Home Emergencies: preparadness and reponse Injury prevention Child protection HIV and AIDS Malaria Hygiene Coughs, colds and more serious illnesses Diarrhoea Immunization Nutrition and growth Breastfeeding Child development and early learning Safe motherhood and newborn health Timing births
Facts for Life

How children develop

 

 

The following chart gives parents an idea of how young children develop. Each stage of development is part of a continuum, building on the previous stage and affecting the next. Not all children grow and develop at the same pace. Slow progress may be normal or may be due to inadequate nutrition, poor health, lack of stimulation or a more serious problem. Parents may wish to discuss their child's progress with a trained health worker or a teacher.

 By the age of 1 MONTH
A baby should be able to:
  • turn her or his head towards a hand that is stroking the child's cheek or mouth
  • bring both hands towards her or his mouth
  • turn towards familiar voices and sounds
  • suckle the breast and touch it with her or his hands.
Advice for parents and caregivers:
  • make skin-to-skin contact and breastfeed within one hour of birth
  • support the baby's head when you hold the baby upright
  • massage and cuddle the baby often
  • always handle the baby gently, even when you are tired or upset
  • breastfeed frequently and on demand
  • always safely dispose of the baby's faeces and wash hands with soap and water or a substitute, such as ash and water, after changing the baby
  • talk, read and sing to the child as much as possible
  • give consistent love and affection
  • visit a trained health worker with the infant during the first week and again six weeks after birth.
Warning signs to watch for:
  • poor suckling at the breast or refusing to suckle
  • little movement of arms and legs
  • little or no reaction to loud sounds or bright lights
  • crying for long periods for no apparent reason
  • vomiting and diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration.
 By the age of 6 MONTHS
A baby should be able to:
  • raise the head and chest when lying on her or his stomach
  • reach for dangling objects
  • grasp and shake objects
  • roll both ways
  • sit with support
  • explore objects with hands and mouth
  • begin to imitate sounds and facial expressions
  • respond to her or his own name and to familiar faces.
Advice for parents and caregivers:
  • lay the baby on a clean, flat, safe surface so she or he can move freely and reach for objects
  • continue to hold and cuddle the baby every day, giving consistent love and affection
  • prop or hold the baby in a secure position so she or he can see what is happening nearby
  • continue to breastfeed on demand day and night, and start adding other foods (two to three meals a day starting at 6 months; three to four meals a day from 9 months and beyond)
  • talk, read or sing to the child as often as possible, not only when she or he is hungry or getting ready to sleep.
Warning signs to watch for:
  • stiffness or difficulty moving limbs
  • constant moving of the head (this might indicate an ear infection, which could lead to deafness if not treated)
  • little or no response to sounds, familiar faces or the breast
  • refusing the breast or other foods.
 By the age of 12 MONTHS
A baby should be able to:
  • sit without support
  • crawl on hands and knees and pull herself or himself up to stand
  • take steps holding on to support
  • try to imitate words and sounds and respond to simple requests
  • enjoy playing and clapping
  • repeat sounds and gestures for attention
  • pick things up with thumb and one finger
  • start holding objects such as a spoon and cup and attempt self-feeding.
Advice for parents and caregivers:
  • point to objects and name them; play with, talk, sing and read to the child frequently
  • use mealtimes and other family activities to encourage interaction with all family members
  • give consistent affection and be responsive both when the child is happy and when upset
  • if the child is developing slowly or has a physical disability, focus on the child's abilities and give extra stimulation and interaction
  • do not leave a child in one position for many hours
  • make the area as safe as possible to prevent accidents, and keep dangerous objects, such as sharp objects, plastic bags and small items a child can choke on, out of the child's reach
  • continue to breastfeed and ensure that the child has enough food and a variety of family foods
  • help the child experiment with spoon and cup feeding
  • make sure the child's immunizations are up to date and that she or he receives all recommended doses of nutrient supplements
  • keep the child's hands clean and begin teaching the child to wash them with soap.
Warning signs to watch for:
  • does not make sounds in response to others
  • does not look at objects that move
  • listlessness and lack of response to the caregiver
  • lack of appetite or refusal of food.
 By the age of 2 YEARS
A child should be able to:
  • walk, climb and run
  • point to objects or pictures when they are named (e.g., nose, eyes, ears)
  • say several words together (from about 15 months)
  • follow simple instructions
  • scribble if given a pencil or crayon
  • enjoy simple stories and songs
  • imitate the behaviour of others
  • begin to eat by herself or himself.
Advice for parents and caregivers:
  • read to and sing or play games with the child
  • teach the child to avoid dangerous objects
  • talk to the child normally – do not use baby talk
  • continue to breastfeed and ensure the child has enough food and a variety of family foods
  • make sure the child is fully immunized
  • encourage, but do not force, the child to eat
  • provide simple rules and set reasonable expectations
  • praise the child's achievements, provide reassurance when the child is afraid and continue to give consistent affection every day.
Warning signs to watch for:
  • lack of response to others
  • difficulty keeping balance while walking
  • injuries and unexplained changes in behaviour (especially if the child has been cared for by others)
  • lack of appetite.
 By the age of 3 YEARS
A child should be able to:
  • walk, run, climb, kick and jump easily
  • recognize and identify common objects and pictures by pointing
  • make sentences of two or three words
  • say her or his own name and age
  • name colours
  • understand numbers
  • use make-believe objects in play
  • feed herself or himself
  • express affection.
Advice for parents and caregivers:
  • read and look at books with the child and talk about the pictures
  • tell the child stories and teach rhymes and songs
  • give the child her or his own bowl or plate of food
  • continue to encourage the child to eat, giving the child as much time as she or he needs
  • help the child learn to dress, use the toilet or latrine and wash her or his hands with soap and water or a substitute, such as ash and water, after defecating and before touching food and eating
  • listen to and answer all the child's questions
  • encourage creative play, building and drawing
  • give the child simple tasks, such as putting toys back in their place, to build responsibility
  • limit television watching and ensure that violent shows are not viewed
  • acknowledge and encourage positive behaviour and set clear limits
  • provide consistent affection every day
  • if available, enrol the child in an early learning (play) activity with other children.
Warning signs to watch for:
  • loss of interest in playing
  • frequent falling
  • difficulty manipulating small objects
  • failure to understand simple messages
  • inability to speak using several words
  • little or no interest in food.
 By the age of 5 YEARS
A child should be able to:
  • move in a coordinated way
  • speak in sentences and use many different words
  • understand opposites (e.g., fat and thin, tall and short)
  • play with other children
  • dress without help
  • answer simple questions
  • count 5–10 objects
  • wash her or his own hands.
Advice for parents and caregivers:
  • listen to the child
  • interact frequently with the child
  • read and tell stories
  • encourage the child (both girls and boys) to play and explore
  • listen to and answer all the child's questions, have conversations (with both girls and boys)
  • encourage creative play, building and drawing
  • limit television watching and ensure that violent shows are not viewed
  • acknowledge and encourage positive behaviour and set clear and consistent limits
  • provide consistent affection every day
  • enrol the child (both girls and boys) in an early learning (play) programme that helps to prepare the child for school.
Warning signs to watch for:
  • fear, anger or violence when playing with other children, which could be signs of emotional problems or abuse.
 By the age of 8 YEARS
A child's:
  • physical development proceeds more gradually and steadily than in the early years
  • muscle mass increases, and small and large motor skills improve
  • ability to understand and communicate abstract concepts and complex ideas has begun to develop
  • span of attention increases, and she or he can focus on the past and future as well as the present
  • learning capacity is expanding, and she or he is learning to read, write and do problem solving in a school environment
  • friends and interactions with her or his peer group are increasingly important
  • interest in friendships includes enjoying time with her or his peer group and turning to peers for information
  • self-control improves, and understanding of more complex emotions increases.
Advice for parents and caregivers:
  • be a good role model, equally for girls and boys
  • encourage your child to express feelings and beliefs and to solve problems
  • recognize and support your child's strengths and skills as well as limitations
  • spend time with your child, and talk and listen to her or him
  • find activities you can do together that will make your child feel successful, secure and loved
  • facilitate and support your child's playtime with friends and in extra-curricular school activities
  • acknowledge and encourage positive behaviour and set clear and consistent limits
  • show interest and become involved in your child's school – remember that the mother, father and/or other caregiver(s) are a child's first and most important teachers.
Warning signs to watch for:
  • difficulties making and keeping friends and participating in group activities
  • avoiding a task or challenge without trying, or showing signs of helplessness
  • trouble communicating needs, thoughts and emotions
  • trouble focusing on tasks, understanding and completing schoolwork
  • excessive aggression or shyness with friends and family.