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5 stages of child development

The 5 stages of child development are beautifully summarised and written by Help Me Grow as follows;⁠

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development means how children think, explore and figure things out. It is the development of knowledge, skills, problem solving and dispositions, which help children to think about and understand the world around them. Brain development is part of cognitive development. As a parent, it is important to foster your child's cognitive development as soon as he/she is born because doing so provides the foundation for your child's success in school and later in life. For example, research shows that children who can distinguish sounds at six months of age are better at acquiring the skills for learning to read at four and five years of age. To promote your child's cognitive development, it is important that you actively engage in quality interactions on a daily basis. Examples include:

  • Talking with your baby and naming commonly used objects.

  • Letting your baby explore toys and move about.

  • Singing and reading to your baby.

  • Exposing your toddler to books and puzzles.

  • Expanding on your child's interests in specific learning activities. For example, your toddler might show an early interest in dinosaurs, so you can take him/her on a trip to the natural history museum to learn more about the time that these creatures roamed the earth.

  • Answering your child’s “why” questions.

Another way that you can foster your child's cognitive development is to provide him/her with choices and prompt him/her to make thoughtful decisions. You should also allow your child to explore different ways of solving problems. While you may want to provide some gentle guidance and encouragement, allow your child some time to figure out things, like a new puzzle. This may require some patience on your part, but it will ultimately help him/her to learn.

Social and Emotional Development

'Social and emotional development means how children start to understand who they are, what they are feeling and what to expect when interacting with others. It is the development of being able to:

  • Form and sustain positive relationships.

  • Experience, manage and express emotions.

  • Explore and engage with the environment.

Positive social and emotional development is important. This development influences a child’s self-confidence, empathy, the ability to develop meaningful and lasting friendships and partnerships, and a sense of importance and value to those around him/her. Children’s social and emotional development also influences all other areas of development.

Parents and caregivers play the biggest role in social/emotional development because they offer the most consistent relationships for their child. Consistent experiences with family members, teachers and other adults help children learn about relationships and explore emotions in predictable interactions.

To nurture your child’s social and emotional development, it is important that you engage in quality interactions like these on a daily basis, depending on the age of your child:

  • Be affectionate and nurturing: hold, comfort, talk and sing with your baby, toddler and child.

  • Help your baby experience joy in “give-and-take” relationships by playing games like “peek-a-boo.”

  • Provide your toddler with responsive care, letting them practice new skills while still providing hands-on help.

  • Support your child’s developing skills; help him/her, but don’t do everything for your child, even if it takes longer or is messy.

  • Teach social and emotional skills, such as taking turns, listening and resolving conflict.

Speech and Language Development

The first five years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a child’s development. It’s a time of tremendous brain development that is very important for communication development. Babies begin communicating by crying, and then in a few months start babbling and imitating sounds. So much of a young child’s learning depends on having the ability to communicate with others, to begin to understand their world, to express their wishes and to ask those important questions about “why.”


  • Communicates mainly by crying.

  • Gives clues about being hungry by smacking lips and rooting.

  • Yawns and arches back when overstimulated.


  • Makes cooing sounds.

  • Cries to communicate.

  • Smacks lips and roots when hungry.

  • Yawns and arches back when overstimulated.


  • Makes cooing sounds.

  • Cries to communicate needs.

  • Turns head toward sounds.

  • Yawns and arches back when overstimulated.


  • Makes cooing sounds.

  • Chuckles in response to you.

  • Cries when hungry or uncomfortable.

  • Makes gurgling noises.


  • Babbles and imitates sounds.

  • Laughs aloud.

  • Cries in different ways when hungry, in pain or tired.


  • Coos and babbles more than two vowel sounds (“ah,” “eh,” “oh”), squeals and laughs.

  • Copies sounds that others make.

  • Responds to own name.

  • Begins to say consonant sounds like “b” and “m.”


  • Makes sounds like “bababa,” “dadada,” “mamama.”

  • Understands “no.”

  • Copies gestures such as nodding head for “yes” and shaking head for “no.”

  • Points at things.


  • Uses simple gestures like shaking head “no” or waving “bye-bye.”

  • Says “mama” and “dada.”

  • Tries to say words.

  • Responds to simple requests such as shaking head when asked, “are you all done?”


