General Child Development

How do I know if my baby is learning and what can I do to help?

Childrens services helping

Your young infant is developing every day. Babies differ in their rate of development and in their character. The best way to determine how your baby is doing is to observe him/her when your baby is content and in a good mood. There are some things to look for through the day. Don’t be concerned if all of them are not present. Do not hesitate to ask your pediatrician or early care and education teacher if you are concerned about any aspect of your baby’s development. Enjoy watching your child grow and seeing how your baby and changes over time. Babies learn skills very quickly.

Birth – 3 months

Here are some things to look for:

  • Following things with his/her eyes — may get excited to see favorite toy, but will not notice small objects for some time.
  • Follows sounds — turns head in response to sounds.
  • Face recognition — happy to see you when you appear.
  • Beginning sounds — starts to coo around 3 months, if he/she is not, tell your pediatrician.
  • Shows excitement before feeding and other familiar routines.

3 – 6 months

As your baby develops; he/she will become more sociable. Baby’s coordination is improving daily. Each day you are able to notice your baby developing and growing. This is a very enjoyable time with your baby. Spend time with your baby cuddling, cooing, tickling, smiling and talking.

Some things to look for:

  • Focusing — begins to study things closely.
  • Differences — beings to show likes and dislikes by reaching or turning away.
  • Two hands — begins to use both hand to grasp larger objects like bottle.
  • Turns over — able to roll from front to back during play or while having diaper changed.
  • Exploration — puts objects in to mouth.
  • Recognition — turns to you when you speak and shows pleasure.

6-9 months

What begins to emerge at this age is your baby’s personality. Development is evident everywhere. Each day your baby’s evidence of learning is more and more obvious. He/she is figuring out how to sit up and remain steady. Babies at this age begin to tell the difference between people they know and do not know. They are sometimes afraid of strangers. This new behavior means that your baby prefers special people such as parents and grandparents. One of the pleasant developments that emerges is your baby making all sorts of new sounds. Have fun with your baby by copying the sounds your baby makes. Wait for your baby to respond back.

Some things to look for:

  • Reaches for and grasps objects.
  • Tries to talk to image in mirror.
  • Puts objects from one hand to another.
  • Responds to his/her name.
  • May go after a ball if it rolls out of sight.
  • Vocalizes to self when alone.
  • Able to uncover a toy that is hidden by a cloth.

9-12 months

On the move is what describes this age. Your baby will be crawling, cruising or sometimes even walking. Babies are babbling and “talking” with gestures. Babies are beginning to understand causality — that is, how do things work? Another learning milestone is understanding object and person permanence. That means that babies now realize that objects and people who “go away” will return or reappear again. Peek-a-boo and games that involve hiding an object or a person explore this concept. One of the most powerful tools for learning is through imitation. Play simple imitation games with your child such as putting your finger on your nose and sticking out your tongue.

Some things to look for:

  • Understands the purpose of objects (e.g., spoons are for eating, rattles make sounds when they are shaken).
  • Beings to explore objects more with hands than mouth.
  • Responds to simple questions.
  • Repeats actions that cause a response.
  • Looks for things not in sight.
  • Responds to simple directions.
  • Likes to look at picture books.
  • Likes nursery rhymes and songs.

12 – 18 months

One of the most evident behaviors at this age is attachment. Your toddler will leave you, but he/she will not let you leave. This is a milestone in development for your toddler. This can be a difficult time because of your child’s distress at your leaving. When you do leave, reassure your child, each time, that you will return. Do this even if you are going for only 15 minutes. Each time you return, she/he will grow in trust for you. Your toddler will gradually learn to master his/her feelings. Hug and cuddle your child. Enjoy looking at and reading books together.

Some things to look for:

  • Likes to take things apart.
  • Looks at person talking to him.
  • May know several of his/her body parts.
  • Asks for something by pointing or using words.
  • Able to identify objects in a book.
  • Understands and able to follow simple directions.
  • Imitates animals.
  • Uses up to 16-20 words.
  • Had a short attention span.
  • Is very curious.
  • Very interested in cause and effect.

18 – 24 months

Children at this age are non-stop, and there is a sudden burst in development. They are beginning to do many things on their own — walk, run, and climb with greater skill. It is also the true age of imitation. Pretend play is one of their favorite activities. They also begin to want to be with other children their age — one or two is plenty. This is a time when they begin to learn about themselves and their relationship with others. Your toddler will play mostly side by side with other toddlers, not directly with them. This is typical. Play becomes a powerful tool for learning. Children also become less cooperative, and their sense of independence grows. Have fun with your child. Play games with your child and his/her toys.

