You Probably Shouldn't Freak Out: An Honest Guide to Developmental Milestones

by ParentCo. May 08, 2017

It’s tough being the parent of a young child. Comparing our kids and ourselves to others makes it even tougher. Having a child in the 99th percentile sounds and feels so good. Who cares if it is for head circumference. I’m overweight, and I’ve honestly found myself taking pride in my daughter’s low body mass index (BMI; weight for height). Yes, I’m ridiculous. We worry a lot about how our kids are doing relative to their peers, and sometimes it’s much ado about nothing. This is especially true when it comes to developmental milestones – walking, talking, etc. Is your child 18 months old and can’t read yet? There is an infomercial to make you feel guilty about that. For a lot of parents, developmental milestones are one of those things you kind of know about, but don’t really. Like bees: I’m pretty sure they’re all dying and it might be the end of the world, but it probably won’t be, so I never actually read an entire article on the problem, and I don’t know what to do about it. If it comes up in conversations, I just say things like, “Yeah, that’s scary.” With milestones, it’s “I don’t think we need to worry about that?” Let’s make milestones less like the bee apocalypse.

The following developmental milestones are based off a commonly used assessment tool called the Denver – II. It’s kind of dry, so I added some of my own insights to describe what these milestones can really look like.

Without further ado, here is what you can actually expect to observe as your child meets his personal/social, language, fine motor/adaptive, and gross motor milestones:

1 month

Personal/Social: Sometimes smiles back at you, but mostly stares at your forehead. You tilt your head so he is looking at your eyes. He tilts his head to stare at your hairline again. Language: Any sound that isn’t crying is the greatest sound you’ve ever heard. Fine Motor/Adaptive: Flails like a turtle flipped on its back. Gross Motor: Just lays there. You tell yourself, “I heard Michael Phelps just laid there at this age, too.”

2 months

Personal/Social: Smiles at you spontaneously…or is she pooping?

Language: Says “ooooo” and you yell to your husband, “I think she just said Mom.”

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Flails like a Ninja Turtle flipped on its back.

Gross Motor: Can hold head up at least half-way during tummy-time. You tell everyone, “She’s so strong.”

3 months

Personal/Social: Stares at his hand like a character from “Dazed and Confused.”

Language: Laughs, especially when you get hurt.

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Puts hands together. Newborn hair has fallen out consistent with male pattern baldness. Combined, this makes him look like a chubby Mr. Burns.

Gross Motor: When holding him on your lap, you no longer worry that his neck is breaking.

6 months

Personal/Social: Throws self at toy, then wiggles enough to get caught in a cord and pull down a lamp.

Language: Says “Na.” You post to Facebook that your baby is already talking, and her first word was “Mom.” You know that babies’ first words come around one year, so you begin preparing Ivy League applications.

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Reaches for knives and other sharp objects.

Gross Motor: Sits by herself, and you think, “Oh, I can’t wait until she starts to crawl!”

9 months

Personal/Social: Waves bye-bye...after a lot of coaxing. (By the time you’re child waves, the person they were waving to has driven away, made it to the airport, and is already getting x-rayed while doing jumping jacks in a phone booth.)

Language: Says “Mamamamamamamamamamama.” You tell everyone, “I told you so.”

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Bangs two blocks together – the only two blocks older sister wants to play with.

Gross Motor: Talk to your friend on the phone about how parenting isn’t so hard. Hang up. Hear crying. Follow it to find your child in the coat closet, pinned beneath the vacuum cleaner. Think to yourself, “I wish he would just sit still.”

12 months

Personal/Social: Imitates activities that he frequently sees you doing, e.g., lays on the couch binge-watching “Friends.”

Language: Your child speaks his actual first word. His first word is “uh-oh.”

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can put a block in a cup. Except instead of a block, it’s your phone. And no matter what way you look at it, that cup was half-full.