  • Says three or more single words.

  • Starts to imitate two-word phrases, such as “all done.”

  • Points to show what he/she wants.

  • Says “no” and shakes head.


  • Uses two or three words together.

  • Points to things or pictures in a book when named.

  • Follows simple directions.

  • Knows names of familiar people, and body parts.


  • Uses three-word sentences and carries on a conversation.

  • Talks clearly enough so that strangers can usually understand.

  • Follows two- or three-part instructions.

  • Says words like “I,” “me,” “you,” and “we” and uses some plurals.

  • Understands words such as “in,” “on” and “under.”

  • Says first name, age and gender.

  • Asks “why,” “where,” “what,” “when” and “how” questions.

  • Names a friend.


  • Tells stories and recalls parts of stories.

  • Knows some basic rules of grammar and uses words correctly.

  • Sings a song or says a rhyme from memory.

  • Says first and last name.

  • Communicates clearly and speaks in complete sentences.


  • Speaks very clearly, using sentences of five or more words.

  • Tells a story in complete sentences.

  • Uses future tense such as “I will be there.”

  • Says name and address.

Fine and Gross Motor Skill Development

The first five years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a child's development. Motor development, also called physical development, means how young children move their bodies and hands. Learn more about motor development and when babies roll over, sit, crawl, stand and walk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently launched Physical Developmental Delays: What to Look For, an interactive online tool, for parents of children ages 5 and under to use when they are concerned about their child’s motor development.

The tool lists physical activities by the age at which they are typically performed. If you are concerned that your child has not achieved a certain milestone or if there have been setbacks, you can click on boxes included next to activity descriptions. This creates a list – with space for notes – that can be taken to the next pediatrician appointment.


  • Turns head easily from side to side. When lying on back, moves head one way and then another.

  • Comforts self by bringing hands to face to suck on fingers or fist.

  • Keeps hands mostly closed and fisted.

  • Blinks at bright lights.


  • Raises head slightly off floor when lying on stomach.

  • Holds head up momentarily when supported.

  • Keeps hands in closed fists.

  • Comforts self by sucking on fist or fingers.


  • Holds head up and begins to push up with arms when lying on stomach.

  • Makes smoother movements with arms and legs.

  • Moves both arms and both legs equally well.

  • Brings hands to mouth.


  • Lifts head and chest when lying on stomach.

  • Moves arms and legs easily and vigorously.

  • Shows improved head control.


  • Holds head steady without support.

  • Grabs and shakes toys, brings hands to mouth.

  • Pushes down on legs when feet are placed on a hard surface.

  • Pushes up to elbows when lying on stomach.

  • Rocks from side to side and may roll over from tummy to back.


  • Rolls over in both directions.

  • Begins to sit with a little help.

  • Supports weight on both legs when standing, and might bounce.

  • Rocks back and forth on hands and knees, may crawl backward before moving forward.


  • Gets in and out of sitting position, and sits well without support.

  • Creeps or crawls.

  • Pulls to stand and stands, holding on.

  • Begins to take steps while holding on to furniture (cruising).


  • Pulls to stand and walks holding on to furniture.

  • Gets into sitting position without help.

  • Begins to stand alone.

  • Begins to take steps alone.


  • Walks alone, and begins to run and walk up steps.

  • Walks backward pulling toy.

  • Feeds self with spoon and drinks with cup.

  • Helps dress and undress self.


  • Kicks a ball forward.

  • Throws a ball overhand.

  • Walks up and down stairs holding on.

  • Stands on tiptoes.

  • Begins to run.

  • Climbs on and off furniture without help.

  • Puts simple puzzles together.


  • Climbs and runs well.

  • Walks up and down stairs, with one foot on each step.

  • Jumps with both feet, and may hop on one foot.

  • Pedals tricycle or three-wheel bike.


  • Catches a bounced ball most of the time.

  • Hops and stands on one foot for a few seconds.

  • Pours beverages, cuts with supervision and mashes own food.


  • Hops and may be able to skip.

  • Does somersaults.

  • Uses a fork and spoon, and sometimes a table knife.

  • Stands on one foot for at least 10 seconds.

  • Uses the toilet independently.

  • Swings and climbs.


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