Stages of Child Development: The First 8 Years

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
June 25, 2024
The Stages of Child Development

Watching your kids grow up is an exciting, and at times scary thing, especially for parents worried about developmental milestones. The important thing to remember is that there is no universal age where a child will start to walk or say their first words because children develop at their own pace.

From Birth to 3 ½ Years of Age

A Few Parenting Best Practices For the Early Years of Development

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During the earliest years of your child’s development, particularly from birth to three years old, you’ll want to keep these things in mind.

As a parent, focus on being responsive, loving, and warm in your interactions with your child. It’s also ideal to have set routines, like when to wake up and go to sleep, meal time, play time, etc.

Play and safe exploration of their surroundings should also be encouraged. When looking for ways to entertain or occupy your child’s attention, be sure to limit the amount of time they spend in front of the TV, and to be selective about the content they watch.

Talking to your child is crucial in the early years.

Whether it’s while you’re changing a diaper or throughout the day, talking and reading aren’t only mentally stimulating but it’s a surefire way to further develop the bond you have with your child!

Birth to 3 months

During this wonderful stage, babies should be grasping at objects, stretching, kicking, and responding to loud noises.

Letting your child hear you sing, talk, or read to them is especially crucial during the first three months. Babies this age learn so much more when you talk with them and introduce them to different objects, people, and places.

At a month, babies have simple needs:

Milk, a warm and comfy bed, lots of affection, and a smoke-free environment.

As they get closer to four months, your baby will start to laugh and make ‘cooing’ sounds at you. They also develop a fascination with their hands and feet, which they’ll grab and play with often. This is also around the time it’s good to consider taking them on walks outside in a stroller.

4 to 6 Months

Babies at this stage become a lot more active as they begin to explore their surroundings and become accustomed with their family and home.

Encourage your baby to reach for things by putting toys nearby but just outside of their reach. Give them toys and things they can feel and grasp to help them improve on their grip.

Baby Crawl

Many babies start to crawl around five months, so you’ll want to make sure their space is clean and safe as they’ll start to move around more.

To help them with this, you can do things like “tummy time,” which involves positioning their arms and legs to encourage and hone their ability to roll over. You can spend upwards of 10 or more minutes a day doing this and allowing your baby to play on their stomach and practice rolling over onto their stomachs.

7 to 12 Months

At this point babies are constantly on the move, so they don’t enjoy being still or in one place for two long. They begin to learn their physical capabilities as they start to pull themselves up on objects to stand.

Your child will be keen to explore and wander around as they learn how to crawl, sit up, and even pull themselves up against furniture.

Baby Standing

Keep their play area safe, as well as the rest of your home by using baby-proof locks on cabinets and containers that are within reach. Remove any sharp, dangerous, or toxic things that are in the open and move them to a safer, more secure location.

Encouragement is key in supporting your child at this stage of their development. Around 12 months they will start to make a lot of new sounds and even say words like “mama” and “dad”. That means you should be reading to them as often as possible and sing them songs.

The Toddler Years

1 to 2 Years

Children between 1-2 years old start to understand their own behavior and that of those around them. They also take a stronger interest in learning, and their ability to communicate through both words and facial expressions is developing.

This is the point in your child’s life where they’ll start to define themselves as a person, and so you want to nurture that by find activities and child care that inspires them to express themselves. This is great for both their growing vocabulary and their imagination!

Since children between 1-2 years are moving around more, including using the stairs, it’s important to set up child-safety gates to prevent them from having an accident.

But don’t worry:

Kids get hurt and accidents happen. It’s a normal aspect of raising children, even for the most careful of parents.

As this is the time when they start to form friendships you should provide them with enough things to do or toys to play with that can be shared. Even when it’s just you and your child, take the time to emphasize the importance of sharing.

While you’re teaching them how to share and play with others you can also help them further develop their imagination with art-based activities.

Children-friendly crafts are a great way to let them feel a sense of freedom as they express themselves through art.

A Toddler’s Point of View

While kids are starting to make friends and just learning how to share, there’s something that any new parent should know:

Toddlers are selfish.


Their sense of ownership is boundless. If it’s something they want, even if shared or given to another, they can and will likely change their mind and take it back. They see their belongings as always being theirs and no one else’s, no matter the circumstances.

Keep this in mind as you observe their interactions with others and understand that this is normal behavior. The best thing you can do is continue teaching them why sharing is kind and nice, and make a point to share with them and emphasize the act.

Don’t worry, though.

They’ll have a change of perspective, and heart, around two years of age.

2 to 3 ½ Years

A child’s intellect, emotional abilities, and social interactions go through big changes in this stage (sometimes known as the “terrible twos”).

