Important developmental milestones in young children

Over the past few decades, several studies have shown that the way children are cared for as infants and toddlers influences the person they will become.

Studies indicate that when parents know how children develop, they are more responsive, sensitive, and skilful parents, and children are better off in both the short and long term.

According to the Alberta Benchmark Survey: What Adults Know About Child Development *, parents have a good understanding of physical milestones, such as when children learn to walk, but are less familiar with important intellectual and social stages.

To obtain these results, researchers with the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research polled 1,400 parents and other adults who interact with children. They found that most people knew when and how children learned to walk, toss a ball or draw. When it came to questions about attachment and develo - ping relationships, empathy, friendship, cooperation and communication, however, they weren’t sure how to answer.

So, to help parents, caregivers and the people who support them, the significant milestones during a child’s first five years of life are outlined here.

First Year of Life

Attachment, communication, personality and cooperation all begin developing as soon as a child is born and are well-established by a baby’s first birthday.


Research shows that when mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least six months and continue for up to a year, their children are more emotionally attached and also develop long term intellectual abilities. Some research shows that breastfed children cry less, are more alert and have better motor development. Mothers who breastfeed show improved confidence and nurturing skills. Breastfeeding also has important nutritional and health benefits for children, for example, protecting against some diseases and infections. These advantages may be due to the milk itself, being held by mothers in a close and intimate way, frequent skin to skin contact, and verbal and visual communication between mother and child.


Crying is the first stage in communication for babies. Different cries indicate needs and desires, but sometimes healthy babies cry for no apparent reason. The length of time babies cry varies widely. Most babies cry between one and three hours per day for the first six weeks of life. The length of time and the intensity of their cries increase until it peaks at about three months of age. Then, crying diminishes as babies learn to communicate through smiling, touching or babbling. Some babies cry excessively for no apparent reason and are difficult to soothe. These babies are often called colicky, but this usually decreases by about month five.


Babies begin to develop an emotional attachment to their primary caregiver by about six months of age. This process is known as “attachment.” Caregivers who are warm, responsive and sensitive to their children’s needs help them to build positive attachments and relationships. Children who trust at least one caregiver enjoy a personal sense of worth and a belief in others. They are self reliant, efficient, empathetic and competent from the toddler years to adolescence. If they remain attached to initial caregivers as they grow up, they will continue to build close relationships with others throughout life. Attachment relationships also provide children with an understanding and appreciation of their culture. Children with insecure attachments may suffer from conduct disorder, aggression, depression or anti-social behaviour later in life. Recent research also suggests that children who received mixed signals from caregivers (comforting and anger at the same time) face heightened risk for poor development.

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