Your Child's Development From Birth to 3 Years

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
92b
Last Updated: 
June 2020
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Your child’s experiences in the early months and years of life affect their health, well-being and coping skills for the rest of their life. Your caring, nurturing, and safe parenting help ensure your child’s healthy development.

Understanding child development can help you know what to expect and what you can do to help your child grow in a healthy way. In the early years of life, your child’s behavior communicates their needs and how they are changing and growing. Listening to your child’s unique cues can help you support them through their years of very rapid growth and development.

The stages of child development described here are guidelines only, not a set of rules. Every child develops at their own pace. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, talk to your health care provider.

From birth to 3 months, your baby:

  • Recognizes parents’ voices, right from birth
  • Discovers their own voice
  • Enjoys eye contact,  smiles at people and studies faces
  • Cries as a way of communicating needs
  • Coos and gurgles happily when given attention
  • Startles at noise and responds to sounds in time
  • Stretches or moves arms and legs
  • Lifts head when lying on tummy
  • Holds head up to search for sounds and movement
  • Rolls over to one side
  • Discovers feet and hands and holds objects
  • Follows moving objects with their eyes

From 3 to 6 months, your baby:

  • Lifts head about 90 degrees
  • Sits with some support
  • Stands up with help
  • Rolls over from front to side and then in all directions
  • Reaches for and lets go of objects
  • Responds to their name
  • Enjoys social interaction
  • Shows interest in colours
  • Recognizes faces and shows a preference for familiar people
  • Laughs and squeals when happy
  • By 6 months understands that an object still exists even if they can’t see it

From 6 to 12 months, your baby:

  • Recognizes their name
  • Responds to some words, such as ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy’
  • Says or repeats sounds, or babbles
  • Mimics simple actions of other children or people
  • Shows strong feelings and emotions about likes and dislikes and shows happiness or sadness
  • Sits steadily without help for longer periods
  • Drinks water from a lidless cup
  • Stands firmly with help or when held
  • Can move or shuffle on belly and then crawl
  • Takes first steps and walks alone, between 8 and 18 months of age
  • Enjoys crawling and walking
  • Loves getting a lot of attention from their caregiver
  • Gets scared around strangers and cries when parents leave
  • Throws toys or objects on purpose
  • Plays social games, such as ‘peekaboo’ or ‘patty cake’
  • With all the exciting changes in their life, your child may wake up more frequently at night

From 12 to 18 months, your child:

  • Has a lot of energy and wants to explore everything
  • Can feed themselves using fingers or a spoon
  • May climb out of the crib
  • Walks alone and walks upstairs 1 step at a time
  • Speaks in short phrases, such as “mama go?or “all done”
  • Understands basic sentences and says 1 word sentences. For example, says “more” for “I want more”
  • Names pictures in a book
  • Follows simple directions
  • Understands much more than they can say
  • Enjoys receiving attention
  • Plays best by themselves and is unlikely to share toys
  • Cooperates or resists limits parents set
  • Gets frustrated easily
  • Cries less but may whimper or whine more
  • Uses the word ‘no’ correctly or shakes head
  • May have a special toy or blanket
  • Has a short memory and does actions again even if you tell them not to. May do the opposite of what you tell them to do

From 18 to 36 months, your child:

  • Uses 2 or 3-word sentences
  • Asks for help using words or actions
  • Can count and use new words
  • Understands shapes and sizes
  • Shows a range of emotions
  • Learns to recognize and to others’ feelings
  • Wants approval and needs praise
  • Asks a lot of questions
  • Responds to requests, such as ‘Get your coat’
  • Gradually uses 1 hand more than the other
  • Can walk up and down stairs
  • Can learn to ride a tricycle
  • Can run, climb, kick, and throw a ball
  • Dances to music
  • Tells stories, sings songs, and plays
  • Tries to do more independently
  • Helps with simple household chores, such as taking laundry out of the dryer
  • Has trouble sharing and says ‘no’ or ‘mine’
  • Becomes familiar with and enjoys routines
  • Recognizes and names familiar people
  • Shows interest in a new person, thing, or sound
  • Enjoys playing alone and near other children
  • By 36 months, enjoys pretend play with others
  • May start to identify with a specific gender
  • Shows an increased attention span
  • Solves problems by trial and error
  • Participates in group activities
  • Shows affection openly, such as hugging
  • Uses social language, such as please and thank you
  • Copies adult behaviours
  • Gets frustrated sometimes because they want to do more than they are able to do
  • May start becoming anxious about real and imaginary dangers or uncomfortable situations.

For More Information

For more information about child health and development, see the following resources:

See Baby’s Best Chance at:

See Toddler’s First Steps at:

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