What is child development?

Child development refers to how a child becomes able to do more complex things as they get older. Development is different than growth.  Growth only refers to the child getting bigger in size.  If you are concerned about your child’s development, please see Developmental Delay on YourChild.
When we talk about normal development, we are talking about developing skills like:

  • Gross motor:  using large groups of muscles to sit, stand, walk, run, etc., keeping balance, and changing positions.
  • Fine motor:  using hands to be able to eat, draw, dress, play, write, and do many other things.
  • Language:  speaking, using body language and gestures, communicating, and understanding what others say.
  • Cognitive:  Thinking skills:  including learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering.
  • Social:  Interacting with others, having relationships with family, friends, and teachers, cooperating, and responding to the feelings of others.

What are developmental milestones?

Developmental milestones are a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range.  Your pediatrician uses milestones to help check how your child is developing.  Although each milestone has an age level, the actual age when a normally developing child reaches that milestone can very quite a bit.  Every child is unique! 

Where can I find some good links with developmental milestones for my child’s age group?

Overall development—gross and fine motor, language, cognitive, and social skills
Social and Emotional Development

Zero to Three offers these milestones for how children develop and the role that parents play at different stages.  The emphasis here is more on social and emotional development:

Speech and Language Development

How does my child’s doctor check my child’s development?

Assessing your child’s development is a team effort.  Your family plays an important role.  At your child’s well-child visit, your pediatrician will spend time watching your child and talking with you to find out about what your child is doing since your last visit.  Tell your child’s doctor about any worries or concerns you may have. Your pediatrician may also use developmental screening in the office. Screening involves a series of questions and observations that gets at your child’s ability to perform certain age-appropriate tasks.  Using developmental milestones as a guide can help pediatricians identify children who may be at risk for developmental delay.

What if my child is not reaching their developmental milestones?

If your child’s doctor finds anything that may be of concern, they can refer you to a specialist and/or work with your family to identify services that may help your child.  If your child is delayed, you should start intervention as early as possible so your child can make the best possible progress.  Please see Developmental Delay on YourChild for more on the importance of early intervention and how to get your child into the early intervention system.

Where can I get more information and resources on the development children born prematurely?

  • Developmental milestones for children born prematurely, from birth to 18 months, with information on exceptions and concerns.  This site also helps you figure out the corrected age of your premature baby.

Where can I get more information and resources on the development newborns to three-year-olds?

  • Zero to Three is a leading resource on the first three years of life. They offer great tips and information to parents on the development of babies and toddlers.
  • Early Head Start (EHS) is for low-income babies, toddlers and pregnant women and their families. EHS programs enhance children's physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development; assist pregnant women to access comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care; support parents' efforts to fulfill their parental roles; and help parents move toward self-sufficiency. Find out how to enroll in EHS.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities Child Development homepage and Learn the Signs. Act Early.

Where can I get more information and resources on the development three- to five-year-olds?

Also see these related topics on YourChild:

Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by Layla Mohammed, M.D.  

Updated February 2010