Here are a few tips to help guide you on the great adventure of being a parent. They offer guidelines on your child’s growth and give you some ideas for ways to have fun with him.
Remember that the ages we use are only approximate. Children grow at their own individual pace and may learn new skills sooner or later.
The age of a premature baby (born before the 37th week of pregnancy)
Babies born early must make up the weeks they lost in their mother’s womb. This doesn’t happen magically when they’re born but takes place slowly over the first 2 years. Use your baby’s corrected age when looking at progress on growth charts and comparing with other children. If not, you may expect too much.
To correct the age of a baby born before term, count from the birth date that was expected. For example, if the expected birth date was March 1st but your baby was born on January 1st, he is two months early. In this case, when you calculate your baby’s corrected age, subtract the two months from his actual age. On April 1st, his real age will be 3 months, but his corrected age is 1 month.
We encourage you to consult the Association des parents d’enfants prématurés – Préma-Québec (see Associations, agencies and support groups).
The following pages offer information about different levels of growth at each age:
- Motor skills;
- Communication and language;
- Understanding (cognitive growth);
- Relationships (socio-affective growth).
Birth to 2 months
Fine motor skills
During his first few weeks, your baby moves but has little control over his movements. His senses are awakening. If you touch the inside of his hand, he’ll try to grasp your finger. He will look at a mobile over his crib. Around 1 month of age, his eyes will follow a moving object. Shake a rattle near him and he will react to the sound.
The baby’s fine motor skills are poorly organized and his movements are not voluntary. This is normal. This is the reflexive stage, which will disappear as the brain matures.
Moro’s reflex means that your baby will jump when he hears a loud noise or is moved quickly. This is not a sign that your baby is nervous.
The sucking reflex is well developed. This allows your baby to feed himself or to calm down by putting his hand in his mouth.
An offshoot of the orientation reflex will make your baby turn his head if you tickle his cheek or arm. It helps your baby look for the breast.
The automatic stepping reflex appears when babies are held standing. He will try to walk on the examination table (the doctor can show you this). Your baby can’t support his own weight yet, nor will stimulating this reflex help him walk sooner.
Watch your baby and you will see he is born with some extraordinary abilities. He does exciting new things every day. He is not too small to play, and can imitate some gestures like sticking out his tongue and opening his mouth. He can tell the difference between black and white and bright colours.
Newborns immediately begin recognizing faces, and their memory is growing. They look for your face, and can find it. Their emotions are intense and hard to control; they need your help in doing so. Their emotions are expressed through everything from crying to cooing and babbling.
Look at your baby when he is in your arms; both of you will get to know each other better.
Photo: Jean-François Dufour
Crying is your baby’s first way of communicating. At first, babies cry as a reflex, not by choice, usually when something is bothering them. They have different ways of crying to tell you about different needs, such as food or sleep.
They coo from the earliest months. They don’t understand the meaning of words but can sense emotions such as joy, anger and tenderness in your tone of voice. They react to loud noises. Your baby recognizes your voice and likes to hear it. In his own way, he is already communicating!
Talk with him. Talk softly. Tell him a story or sing him a song. Imitate the sounds he makes and watch for his reaction. By doing this, you will be helping him to pronounce sounds and learn tones and rhythms. He will want to join in the conversation.
Say his name often; soon he will recognize it. Move around while calling him; he will move his head in the direction of your voice. Do this often. It is important for learning speech.
From 2 to 4 months
Fine motor skills
Your child is beginning to control his head movements and hold his head up better and better.
He is becoming more active. When lying face down, he raises his head and pushes up bit by bit using his arms. He moves his legs and explores his hands and feet. He loves to be touched and kissed and nuzzled, and for you to move his feet like pedals and to play with his hands. He will grab a rattle and try to suck on it. Don’t be surprised; for quite a while he will try to put everything in his mouth. This is how he learns. You’ll see him playing with his tongue and saliva and making bubbles.
Your child will make different sounds depending on what he needs. He’s moving toward babble (“dada, mama, baba”). He reacts to familiar voices and the sound of his toys. He will also smile in reaction to your stimulations.
He doesn’t understand words yet, but likes it when you hum or sing to him because he recognizes your voice and feels safe. He pays attention to the tune and your gestures. If he cries, talk softly, he may calm down. He may pay attention to music.
Introduce your child to new textures.
Photo: Pascale Turcotte
The first social smile usually appears in the second month. The human face interests the baby, who answers a smile with a smile. At 2 months, he starts becoming interested in other babies and may become excited when he sees one. At 3 months, he is becoming more and more aware of other members of the family.
Your baby repeats pleasant actions he has learned by accident, such as sucking his thumb and putting toys in his mouth.
Touring the home. Give the baby a detailed tour of your home. Show him and tell him what’s in it. He will try to grab things, practicing his hand-eye coordination.
Tickling. At bath time or while playing, help your child discover textures. Tickle him with paper tissue, teddy bear, dry washcloth, etc.
From 4 to 6 months
Fine motor skills
Your baby is stronger now and holds himself better. Lying on his back, he raises his head, pedals and puts his feet in his mouth. If you pull on his hands, he rises and his head follows the movement. His back is straight but he still needs to be supported. Lying on his front, he rolls over onto his back with pleasure.
He looks at his hands, puts them in his mouth, grabs things easily, holds them well but sometimes drops them. He will follow objects with his eyes but may sometimes squint. His vision is very good and he can distinguish small details.
