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Show and Tell
Knowing Your Child’s Potential

Parents are often amazed at how fast their child turned 3, 4, and then 5 years old. It seems that every day your child knows so much more. Young children at these ages can be highly energized and bossier; they know what they like and don’t like, and their moods can change within seconds. For the most part, these age-related characteristics and changes are normal and healthy. Studies note that changes during the period from conception to about age 5 occur at a greater pace than during other stages of a young person’s life. Because of the fast and dramatic developmental changes that these very young children undergo, it’s important for parents to understand, observe, and track the various developmental milestones.

What Are Developmental Milestones?
Children’s developmental milestones are general skill sets or age-specific tasks that most children can achieve at a certain age range. This list of age-specific skills forms a guideline for pediatricians to use during your child’s wellness visits. However, parents can also benefit by using this guideline to understand the range of skills that your child should reach and master at different ages. Parents can observe various types of skills while your child plays, interacts with other kids, learns, speaks, and behaves. These developmental milestones are divided into the following five key areas:  

  • Social and emotional: Interacting with others; having relationships with family, friends, and teachers; cooperating; and responding to the feelings of others;
  • Cognitive: Gaining thinking skills—learning, understanding, problem solving, reasoning, and remembering;
  • Language: Speaking, using body language and gestures, communicating, and understanding what others say;
  • Fine motor: Using hands to eat, draw, dress, play, and write; and
  • Gross motor: Moving, showing coordination, standing, walking, running, and keeping his or her balance.

As your child gains new skills in the five key areas, he or she will be ready to learn new and more demanding skills. By continuing to master milestones, children are establishing a solid foundation for successful learning and becoming responsible and healthy young adults. Although each child develops at a different rate, it’s important for parents to keep track of your child’s physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being. Parents are often the first ones to notice that a child is not progressing at the same rate as other children at the same age. For this reason, it is vital for parents to watch for signs of any type of delays in your child’s development. The sooner a developmentally delayed child gets the right help and support, the better his or her progress will be. Research has shown that children who are identified and treated earlier have better outcomes in development, school performance, and social skills. The more parents understand about the different stages of child development, the better it is for both parents and the child.

What Is Early Screening?
Everyparent wishes the absolute best for his or her child. That is why regular developmental screening (PDF 1.59MB) is an important opportunity to identify early symptoms and address delays that can seriously impede normal, healthy development among children. Multiple screening instruments are available for a variety of ages, settings, and behavioral risks. Below is a list of key developmental areas that parents should monitor closely.   

  • Social and emotional health: Social and emotional health means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, learning healthy social skills, and being able to cope with problems. In essence, a socially and emotionally healthy child exhibits self-control, good interpersonal skills, and no behavioral problems. If, however, a child shows serious changes in the way he or she typically learns, behaves, or handles emotions, talk with your pediatrician. Many options and resources are available that can guide your child toward success. Early screening can make a difference in your child’s life.
  • Speech and language: Any type of speech or language problem will likely significantly affect your child’s social, behavior, and academic skills. The earlier your child’s speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or get worse. Early speech and language screening and intervention can help your child be more successful with school readiness and social relationships.
  • Hearing: Hearing is a critical part of your kids’ social, emotional, and cognitive development. Even a mild or partial hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to speak and understand language. Hearing problems can be treated if they’re caught early, so it’s important to get your child’s hearing screened early and evaluated regularly.
  • Vision: It’s important for your child to have his or her eyes examined regularly, as many vision problems and eye diseases can be detected and treated early. Watch your child for evidence of poor vision or crossed eyes. If you notice any eye problems, have your child examined so that the problem doesn’t become permanent. If caught early, eye conditions often can be reversed.
  • Good oral health: Good oral health is essential to a child’s behavior, speech, language, and overall growth and development. Help ensure that your child grows up to have healthy gums and a beautiful smile. Start early to teach your child the value of brushing his or her teeth. 

Remember that keeping your child healthy is a team effort among parents, schools, and pediatricians. Parents (PDF 1.59MB) play a major role in making sure that their child’s health and development needs are met. Therefore, they are both the most important adults in a young child’s life and the biggest contributors to the child’s future success.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC website provides parents and caregivers with helpful information, resources, and tools that support healthy child development:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
“February is National Children’s Dental Health Month” gives parents resources on children’s dental health.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Building Blocks for a Healthy Future
Family Article: “Good Hygiene: Why It’s Important to Brush Your Teeth” helps parents understand the importance of starting early to teach children the who, what, why, when, where, and how of brushing.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
“Child Speech and Language” provides parents with information and resources about children’s speech and language development.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation
The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success (PDF 1.59MB) is a report that illustrates the importance of parents, educators, primary health care providers, and policymakers working together in order to provide children with a foundation for lifetime success.  

Kids Health
The following resources provide detailed information for parents and caregivers about the importance of early hearing and vision screening:

National Research Council
Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People is a formal analysis that provides scientific insight into the prevention and promotion of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders of young people.

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Updated on 3/22/2014