What to expect in your child's first three years
Babies and young children come in a rich variety of shapes and sizes, skills and abilities.
‘Normal’ varies a lot when it comes to development. Some one-year-olds toddle around the room, while others watch from the mat. Sometimes things like walking or drinking from a cup just seem to happen in their own good time.
Development is the term used to describe the changes in your child’s physical growth, as well as their ability to learn the social, emotional, behaviour, thinking and communication skills they need for life.
Development: what your child needs
The first five years of a child’s life are critical for development, and the experiences your child has in these years help to shape the adult he or she will become.
In these years, your child’s brain develops more and faster than at any other time in life. Your child’s early experiences – the things he or she sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes – stimulate the brain, creating millions of connections. This is when the foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life are laid down.
Children’s relationships affect all areas and stages of their development. This is because relationships are experiences.
In fact, relationships are the most important experiences in your child’s environment
because they teach them the most about the world around him. Your child’s most important relationships are with you, other family members and carers, including early childhood educators. More than anything else, your relationship with your child shapes the way they learn and develop.
This is why a loving, nurturing relationship with you is so important.
In the early years, your child’s main way of learning and developing is through play. Play is fun for your child and gives him an opportunity to explore, observe, experiment, solve problems and learn from his mistakes.
Lots of time spent playing, talking, listening and interacting with you helps your child learn the skills they need for life.
Other factors that influence development
You might have heard parents tell their children that if they eat their vegies, they’ll grow up big and strong! And healthy food does indeed give your child the energy and nutrients they need to grow and develop.
You can also help your child’s development by giving them opportunities for physical activity, which develop motor skills, thinking and exploration of the world.
Your child’s health and the neighbourhood you live in also have an impact on your child’s wellbeing and development, although you might have less control over these things.
What to expect in your child’s first three years
Growth charts provide a guide to how your baby might grow in the first years, but your instincts, plus knowing that your baby eats and sleeps well and seems happy whenever he’s awake, tell you far more than a growth or development chart can. All the same, it can be useful to have an idea about what to expect.
The first year
Baby development in the first 12 months is amazing because so much happens.
Your newborn might be able to follow your face with their eyes, but by the time they turn one, they are likely to have learned to roll, sit up, and even to walk. By 12 months, small hand movements will probably have evolved from clutching and grabbing things to being able to use the thumb and pointer together.
By 5-6 months, your baby has made important attachments to parents and other close family members or carers, and loves to play with them. He or she might seem more aware or afraid of grown-ups he or she doesn't know but stranger anxiety generally declines after the first year.
Babies want to communicate, and they develop many speech and language basics in the first 12 months.
They typically begin by cooing at about 7-8 weeks then move onto babbling and sounds like ‘baba’ and ‘gaga’. For many children, words are starting to form by around 12 months. Children learn language at different rates, but the secret to helping your child learn language is very simple: talk together lots and listen lots.
The second year
You might be struck by how busy and curious your child is at this age. They might be spending a lot of time working out what different things do.
It’s a big year for physical development, with children typically going from pulling up to stand to walking and running, and developing hand movements like scribbling, turning pages in a book and using a spoon.
Your child is probably becoming more independent – able to understand and follow simple instructions, for example, and moving towards everyday skills for eating, drinking and dressing. You might see them playing side by side with other children, but not always or often with them.
Separation anxiety reaches its peak around 14-18 months. It usually goes away gradually throughout early childhood.
You might also notice that your toddler finds it hard to deal with ‘big’ emotions, and you might see some temper tantrums as a result.
The third year
At this age, your toddler is probably running and might fall less. He or she is starting to walk up and down stairs but will sometimes use the rail for balance. Children at this age are now better at throwing overarm, kicking and catching a ball, and they might even stand on one foot for a few seconds.
This is an important age for emotional development. Your child is developing skills through pretend play – for example, by feeding a doll or pretending to use a phone. You’ll probably have a great time watching your little learner solve problems by trying things out.
Children are now keen to do more things for themselves, and it’s a good time to look out for signs that your child is ready for toilet training.
Worried about your child’s development?
Children grow and develop at different rates. If you’re wondering about whether your child’s development is ‘normal’, it might also help to know that ‘normal’ varies a lot.
If you really feel that something isn’t quite right with your child’s development, trust your instincts. See your child and family health nurse or GP.
This article was published with permission from the Raising Children Network.