The First Year

Stages of Child Development: What to Expect During Your Baby’s First Year

What are the different stages of child development, and what can you expect from your child as they grow up? Learn about the critical child growth and development stages for your child’s first year here.

Becoming a parent for the first time is an exciting process — but it’s also one that filled with new questions and concerns. As your baby grows up, you will probably ask yourself at some point, “Is my child developing right? Is this normal for their age?”

All parents have these concerns, so you’re normal for wondering about these issues. To ease your mind, it’s important that you understand the stages of child development. The more that you know about child growth and development stages, the better prepared you’ll be for all the new surprises coming your way.

The different ages and stages of child development often include three different aspects: psychical (a child’s mobility and language level), emotional and social. Of course, every child is different, so always speak with your personal pediatrician for the best guidance on what is and isn’t normal for your child at their given age.

What are the General Stages of Child Development?

While there are many theories from psychology on the stages of child development, the most commonly accepted is Piaget’s theory of development in a child. He theorizes there are four child cognitive development stages, which impact how a child sees and interacts with the world around him or her:

  1. Sensorimotor stage, from birth to about 2 years old: During this stage, a child learns about the world through their five senses and by manipulation of the objects around them.
  2. Preoperational stage, from age 2 to age 7: Memory and imagination are the keys during this stage. Children can start understanding things symbolically and comprehend the idea of past and future.
  3. Concrete operational stage, from age 7 to age 11: Whereas children are incredibly egocentric up to this stage, now children can begin to understand external events and other people’s feelings. They know that the world does not revolve around them and not everyone will share their thoughts, feelings and opinions.
  4. Formal operational stage, from age 11 onward: Children can use logic to solve problems, view the world around them and plan for their future.

Of course, there are many other stages of child development that child psychologists use. Some say there are three stages of development in a child, while others go into more detail and present more stages that last months, not years. A good way to learn about what to expect during your son or daughter’s childhood is to attend a parenting class. Experts can describe in more detail what the emotional, physical and social child development stages will be at different periods in your child’s life.

We know that having and raising a baby can be one of the most stressful times for a new parent, especially one who may have had no previous intentions of being a parent. To help you prepare for your baby’s first year, we’ve broken down your baby’s development by month here.

Child Growth and Development Stages: The First Year

Each child is different, but there are some common developmental stages of a child that parents can look for during their son or daughter’s first year of life. Below, you’ll find some details of child development stages by age, from newborn to 1 year old:

Birth to 1 Month

During this time, your baby is adjusting to the world around them and is completely helpless. They are fully dependent on you (a trait that will not disappear for a few years) and often do not offer much to parents at this time.

  • Physical: Newborns sleep about 20 hours a day and feed five to eight times a day to contribute to rapid growth. Anything they experience in the world they experience through their five basic senses. They are physically restrained by their lack of muscle.
  • Emotional: Newborns experience generalized tension, as they are completely vulnerable and cannot defend or care for themselves.
  • Social: Newborns don’t really create social bonds with any other human. They are typically fed by their mother but are otherwise asocial.

2 Months to 3 Months

During this child development stage, your baby can start expressing their delight, although they will usually do so indiscriminately. Still, your baby will be limited in movement and muscle control.

  • Physical: At this age, babies can start perceiving color and will start exploring their oral ability — meaning you’ll hear their first attempts at communicative cries, coos and grunts. They can control their eye muscles, as well as their head enough to lift it while lying on their stomach.
  • Emotional: Babies at this age are able to communicate their distress better than when they were a newborn. They can also start to experience sadness, such as when they are having a pleasurable experience and it stops suddenly (like when their mother stops interacting with them).
  • Social: Babies at this age can start visually fixating on a face and can smile when they see one.

4 Months to 6 Months

During this period of your child’s brain development stages, they start to recognize people and become more demanding with newfound physical movements and vocalizations.

  • Physical: A baby at this age can localize sounds and makes many more sounds themselves — including most vowels and about half of the consonants. They can also better control their head and arms, grasp at things purposely and roll over.
  • Emotional: Babies at this age can better express their enjoyment at being with their parents, and you’ll notice that they respond more actively to cuddling and attention.
  • Social: This is one of the most integral child cognitive development stages, as babies can start recognizing their parents during this time. They can distinguish between familiar persons and strangers, which means they do not smile indiscriminately anymore.

7 Months to 9 Months

Get ready for baby on the move! This can be one of the most exciting (and stressful) times for new parents, as their baby starts to move independently — and, thus, requires a bit more active supervision.

  • Physical: Babies can start crawling between seven and nine months. They can sit without support because they have control of their trunk and hands.
  • Emotional: A baby’s connection to their parents intensifies, and an obvious emotional attachment emerges.
  • Social: As a response, a baby is much more vocal about separation from his or her mother. They will also enjoy social-interaction games, like “peek-a-boo.”

10 Months to 12 Months

For parents, this age can be one of the most important child communication stages — you can expect your baby’s first word! From this point on, children are much more interactive and fun to be around.

  • Physical: Babies can control their feet and legs at this time, which means they start working on standing and creeping. They can also bring their thumbs and forefingers together — so beware of newly “grabby” children! Children will also start imitating sounds and be able to respond to simple commands.
  • Emotional: Babies at this child development stage can experience a wide range of emotions — anger, affection, curiosity. They’ll let you know it, too! It’s still completely normal for a baby to have a fear of strangers at this time in their life.
  • Social: Your baby will start responding to his or her own name and understand what “no” means. They can wave goodbye, play pat-a-cake and give and take objects.

From this point on, your child will only become more independent and active as they travel from their baby to child development stages.

If your baby isn’t expressing all of the traits expected during a certain age, don’t stress or jump to conclusions. Remember that each child is different, and it may take yours more or less time to reach a certain physical, emotional or social stage. You might consider learning more about other psychological theories, like the Freudian stages of child development or Erikson’s stages, to put your mind at ease.

If you are ever in doubt about your child’s development during their childhood, reach out to your local pediatrician or child psychologist for more guidance.