Development milestones: How can you tell if your child is progressing normally?

21st Sep 18 | Lifestyle

GP Dr Ellie Cannon suggests the accepted milestones shouldn't be the only markers parents measure their child's progress by. Lisa Salmon reports.


Babies and toddlers’ lives are full of significant milestones, and it’s hard for their parents to avoid worrying if they don’t reach them within expected time frames.

So if a baby doesn’t get its first tooth by around six months of age, or start to walk by the time it’s about one, some mums and dads can start to fret that their child isn’t developing normally – and 10% even feel they’ve failed as a parent.

And to make matters worse, research suggests 82% of parents compare their child’s development against their peers, and one in five make comparisons to  friends’ little ones on social media.

Taking those first steps (Thinkstock/PA)

The LEGO DUPLO research found dads are likely to spend more time checking their child’s progress (averaging 67 minutes per week) than mums (55 minutes), while first-time parents spend longer checking on milestones each week (62 minutes compared to 55 minutes for parents who have more than one child).

GP and parenting expert Dr Ellie Cannon says it can be overwhelming for parents if their child isn’t doing something by the time they’re ‘meant to be’, but she stresses they should try to remember that the milestones are just guidelines.

“We have recognised milestones for babies that are known to be important – for example smiling by eight weeks or walking at one year. But with many of these, there’s a range – for example with walking, some babies walk at 10 months and some at 16 months, but either would be considered normal. It’s important for parents to realise there’s a range.

“Every child develops differently, and at a different pace. Milestones are important, of course, but there’s no need to be checking off the things your child should be doing and when. If parents are worried about their child’s development, the best thing to do is talk to their GP.”

A liitle boy plays with Lego (LEGO DUPLO/PA)
Creativity counts (LEGO DUPLO/PA)

Cannon points out that there are many other milestones parents can celebrate with their children, from gurgling, to building their first tower or correctly naming all the farmyard animals.

“Every child is individual, and their milestones will be too,” she points out.

Indeed, the LEGO research found 71% of parents believe every milestone a child meets, however small, should be celebrated, with more than half (57%) disagreeing with the idea that only recognised developmental milestones should be celebrated.

As a result, the LEGO DUPLO Make Your Own Milestones campaign is encouraging mums and dads to do away with competitive parenting and celebrate their child’s growth through personalised goals that suit them, including development linked to imagination and creativity – 75% of parents agree role play is of key importance to a child’s development, and 40% say they believe imagination and creativity are the most important developmental factors between 18 months and four years of age.

So while the accepted milestones are important, it’s also a good idea for parents to note alternative milestones too. Here are examples of both:

Accepted developmental milestones

Here are a selection of the milestones suggested on the NHS Birth-to-Five Development Timeline:

4-6 weeks: starts to smile, and respond to the sounds around them.

4-12 weeks: lifts their head – your baby will try to lift their head while lying on their front.

Head up (Thinkstock/PA)

3-5 months: reaches out for objects – your baby will start to reach out for objects as their muscles develop.

4-6 months: starts making new and different sounds.

5 months: can hold objects, lift and suck them.

6 months: starts to eat solids

6-8 months: sits without support

6-9 months: teething starts

6-9 months: starts trying to crawl

And they’re off… (Thinkstock/PA)

6-9 months: can pull themself upright by using furniture to help them stand.

10-18 months: walks alone

12 months: responds to their own name – your baby can say words like mama and dada.

1.5-4 years: starts to have bladder control – your child may be ready for potty training.

3-4 years: talks well in sentences – your child can chant rhymes and talk clearly enough to be understood.

3-4 years: starts to use a knife and fork and is learning to eat independently

Alternative milestones

Alternative milestones are highly individual, whatever age they happen, and might include:

Using fine motor skills to open doors on toys or press a button
The first time your child shares with you or a friend
Role playing alone or with friends
Stacking bricks
Creating different shapes with materials or bricks, or drawing them.
Using organised colour sequences

There’s lots to celebrate (Thinkstock/PA)

Using the names and correct sounds of animal figures or pictures
Saying words like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “you” and some plurals (cars, dogs, cats)
Showing affection for friends without prompting
Taking turns in games
Showing concern for crying friend
Dressing and undressing self
Saying first name, age, and sex
Turning book pages one at a time
Pedalling a tricycle

As part of the Make Your Own Milestones campaign, LEGO DUPLO has created The Other Red Book  (,  a physical & digital tool that encourages parents to set and share personalised goals for their children, with tips and activities to aid development, from birth and beyond.

© Press Association 2018