Gross Motor: He’s walking…right into a wall. That lip between the living room and the kitchen that you never noticed before now seems like grounds for moving.

18 months

Personal/Social: Can take off clothing as demonstrated by immediately pulling off snow boots and socks upon being buckled into the car seat.

Language: Your kid knows five words in addition to mom and dad: uh-oh, milk, shoe, cheese, ball. You update her Ivy League application to include her commitment to sustainable dairy.

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can stack blocks four high, but insists that no blocks be stacked on top of each other. Also gets upset if you put the blocks too close to each other and sees to it that blocks are evenly dispersed across the entire living room.

Gross Motor: Can kick ball forward. Can kick sister in any direction. Falls easily when pushed by sister.

2 years


Personal/Social: Can wash hands by himself, but insists on using hand sanitizer, and as you attempt to squeeze some out, he waves his hands around like a castaway when a plane is flying overhead

Language: You can understand half of what your child says because every other word your child says is “No.”

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can stack blocks six high, but on the fourth block throws himself to the ground because “Noooo block.”

Gross Motor: Throws ball overhand. Realistically, throws five miles per hour. Insists on playing catch from one foot in front of you and seems like a major league pitcher with revenge on his mind.

3 years

Personal/Social: Can name a friend, but insists that his name is Necklace, no matter how many times you explain that his name is Nicholas.

Language: You can understand almost all of what your child is saying, but you wish you couldn’t.

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can copy a vertical line. Happy to demonstrate competency on walls and furniture.

Gross Motor: Starts to jump more. Weighs 30 pounds, but still manages to shake the whole house.

4 years

Personal/Social: Dresses herself. Without fail, the clothes you picked are wrong. “I hate them. There’s no pink in this outfit!”

Language: Your daughter knows at least four colors, one of which your husband doesn’t know. “Honey, she keeps saying the orange pillow is coral and argues with me when I tell her coral is white.”

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Draws a person with three parts. That line between the person’s legs is probably not what you think it is.

Gross Motor: Can balance on each foot for four seconds. Negotiates for three pretzels and a second episode of “Doc McStuffins” before she will show you.

5 years

Personal/Social: Can prepare cereal for himself, but you aren’t seriously going to let him.

Language: Your child can define at least seven of the following eight words – ball, lake, desk, house, banana, curtain, fence, ceiling. Prefers to define bodily fluids.

Fine Motor/Adaptive: Copies a square. Insists that it looks like a present. Asks when Christmas is. “Three months? That’s forever. That’s like a hundred years.”

Gross Motor: Can walk heel to toe, which is good, because this child acts like a belligerent drunk most of the time.

Worried because kids are supposed to walk at one year old and your child isn’t? Remember, these are the ages at which an average child accomplishes these tasks. That means half of all kids develop the skills later, so try to keep calm.

It becomes concerning if a child is behind in multiple areas or very far behind in one. If you notice your child falling behind, talk to your pediatrician. If the pediatrician has concerns, he will likely refer you to a specialist called a developmental-behavioral pediatrician to get to the bottom of it and recommend resources like school interventions or physical/occupational/speech therapy. I hope this helped you understand child development a little better. At least I hope it made you laugh. This was originally published at It Takes A Blog.



Also in Conversations

Mother holding baby son over shoulder
5 Things I Won’t Skimp on With the Second Baby

by ParentCo.

First-time-mom-me was way too hard on herself in so many ways. This time, I vow to do just that, and promise myself that I will not skimp on the following.

Continue Reading

father holding child
How Did I Become That Anxious Dad?

by ParentCo.

It’s normal to worry about your children’s safety, but you also need trust in their growing self-preservation instincts. Here are some tips for anxious dads.

Continue Reading

Disney Seven Dwarfs Doll Set
How Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Helped Me Potty Train My Kids

by ParentCo.

The goal of potty training seems insurmountable, until you introduce a little bribery. In one family, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Little People" did the trick.

Continue Reading