Some things to look for:

  • Shows preferences for toys.
  • Imitates another child’s play.
  • Begins to ask questions and asks for things by name.
  • Has vocabulary of several hundred works, including names of toys.
  • Uses two-three word sentences.
  • Able to follow simple commands.
  • Hums or tries to sing.
  • Enjoys singing familiar songs.
  • Listens to short rhymes or fingerplays.
  • Talks to self and ” jabbers” expressively.
  • Enjoys exploring and getting into everything.
  • Enjoys simple pretend play.

24 to 36 months (2 to 3 years)

Independence is the key description for this age! Two year olds want to do things by themselves one minute, and the next they will want you to do those things for them. They are very active — usually non-stop from the time they open their eyes until they fall asleep. Play with and enjoy your child. Explore new places and objects together.

Some things to look for:

  • Able to take part in simple conversations.
  • Able to name a variety of objects.
  • Intrigued by cause and effect actions.
  • Beginning to see that things have a purpose.
  • Starts to make groups of things like animals, cars and food in his/her mind.
  • Asks many questions.
  • Follows two-step directions.
  • Begins to make choices.
  • Says names of toys.
  • Interested in learning how to use common things.

36 to 48 months (3 to 4 years)

Children at this age are emerging from the negativism of a 2-year-old to a more cooperative young child as a 3-year-old. Imagination begins to take over. Your child will begin to watch everyone around in new ways. Your child will begin symbolic play where toys and objects are used to act out events and interactions. Learning is best done through play. Children will try different techniques and ideas and determine what works best for them. They also are learning about themselves as social people. They are interested in mastering motor skills and they enjoy the repetition of riding a tricycle or climbing up and down stairs. They also like to repeat activities or may do and undo actions like putting a puzzle together. This is important to their later understanding of how things change or remain the same. Have fun playing out of doors with your child and enjoy physical activities with him/her.

Some things to look for:

  • Enjoys making simple choices.
  • Talks in complete sentences.
  • Enjoys familiar stories told without changing words or sequence of story.
  • Able to listen to short stories and books.
  • Able to tell simple stories from books with pictures.
  • Alert and curious.
  • Constantly asks “why” questions.
  • Enjoys guessing games and riddles.
  • Able to carry out two or more directions.
  • Understands the sequence of events.
  • Beginning to understand the concept of time.
  • Able to match simple colors and shapes.
  • Begins to sort by size, shape and color.
  • Sings and learns fingerplays.
  • Able to distinguish between night and day.
  • Likes to listen to short stories.
  • Interested in similarities and differences.
  • Can count two-three objects.
  • Can put together a six-piece puzzle.

48 to 60 months (4- 5 years)

Children this age feel good about the things that they can do. Their language development is in full force as they love to talk. They delight in wild stories and often their imagination becomes greater than life. Lot of energy and willingness to try new adventures is characteristic of this age group. Children are bold and need to be watched closely as they are child and share in their joy of discovery and understanding.

Some things to consider:

  • Understands routines and can tell what activity comes first and second in a sequence.
  • Asks questions constantly to gain information.
  • Speaks in complex sentences.
  • Interested in life-death concepts.
  • Interested in how things work.
  • Full of ideas.
  • Can stay with an activity for 10-15 minutes.
  • Beginning to have basic concepts related to number, size, weight, colors, textures and distance.
  • Asks and answers who, what, when, why and where questions.
  • Understands the immediate passage of time.
  • Can follow two unrelated directions.
  • Still confuses reality with fantasy.
  • Able to remember stories and repeat them.
  • Like to argue and reason.
  • Enjoys riddles and jokes.
  • Enjoys creating and telling stories.
  • Knows basic colors.
  • Can understand and use comparative terms like big, bigger, biggest.

What kinds of physical skills does my 3-4- month-old have?

Three to Four Months

Gross Motor

  • Rests on forearm.
  • Good head control.
  • Able to arch back if held under stomach.
  • Rolls from front to back
  • Sits well when propped.

Visual and Fine Motor

  • Hands unfisted most of the time.
  • Able to follow an object in a circular motion.
  • Looks at hands and fingers.
  • Grasps and holds objects.
  • Brings objects to mouth.


  • Coos.
  • Crying varies with hunger, pain, excitement, frustration, dirty diaper.
  • Echoes the speaker immediately.
  • Smiles spontaneously.
  • Laughs.

