What Are the 5 Stages of Child Development? Signs of Delays

Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2022
Children undergo various changes in terms of physical, speech, intellectual and cognitive development gradually until adolescence. The five stages of child development include the newborn, infant, toddler, preschool and school-age stages.
The five stages of child development include the newborn, infant, toddler, preschool, and school-age stages.

Children undergo various changes in terms of physical, speech, intellectual and cognitive development gradually until adolescence. Specific changes occur at specific ages of life. Known as developmental milestones, these changes can help you track whether your child is developing at the correct pace. Failure to reach these milestones may indicate developmental disorders or genetic conditions.

Experts differ in their division of child development into different stages. Some have described children's development in four stages, some in five stages and others in six stages. Although the number of stages differs, what remains essentially the same are the changes that take place at a particular age or age range. Because most developmental disorders are diagnosed by the time a child reaches adolescence, child development can be described in the five stages below.

1. Newborn

During the first two months of life, newborns react automatically to external stimuli. Newborns can move their head from side to side, see close-up objects, turn towards sounds and cry to indicate a need. By the third month of life, newborns start to smile at people.

2. Infant

A lot of new abilities develop quickly by the time a child turns 1 year old:

  • At 3-6 months of age, infants can recognize familiar faces, begin to babble, control their head movements and bring their hands together.
  • By 6-6 months of age, infants start sitting without support, may bounce when held in a standing position and respond to people calling their name. Infants start communicating with gestures.
  • Between 9-12 months old, children can point at things, pick up objects, crawl and even stand with support. Children can imitate sound and gestures.

3. Toddler

When children are between 1-3 years of age, they can stand alone, learn to walk without help, begin to run and climb stairs with short steps. Children can wave bye-bye, hold a pencil or crayon, draw a circle, learn to say several words and even short sentences and even follow simple instructions.

4. Preschool

Between 3-5 years of age, children’s motor skills become refined. Children can throw and catch a ball, skip and hop, learn to dress themselves and draw proper structures such as a flower. They can speak a complete, long sentence and even 2-3 sentences in a stretch easily. With toilet training, they begin to go to the toilet in the bathroom and use the facility all by themselves by the age of 4 years old.

5. School-age

School-age is the age between 6-17 years old. During this age, children learn to become independent and form their own opinions. Learning, speaking, and writing become well established. Children develop various emotions such as jealousy, love, and many more and can express them through words and gestures. They develop friendships and usually make best friends at this stage. Sexual development around and after puberty makes children interested in dating.

If you are concerned that your child is lagging in a certain stage of life, schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss it. The pediatrician may perform a developmental screening test that can help you know whether your child is normal or has some developmental disorder.

What are signs of developmental delays in toddlers?

developmental delays in toddlers
Learn how to spot signs of developmental delay and see if your toddler is on track

Developmental delay refers to when a child does not reach the developmental milestones expected of children their age. Delays may occur in motor function, speech, hearing, or vision.

Of course, if a child was born premature and has a milestone delay of a month or so, that is perfectly normal. However, if delays are persistent or significant, they can indicate serious medical conditions.

It’s important to remember that each child develops at their own pace. So if your child doesn’t reach a certain milestone for that particular age, don’t panic or get anxious. Give it some time. If you are still worried about your child’s development, consult your pediatrician.

What are signs of physical developmental delay?

3-5 months

  • Does not put objects in their mouth
  • Poor head and neck control
  • Fails to reach for or grasp objects

7 months

1 year

  • Does not crawl
  • Limping or awkward body posture
  • Cannot stand with support

2 years

  • Cannot push a wheeled toy
  • Cannot walk
  • Walks only on their toes
  • Speech delay


The abbreviated term ADHD denotes the condition commonly known as: See Answer

What are signs of speech or language delay?

3-4 months

  • Does not respond to loud noises
  • Does not babble
  • Begins babbling but does not try to imitate sounds

7 months

  • Does not respond to sounds

1 year

  • Does not use single words, such as “mama”
  • Does not understand instructions, such as “no” or “bye-bye”

2 years

  • Cannot speak at least 15 words
  • Does not use 2-word phrases without repeating and can only imitate speech
  • Does not use words to communicate more than immediate needs

What are signs of social or emotional delay?

3 months

  • Does not smile at people
  • Does not pay attention to new faces or seems frightened by them

7 months

  • Hesitates to cuddle
  • Shows no enjoyment being around people
  • Cannot be comforted at night (after 5 months)
  • Does not smile without prompting (by 5 months)
  • Does not laugh or squeal (by 6 months)
  • Shows no interest in playing peekaboo (by 8 months)
  • Shows no affection for parents or caretakers

1 year

  • Does not indulge in back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or facial expressions (at 9 months)
  • Does not indulge in back-and-forth gestures, such as waving, reaching, or pointing

What are signs of cognitive developmental delays?

1 year

  • Does not search for hidden objects
  • Does not use motions, such as waving
  • Does not point to things or pictures

2 years

  • Fails to understand the function of everyday objects, such as a hairbrush, telephone, or spoon
  • Does not follow simple instructions
  • Does not imitate actions or words

What are signs of vision problems?

3 months

  • Does not follow moving objects with their eyes
  • Does not observe hands (by 2 months)
  • Has trouble rolling one or both eyes in all directions
  • Crosses eyes most of the time

6 months

  • Has one or both eyes turning in or out all the time
  • Experiences constant tearing or eye drainage
  • Does not track near objects (1 foot away) or far objects (6 feet away) with both eyes

What are therapies for developmental delays?

There is no cure for developmental delays, but therapies to treat the specific developmental delay have been effective in helping children catch up with their peers. Therapies include:

  • Physical therapy for physical developmental delays
  • Occupational therapy for independent living skills and visual motor skills
  • Speech and language therapy for speech and language issues
  • Early childhood special education for early developmental skills, such as play skills
  • Behavioral therapy for behavioral issues
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2022
Cleveland Clinic: "Ages & Stages." https://my.clevelandclinic.org/pediatrics/health/stages#overview-tab

CHOC: "Child Development Guide: Ages and Stages." https://www.choc.org/primary-care/ages-stages/

WebMD. Developmental Delays in Young Children. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/recognizing-developmental-delays-birth-age-2#1

American Academy of Pediatrics. Is Your Baby’s Physical Development on Track? https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Is-Your-Babys-Physical-Development-on-Track.aspxs