Is this child okay? Six steps for assessing a young child’s development

By Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D. Child okay

This is a question that every parent and child care worker asks when they notice something odd in the behaviour and functioning of a little child. How can one best ascertain if a problem or delay really exists?

There are six important areas of child development to examine in order to determine whether a child is progressing at a normal pace. Below are some examples of age-appropriate skills to look for.

1. Movement  (physical development)

  • 4 to 5 months old: Does baby do push-ups or bring hands and toys to his or her mouth?
  • 9 to 12 months old:  Does child sit independently, crawl, creep, or scoot forward?
  • 18 to 23 months old: Does child climb into chairs, walk forward, turn pages in a book?
  • 3 years old: Does child run easily, falling rarely, or kick a ball forward?
  • 4 years old: Does child run easily, or copy a circle and a square?

2. Thinking and Learning (cognitive development)

  • 4 to 5 months old: Does baby listen to conversations or follows conversations with eyes?
  • 9 to 12 months old: Does child explore with hands and mouth, or find hidden objects?
  • 18 to 23 months old: Does child put small toys into a cup, basket or box?
  • 3 years old: Can child tell his or her first name (or nickname) and last name?
  • 4 years old: Does child know the difference between boys and girls?

3. Communication (receptive and expressive language development)

  • 4 to 5 months old: Does baby imitate some sounds you make (like a cough)?
  • 9 to 12 months old: Does child respond to own name (for example, look up when called)?
  • 18 to 23 months old: Does child point to objects or people to express a need?
  • 3 years old: Does child use words that describe things (like “it’s icky,” or “I’m hungry”)?
  • 4 years old: Does child refer to self as “me” or “I” in addition to name?

4. The Senses: Vision, Hearing and Touch (sensory development)

  • 4 to 5 months old: Does baby turn head or eyes toward a sound?
  • 9 to 12 months old: Does child enjoy or put up with different types of touch?
  • 18 to 23 months old:  Does child respond when name is called?
  • 3 years old: Does child move to or hum along with music?
  • 4 years old: Is child mostly comfortable with change or going from one activity to another?

5. Relating to Self and Others (social and emotional development)

  • 4 to 5 months old: Does baby usually quiet or calm down when talked to, held or rocked?
  • 9 to 12 months old: Does child enjoy watching (and may play) games like “peek-a-boo”?
  • 18 to 23 months old: Does child approach other children?
  • 3 years old: Does child take turns in games?
  • 4 years old: Does child enjoy humor (for example, laughs at silly faces or voices)?

6. Self Care (daily living skills)

  • 4 to 5 months old: Does baby sleep regularly for 3-4 hours at a time?
  • 9 to 11 months old: Does child feed self with fingers?
  • 18 to 23 months old: Does child pull off simple cloths (such as socks)?
  • 3 years old: Does child wash his or her hands without help?
  • 4 years old: Does child brush his or her teeth by self or with help?

In most instances, parents and child care helpers will find that the child is developing in line with these types of normative age expectations. In cases where the child does not appear to be progressing normally, you need to use more detailed resources to obtain a fuller appreciation of the child’s current development.

One such resource is the nonprofit Center for the Improvement of Child Caring (CICC), which created The CICC Discovery Tool to provide specific guidelines in which to evaluate a child’s development. The Tool includes a comprehensive online questionnaire to fill out for children under five to get a good gauge on whether that particular child may have special needs that require professional attention.

Armed with the a developmental profile from a credible child caring organization, a parent or child care worker is in a better position to advocate for the child and get the proper intervention and care to set him or her on the best path possible.

Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D. is a clinical child psychologist and the Executive Director and Founder of the Center for the Improvement of Child Caring (CICC). Dr. Alvy is the author of a book on the Discovery Tool that contains the 11 age-specific questionnaires; his newest book, The Soulful Parent: Raising Healthy Happy, and Successful African American Children is available at ciccparenting.






Become an
Baby Care Tips Member

for exclusive contests, articles and promotions!




Baby Care & Parents Information - Oh Baby! Magazine Canada