What kinds of physical skills does my infant have?

Looking at a physical development chart can help you find out what an infant’s physical skills are.

One to 2 Months.

Gross Motor

  • Raises head slightly while on stomach.
  • Makes some jerky, uncontrolled crawling movements.
  • Lifts up chin.
  • Lifts head and chest off a surface while on stomach.
  • Holds head straight and steady.
  • Able to hold head and feet up if supported under stomach.
  • Head bobs erect if held sitting.

Visual and Fine Motor

  • Has tight grip and grips momentarily objects placed in hand.
  • Hands stay fisted.
  • Follows objects from side to front.
  • Will suck an object when placed in mouth.
  • Follows objects from side to side.
  • Fists clenched tightly only half the time.
  • Follows objects up and down.


  • May begin to smile.
  • Startles, moves or blinks in response to sound.
  • Smiles in response to being talked to.
  • Makes gurgling sounds.
  • Turns to voices.

How can I know what my child should be saying or understanding at what age?

Pre school

Language has two aspects: Understanding, which is called receptive language, and talking or expressive language. For a child to develop language normally, both aspects must be developing together and at the right age level.

Language sets humans apart from other animals. It is closely related to learning and literacy. Language includes hearing, being able to understand what is being said, being able to respond to what was said, expressing ones’ wants, needs and ideas appropriately in a social setting. Speech refers to the child’s ability to talk or to use speech sounds to express himself/herself. By the time a child is 3 years old, he/she is usually intelligible to unfamiliar listeners.

Typical language (understanding and talking) develops in the same way for all children. There are certain milestones to which you can compare your child’s language development.

Birth to 3 months

Hearing and Understanding:

  • Listens to speech.
  • Awakens at loud sound.
  • Turns to you when you speak.
  • Smiles when spoken to.
  • Stops activity to pay attention to an unfamiliar voice.


  • Repeats the same sound a lot (cooing, gooing).
  • Cries differently for different needs.
  • Smiles when he/she sees you.

3 to 6 months

Hearing and Understanding:

  • Responds to “No” and changes in tone of voice.
  • Looks around for the source of new sounds, e.g., vacuum, doorbell, dog.
  • Notices toys that make sounds.
  • Pays attention to music.
  • Stops activity to pay attention to an unfamiliar voice.


  • Makes babbling sounds that are speech-like, including “p”, “b” and “m.”
  • Makes gurgling sounds when left alone and when playing with you.
  • Tells you by sound or gesture when he/she wants you to do something.

6 to 9 months

  • Hearing and Understanding:
  • Enjoys games like peek-o-boo and pat-a-cake.
  • Listens when spoken to.
  • Turns and looks up when you call his/her name.


  • Babbling has both long and short groups of sounds such as “tata upup bibibibi.”
  • Uses speech or non-crying sounds to get attention.

9 to 12 months

Hearing and Understanding:

  • Recognizes words for common items like “cup,” “shoe,” “juice.”
  • Begins to respond to requests (“Come here,” “Want more?”).


  • Imitates different speech sounds.
  • Has one or two words (“Bye-bye,” “Dada,”, “Mama,” “No”).

12 to 18 months

  • Hearing and Understanding:
  • Points to pictures in a book when named.
  • Points to a few body parts when asked.
  • Follows simple commands (“Sit down,” “Let go”).


  • Says more words every month.
  • Uses some one- or two-word questions (“Where kitty?” “Go bye-bye?”).

18 to 24 months

Hearing and Understanding:

  • Follows simple commands (“Roll the ball,” “Kiss the baby”).
  • Understands simple questions (“Where is your shoe?”).
  • Listens more carefully to simple stories and songs and rhymes.


  • Puts two words together (“More cookie,” “No juice”).
  • Uses many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
  • Asks for items by name (doll, ball, cookie).

24 to 36 months (2 to 3 years)

Hearing and Understanding:

  • Understands differences in meaning (“go-stop,” “in-on,” “big-little”).
  • Notices sounds (telephone ringing, television sounds, knocking at the door).
  • Follows two requests (“Get the book and put it on the table.”).


  • Has a word for almost everything.
  • Uses two-three-word “sentences” to talk about and ask for things.
  • Speech is understood by familiar listeners most of the time.

36 to 48 months (3 to 4 years)

Hearing and Understanding:

  • Hears you when you call from another room.
  • Hears television or radio at the same loudness level as other family members.
  • Understands simple, “who,” “what,” “where” questions.


