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Normal development in children: When should I be concerned?

By Wellbeing in Mind Psychologist Dr Tania Pomario


How your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves offers important clues about your child’s development.

Developmental milestones are things most children can do by a certain age.  However, each child develops at his/her own particular pace and you may find that your child takes a little longer than his/her siblings or peers to develop a specific skill or is more advanced in some areas. For example, some children have excellent gross motor skills and can run and climb from an early age but may take a little longer to develop the fine motor skills required to learn to control a pencil.  Your child may be able to solve complex problems easily but take a little longer to learn to regulate his/her emotions.  

The developmental milestones below will give you a general idea of the changes you can expect as your child gets older, but don’t be alarmed if he/she takes a slightly different course.  Speak to your GP or paediatrician if you have any concerns about your child’s development. It is particularly important to tell your doctor if your child suddenly seems to lose skills they previously had.   


Social & Emotional

  • Imitates behaviours of others, especially adults and older children.

  • Gets excited when with other children.

  • Shows defiant behaviour (doing what he/she has been told not to do).

  • Shows more and more independence.

  • Plays mainly alongside other children, but is beginning to include other children, such as in chase games.


  • Points to objects or pictures when they are named.

  • Knows the names of familiar people, objects and body parts.

  • Says sentences with 2 to 4 words.

  • Follows simple instructions.

  • Repeats words overheard in conversation.

Learning, thinking, & problem solving

  • Finds things even when they are hidden under a blanket.

  • Begins to sort shapes and colours.

  • Completes sentences and rhymes in familiar books.

  • Plays simple make-believe games.

Gross and fine motor

  • Walks alone.

  • Begins to run.

  • Climbs onto and down from furniture without help.

  • Builds towers of 4 or more blocks.

  • Scribbles with a crayon.



Social & Emotional

  • Copies the behaviour of adults and other children.

  • Shows affections for friends without prompting.

  • Takes turns in games.

  • Shows concern if someone is upset or hurt.

  • Shows a wide range of emotions.


  • Follows instructions with 2 or 3 steps.

  • Can name most familiar things.

  • Understands words like “in”, “on” and “under.”

  • Says first name, age and gender.

  • Talks well enough for strangers to understand most of the time.

Learning, thinking, & problem solving

  • Plays make-believe with toys or people.

  • Able to match identical items.

  • Does puzzles with 3 or 4 pieces.

  • Can fit basic shapes (circle, square, triangle) into a board.

  • Builds a tower of more than 6 blocks.

Gross and fine motor

  • Climbs well.

  • Runs easily with alternating stride.

  • Can catch a large tennis ball.

  • Peddles a tricycle.

  • Screws and unscrews jar lids or turn door handles.

  • Turns pages of a cardboard book one at a time.  

  • Draws a circle



Social & Emotional

  • Interested in new experiences.

  • Cooperates with other children most of the time.

  • Starting to negotiate solutions to conflicts.

  • Starting to show some self-control when things don’t work out the way he/she wants them to.

  • Can dress and undress self (except for difficulty fastenings).

  • More and more inventive in fantasy play.


  • Understands concepts such as “same” and “different.”

  • Speaks in sentences of five to six words.

  • Has mastered some basic rules of grammar.

  • Speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand him/her.

  • Tells stories

Learning, thinking, & problem solving

  • Able to correctly name some colours.

  • Understand the concept of counting and may know a few numbers.

  • Recalls part of a story that was read to him/her.

  • Engages in fantasy play.

  • Can draw a person with 2 to 4 body parts.

  • Starting to understand how two different things might be similar. 

Gross and fine motor

  • Hops and stands on one foot for 5 seconds

  • Goes up and down stairs without support

  • Can kick, throw and catch a ball

  • Able to draw circles and square

  • Uses scissors.



Social & Emotional

  • Can recognise and name a range of facial expressions in others.

  • Wants to please friends and be like them.

  • Able to distinguish fantasy from reality.

  • Can still be demanding at times, but often eager to be helpful.

  • More likely to agree to rules.


  • Says name and address.

  • Speaks in sentences of more than five words.

  • Tells longer stories.

  • Uses the future tense.

Learning, thinking, & problem solving

  • Can count ten or more objects.

  • Can name at least 4 colours correctly.

  • Has a concept of time.  

  • Knows about things that are used in the home on a daily basis (e.g. money, food, appliances).

Gross and fine motor

  • Stands on one foot for ten seconds or longer.

  • Swings and climbs.

  • Copies a triangle.

  • Able to use a spoon and fork (and sometimes a knife).

  • Able to go to the toilet independently.

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