Despite the ominous phrase, children at this age are generally affectionate and loving, and very responsive to others. In fact, this is a crucial time in their development as their empathy begins to mature.

When other children their age feel sad, expect your child to have sympathy for them and even feel sad or sorry in response.

In the same regard, they start to become “people pleasers.” They might try to do things for you--whether you ask them to or not--to get a pleased response from you. They do this because they want your attention and to be noticed.

And they expect your praise for it.

Remember that freedom you’ve been helping them to hone and express?

By this point in their development they’ll want to start asserting their independence. They’ll look for opportunities to take space from you but that doesn’t mean they want you to leave them alone or go too far away.

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As the sense of independence grows, they may come off unwilling to compromise or do what they’re asked to do. This is when you, the parent, stand your ground. Make the decisions for them that they can’t. Retain control of the situation, and always plan ahead.

If your toddler throws a fit or starts to assert their needs above your requests, stay calm but remain firm.

They may even do the opposite of what you say. As part of this, they may act bossy and make everything about them, with “me” being one of their go-to words.

Again, this is a normal part of childhood development.

Take them out to parks and playgrounds, or even just around the corner to the store. This can shape their maturing sense of self and independence.

Child safety becomes very important as kids explore more and become able to open or unlock doors.

By this point, hopefully you’ve already implemented the necessary baby-proofing locks and gates. If you have, it’s worth making sure the locks in place are adequate for the curiosity and capability of your toddler.

The Preschool Years

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During this stage, children start to become more social and capable of interacting with others their age, as well as teachers. Their personality begins to take shape at this point and they are eager to learn and socialize.

Questions become extremely common at this age.

Your child will always ask why which coincides with their developing problem-solving skills as they listen more attentively.

The best thing you can do?

Indulge their curiosity--even if it’s the same question they’ve asked once before, or if it seems silly. Your child wants to understand words others use and they’ll want to know about everything.

Feeding their curiosity will give them the tools needed to let go of habits like crying or getting physical if they get upset.

Child Socialize

Make their continuing education and development fun for the both of you by playing pretend. This encourages cooperative play, satisfies their curiosity, and lets them put all the new words, thoughts, and concepts they’ve learned by this point into practice.

Their energy levels will be something else that grows at this stage.

Your child wants to exert their independence and test their limits by exploring and trying new things. Don’t take their desire to grow to mean they should be allowed to try or do everything.

Here’s where your firmness really comes into play.

Set firm but reasonable boundaries to keep them and others safe. Giving them choices to choose between and new things to learn will help them understand these new limitations by showing them there are other ways to accomplish things or solve problems.

The School-Age Years

5 to 8 Years

As they enter the “school-age child” or middle childhood phase, kids start to discover their curiosity about the world and the people around them, and developing social skills and confidence in their physical capabilities.

This is when your child’s play really starts to have direction. Their excessive amounts of energy and improve motor control keeps them busy, meaning it’s vital to provide them with plenty of opportunities for active play.

Especially group activities.

Despite your child’s interest in staying active and playing with others they still need their share of quiet time away from others. So, when you’re at home with your child, reassurance and love are key.

Remind your child that they’re loved and important to you. Allow your answers to their questions to be more detailed. Provide them with understanding and patience as they continue to grow and learn, about the world and about themselves.

Child School

Six to Eight: A Big Kid Now

Your 6-8 year old will depend on you to feel safe, emotionally and physically as their sensitive increases. Let them talk to you about their day and other experiences as they’ll look to adults for a sympathetic and interested ear.

The increase in sensitivity may lead them to be mean to others and hurt feelings. It may not always be intentional. This is why it’s important to listen to your child, sympathize with them, and to be kind to them even when you’re setting boundaries.

Make every correction or limitation a positive experience for them. On the same note, help them with their school work when they ask and read assignments to them so they understand better.

Consistency is crucial and if they do something you don’t like or that’s not right, try to address it the first time. If you let a behavior go the first time but try to correct it later, it will be more difficult for them to adhere to the appropriate behavior.

Child Mom

Good examples of this are daily routines like dinner, bedtime, and brushing their teeth. If you let them opt out of a dinner they say they won’t like or let them stay up late one night it will only confuse them. It will also make it harder to get them to stick to their daily routines and activities.

As they approach eight years of age your child will feel more like an individual and there are bound to be conflicts between you and them, or your child and their friends/classmates. Even if they might occasionally struggle with their relationships or homework you should remind them that the only thing that matters--the most important thing--is that they try their best.

The same emotional support, reassurance, and affection you gave them as toddlers and infants is still necessary for their well-being and development.

Above all else…

To be a great parent, you have to remember to take care of yourself. Don’t let the small things build up or overwhelm you. Extend patience to both you and your child as you grow as a parent and they develop as a person.

Child Development

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