  • Talks about activities at school or at friends’ homes.
  • Usually talks easily without repeating syllables or words.
  • People outside family usually understand child’s speech.
  • Uses many sentences with four or more words.

48 to 60 months

Hearing and Understanding:

  • Pays attention to a short story and answers simple questions about it.
  • Everyone who knows child thinks he/she hears well.
  • Hears and understand most of what is said at home and in school.


  • Voice sounds clear like other children’s.
  • Uses sentences that give lots of details (e.g., “I like to read my books”).
  • Tells stories that stick to a topic.
  • Communicates easily with other children and adults.
  • Says most sounds correctly except a few like l, s, r, v, z, ch, sh, th.
  • Uses adult-like grammar.

And Florida Department of Education, (1999). “Welcome to the world: An overview of your growing child.” Tallahassee, Fla.

Allergies or asthma: What is the difference between allergies and asthma?

Allergies and asthma can easily be confused. They share some symptoms: wheezing, coughing, lack of energy. Allergies are part of a body’s normal response system to a perceived harmful substance; asthma blocks of airways. Making normal breathing difficult. Allergies can be linked to such triggers as pollens, animals and foods; asthma is the result of extreme physical exertion.

Allergies can be treated through pills, shots and lifestyle changes. Treatment will vary according to each individual case. Severity, frequency and regularity will be considered when prescribing treatment.

Asthma is treated with inhalants to widen the passages to the lungs. Children with asthma may be especially susceptible to high concentrations of air pollution and smog. Consult your doctor.

Doctor visits: If my baby is healthy, why do I have to keep taking him/her for check-ups?

It’s the best way of keeping your baby healthy. A medical provider can pick up health problems early, before even symptoms of real trouble. And your baby’s immunizations will be kept up to date.

Doctor visits: When do I call the doctor for a fever?

  • Child younger than 6 months is higher than 100 F.
  • Child has fever and cannot be consoled.
  • Child has fever and has trouble waking from sleep.
  • Child has fever and cries when you touch or move him/her.
  • Child older than 6 months has fever greater than 100 F more than two days.
  • Child older than 6 months has fever equal to or higher than 102 F.
  • Child has fever and is drowsy.
  • Child has fever and is breathing heavily.
  • Child has fever and has pains.
  • Child has fever and a stiff neck, cannot bend head forward and is sensitive to bright lights.
  • Child has recurring, unexplained fevers.

Doctor visits: When do I call the doctor otherwise?

  • Child is throwing up.
  • Child has diarrhea or is constipated.
  • Child is inconsolable.
  • Child has unexplained marks, bumps or bruises on body.
  • You have diet/eating concerns about your child.
  • Other concerns about your child’s health and development.

Immunizations: Why do I need to immunize my child? And is it safe?

Thanks to vaccinations, the number of children who become ill from diseases such as measles, chicken pox, German measles and polio has been markedly reduced. Immunizing your child means that your child will receive a shot or vaccine that will help to fight against a particular disease if is exposed to it.

Vaccines protect children from getting sick. Some children will experience side effects. Minor effects include fever or swelling; fatal effects are very rare. The benefits significantly outweigh the risk associated with side effects.

Shaken Baby Syndrome: What is it?

In the first three of years of life, a baby’s brain can be injured much more easily than an adult’s brain. One way of hurting a young child’s brain is by shaking the baby. This can happen when caregivers or parents are frustrated or angry. Even if you have had a bad day either at home or at work and the baby is getting on your nerves,


This may lead to such severe brain damage that the baby dies. Even if the child survives, he/she can suffer from blindness and /or mental retardation.

Shaken Baby Syndrome: What should I do when I get so frustrated that I just want to shake some sense into my baby?

  1. Set your baby in a safe and secure place.
  2. Leave the room.
  3. Take deep breaths-count-calm down.
  4. Once you have regained control, reconnect with your baby.

Make sure that anyone caring for your baby also understands and practices this concept.

SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome): What can cause SIDS?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome refers to a baby’s death without any apparent cause. It is not clear what exactly causes SIDS, but there are three things you can do to protect your child:

  • Do not expose your baby to second-hand smoke.
  • Put your baby to sleep on his/her back. Babies should be put to sleep on their backs until they can turn themselves over. , Click on the Back to Sleep campaign logo.
  • Keep pillows, comforters and stuffed toys out of your child’s sleeping area. These items can lead to suffocation.

Smoking in your child’s life: What does smoking do to my child?

