How Babies Develop

Babies and toddlers grow and develop rapidly in the early years of life. The changes babies and toddlers go through as they grow are made up of different skills such as walking and talking. These skills, or developmental milestones, usually happen by certain ages.

Parents and family members help their children learn these skills through playing with them and through daily activities. Because parents spend so much time with their children, they often are the first to identify a concern about development.

The following are milestones that most babies reach by a certain age.

3 – 6 Months

  • Follow moving toys or faces with their eyes
  • Startle at loud or new sounds
  • Wiggle and kick with legs and arms
  • Lift head and shoulders while on stomach
  • Smile back at parents or other family members
  • Make sounds, like gurgling, cooing or sucking sounds

6 – 9 Months

  • Explore toys with hands and mouth
  • Roll over front-to-back and back-to-front
  • Squeal and babble different sounds
  • Sit by leaning on their hands
  • Turn their heads to voices and respond to their names
  • Know family members and seek their attention
  • Enjoy playing "peek-a-boo"

9 – 12 Months

  • Copy hand movements like “patty cake,” or “bye-bye”
  • Pick up crumbs or other small things with their thumb and a finger
  • Move toys from one hand to the other hand
  • Crawl on hands and knees
  • Sit without help
  • Repeat sounds like “baba,” “dada,” “mama”
  • Cry when mother or father leaves

12 – 15 Months

  • Pull themselves up to a standing position
  • Walk by holding onto furniture
  • Drink from a cup with your help
  • Wave bye-bye
  • Say “mama” and “dada” and one other word
  • Point to objects they want
  • Find a toy hidden under a cloth

15 – 18 Months

  • Use at least 3 words besides “mama” and “dada”
  • Like to look at pictures in a book
  • Hold a crayon in a fist
  • Hand toys to you when asked
  • Point to pictures or objects you name
  • Walk without help
  • Dump contents out of a box

18 – 21 Months

  • Like to pull and push things while walking
  • Use pointing and words together to tell what they want
  • Pull off shoes and socks
  • Feed themselves with their fingers
  • Point to one body part when asked
  • Use at least 10 words and repeat words you say

21 – 24 Months

  • Point and use words to get your attention
  • Like to pretend-play (Talk on toy phone)
  • Put together a 2 or 3 piece picture puzzle
  • Like to throw balls
  • Like to play alone with toys for a short time
  • Say “no” a lot
  • Like to copy what others do

24 – 30 Months

  • Use 2 to 3 words together, like “No, Mommy” or “More cookies”
  • Use and understand at least 50 words
  • Feed themselves with a spoon
  • Enjoy being around and watching other toddlers
  • Show affection to family members and pets
  • Run short distances without falling
  • Pretend play with more than one step (Feed a doll, then pat and hug it)
  • Show lots of feelings (joy, anger, sadness)

30 – 36 Months

  • Throw a ball overhand
  • Comfort another child who is crying
  • Walk on tiptoes
  • Combine 2 ideas in a sentence (“I want an apple and a banana”)
  • Help to clean up
  • Ask for help when needed
  • Combine 2 toys in pretend play (Uses a stuffed bear as the driver of a toy car)
  • Use at least 100 words

Do you have questions about how your child under age 3 is growing or developing?

Visit the ECI Program Search page to find the local program in your area or call the HHS Office of the Ombudsman at 1-877-787-8999, select a language, then select Option 3.