohol syndrome.

Developmental milestones


  • Movement takes the form of generalised reflexes, involving the whole body
  • Hands are held in fists most of the time
  • Focuses on faces and other objects at close range (20-30 cm)
  • Is sensitive to touch and to pain
  • Has well developed sense of smell and after a few days will recognise the scent of own mother
  • Can hear all sounds in environment but will respond most to loud or high-pitched noises
  • Recognises and prefers mother’s voice
  • Can taste different flavours and prefers sweet tastes
  • Communication is limited to crying

3 months

  • Able to lift head and chest when lying on stomach
  • Hands unfisted (open) most of the time
  • Begins to develop hand-eye coordination; e.g. bats at dangling objects
  • Watches faces intently; follows moving objects
  • Recognises familiar objects/people at a distance
  • Turns head in the direction of sound
  • Begins to imitate sounds
  • Has a variety of cries, e.g. hunger, pain
  • Smiles and laughs
  • Makes sounds in response to hearing someone speak
  • May imitate some movements and facial expressions

6 months

  • Sits up with support and rolls over
  • May start to push self up or try to bear some weight on legs
  • Full head control
  • Reaches for and grasps objects, e.g. a finger
  • Able to transfer an object from hand to hand
  • Vision may be fully developed
  • Starts to babble (join consonants and vowels together repetitively)

12 months

  • Stands alone
  • First independent steps or walks with hand held
  • Bangs blocks together, stacks objects or nests them inside each other
  • Holds items between thumb and forefinger
  • Makes gestures, e.g. waving
  • Speaks first words and associates words with meaning
  • Can follow a simple command if accompanied by a gesture
  • Uses exclamations, e.g. “uh-oh!”
  • Responds to “no”
  • May begin to form relationships

18 months

  • Walks alone
  • Hurls a ball
  • Sits down on small chair
  • Climbs onto furniture
  • Will feed self using a spoon but spills food; drinks from a cup
  • Speaks 10-25 words
  • Able to point to objects or pictures when they are named
  • Knows names of familiar people and parts of body

24 months

  • Runs well without falling
  • Jumps
  • Walks up and down stairs alone
  • Kicks a ball
  • Feeds self with a spoon and spills little food
  • Speaks 50+ words
  • Knows and speaks own name
  • Connects words into short phrases

NOTE: Development varies widely from child to child. The above should be used as a general guide only. If you are concerned about the development of your child, please consult your doctor or health care professional.