Smoking while pregnant lowers the amount of oxygen available to the baby. Moreover, the chemicals in nicotine pass into your baby’s bloodstream. All this can retard your baby’s growth and development. It’s also linked to a greater likelihood of premature birth, low birth weight, infant death, and health problems after birth.

Smoking after birth continues to present great risks to your child’s health. It exposes your child to second-hand smoke and provides an unhealthy model for your child. Exposure to second hand-smoke increases your child’s chances of ear infections, asthma and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). In the long run it contributes to lung cancer, heart disease and cataracts.

If you are a smoker, it is in the best interest of your child to quit.

Be sure anyone who does smoke, smokes outside. You want to be sure that the air in your home is healthy for your child to breathe.

Assessing your child’s skills in the stages of emergent literacy

When entering kindergarten, a child should have an understanding of these four concepts:

  • Concepts About Print:
  • Does the child handle books correctly? (Identifies the front cover, back cover, etc.) Does the child recognize that reading in English works from left to right? (Does he/she track words across a page?)
  • Phonemic Awareness:
  • Does the child recognize specific letters? Can the child play word games that focus on rhyme? Can the child identify beginning and ending sounds in words? Can the child identify the different letter sounds heard within a word?
  • Reading Comprehension:
  • Is the child able to retell a story accurately? Can the child identify characters in the story? Can the child predict what might happen next in a fictional story?
  • Attitudes Toward Reading (and Writing):
  • Can the child identify favorite books and authors? Does the child identify reading and writing as a favorite activity?

What should I do if I don’t think my child is developing normally?

Become a good observer. Give your child your full attention. Watch and see what your child is doing. Look carefully. Watch how he/she does it. Look at what that child is not doing. Write down your child’s accomplishments. Keep track of your child’s doings. Write these observations in a notebook. Put a date with each observation. Note when your child does something new. Also note how easily and how often he/she does it. Look back on your notes from time to time. See if your child has made progress in physical skills.

Discuss these observations with your child’s doctor. A clear and detailed history of the perceived problem or competency helps develop a plan of action for intervention or enhancement of the child’s abilities. If you have concerns or questions about your child’s development, discuss them with the doctor to help determine if they need closer attention. Remember: Children grow and develop at differing rates.

If you have a concern about your child’s development contact Help Me Grow by dialing 2-1-1. A Help Me Grow Care Coordinator can offer you a free developmental and behavioral screening to assist you in monitoring your child’s development.

What are the characteristics of programs found to reduce psychological symptoms or related behaviors in young children?

Researchers, practitioners and policymakers have developed the following conclusions (Panel on High-Risk Youth, National Research Council, 1993) about the necessary intensity and comprehensiveness of programming to prevent psychopathology and promote positive development, especially with children and adolescents growing up in high-risk environments:

  • Short-term preventive interventions produce time-limited benefits, at best, with at-risk groups whereas multi-year programs are more likely to foster enduring benefits.
  • Preventive interventions may effectively operate throughout childhood when developmentally appropriate risk and protective factors are targeted. However, given the resistance to treatment of serious conduct problems, ongoing intervention starting in the pre-school and early elementary years may be necessary.
  • Preventive interventions are best directed at risk and protective factors rather than a specific categorical problem. It is both feasible and cost-effective to target multiple negative outcomes in the context of a coordinated set of programs.
  • Interventions must be aimed at multiple domains, changing institutions and environments as well as individuals.
  • Prevention programs that focus independently on the child are not as effective as those that simultaneously “educate” the child and instill positive changes across both the school and home environments. Successful programs focus not only on the child’s behavior, but also on the teacher’s and family’s behavior, the relationship between the home and school, and the needs of schools and neighborhoods to support healthy norms and competent behavior.
  • There is no single program component that can prevent multiple high-risk behaviors. A package of coordinated, collaborative strategies and programs is required in each community. For school-age children, the school ecology should be a central focus of intervention.
  • For sustainability, prevention programs need to be integrated with systems of care and treatment.
  • Programs and communities must develop common conceptual models, common language, and procedures that maximize the effectiveness of programs at each level of need.
  • School and child care settings are seldom delivering comprehensive interventions that combine both primary prevention and secondary prevention and treatment.


Catalano, R. F., Berglund, M. L., Ryan, J. A. M., Lonczak, H. C., & Hawkins, J. D. (1998). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. (NICHD Publications). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Department of Health and Human Services. (1991). Healthy People 2000. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office,

DHHS Pub. No. (PHS) 91-50212.

Panel on High-Risk Youth, National Research Council. (1993). Losing generations: Adolescents in high-risk settings. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.