He likes fairly big, coloured objects hanging within reach. He enjoys looking at them, touching them and turning them around. He knows that if he moves the rattle, it will make a noise. He also knows that if he babbles, you’ll pay attention for a longer time. When he drops something, he doesn’t look for it.
He expresses his needs by yelling, crying and babbling. He is improving the babble with sounds that respond to yours. He roars with laughter and sometimes shouts for fun. Exploring his voice, he tries sounds, repeats them and tries to imitate others. He watches people talking to him and looks for the source of a noise. When he is babbling, answer him. He will find out he can affect the world around him and learn to take turns speaking. Talk to him often.
Lying face down, your baby will learn to coordinate his movements and learn shapes.
Photo: Nicolas Delaître
Now that your baby is more aware, he will be more active in seeking your attention. He may cry because he’s bored and hopes you will come and move him around and babble with him. He may even interrupt feeding to look at mom and dad. It’s a good idea to keep him in the same room you are in and talk to him. You can pick him up as often as you want, even if he’s not crying.
At this age, the child is interested in the people around him. He looks for the sources of noise. He also recognizes family and friends. Take advantage of this to check:
- If he reacts when you smile at him;
- If he stops crying when you talk to him;
- If he turns toward you when you say his name;
- If he follows your movements without constantly squinting.
If he shows little reaction and you are worried, don’t hesitate to talk to the doctor about it.
Lying face down. Place your child on his belly and put some safe and interesting objects in front of him. He will want to reach out, grab them and handle them.
Rattle. Your child will want to shake a rattle to make noise.
From 6 to 9 months
Fine motor skills
He is starting to move around on his belly. He rolls over. He’s learning to crawl, backwards first, becoming more skilled and moving faster. Lying face down, he holds himself up with his arms. You can get him to move forward by offering him a teddy bear or a small ball. He can grab smaller and smaller objects and move them from hand to hand.
He holds the breast with two hands while feeding. He may even turn around while suckling to watch what’s going on around him. His teeth sharpen and he will probably learn the joy of biting.
He is beginning to eat food. To be safe while eating, he must be close to you and fully secure in the highchair. He likes to play with his bowls and food. At about 9 months, his hand-eye coordination will improve. He can drink by himself from a bottle with a spout.
Deliberate communications begin at about 7 months, mainly by gesture until 18 months. Meanwhile, the baby’s babble is becoming more diverse and sophisticated, copying the sounds he hears. He is interested in people who talk to him, looking at them and answering to his name. He now starts using a few familiar words (“daddy, baby”).
By about 9 months, your child understands familiar gestures. If you hold out your hand and ask for his toy, he might give it to you. A baby understands language before he tries to use it voluntarily. At this age, your child understands many words even if he can’t yet say them.
Help your baby discover the different parts of his body.
Photo: Stéphanie Giguère
He likes mirrors and articles he can handle, turn and move. He enjoys large plastic cubes. He is fascinated by noisy games and will bang things against each other or the table, walls and floor. He likes squeeze toys that make noise. He will play the same game over and over. He doesn’t throw things on the floor to make you angry – he’s learning how to throw and how things fall. Your child learns from the things you do with him. He is gathering knowledge and putting it to use.
At about 8 or 9 months you will notice that your child likes to look at his cubes, his teddy bear and his bowl from every angle – top, bottom, left, right, back and front. He’s learning perspective. In front of a mirror, he tries to capture his image and yours; he examines himself. Tell him that it’s him, and say his name, which he has known for a long time now.
The baby is discovering his body and his parents’ faces. He feels the need to touch them, to put his fingers in their mouth, nose and eyes. He pulls at their clothing. He laughs at the faces they make and becomes something of a tease. He tries to attract the attention of other babies by smiling and babbling when they meet. The fear of strangers may make him cry when he sees unfamiliar faces.
Help make your baby’s separation from Mom easier by having Dad also spend lots of time with him. This will make it easier for your child to turn to another person in the family circle (see Importance of the father/child relationship).
At 8 or 9 months, it will be hard to separate your child from the person who takes care of him the most. He will cry when you leave. Try playing peekaboo so he will understand that you’re not disappearing forever when you leave. He’ll learn to keep an image of you in his mind. A
fter you have left or when he wakes up, he may be worried to discover you aren’t there. Always tell him, particularly if he’s taking a nap, that you are going away and will be back soon. A child may become attached to substitute objects such as a doll or blanket to make up for absent parents. Be careful of this precious article and wash it secretly. Keep an identical spare if possible and switch on laundry day.
Parts of the body. You can now play at identifying parts of the face. Then name parts of the body.
Peekaboo. Several times in a row, hide your face behind your hands then reveal yourself while calling ”peekaboo.“ Start the game over using his favourite toy; he will be surprised and happy to see it reappear so quickly. At this age, children think that people or things they can no longer see have really disappeared.
Help him explore his surroundings by letting him play with everyday objects.
Photo: Dominique Belley
Mirror, mirror on the wall… Put yourself and your baby in front of a mirror. Make lots of smiles and faces; he is learning to recognize both you and himself. Make noises with your mouth and he will try to answer them.
The wide world. Whatever the season, take him outdoors. It’s good for his health and yours. Help him discover the world around him – trees, birds and flowers – and other children. Help him explore his surroundings by letting him play with everyday objects.
The tunnel. A big cardboard box with holes in both ends makes a fine tunnel to crawl through. Be sure to remove any staples first. Get down on all fours with your baby and you’ll see the world from his point of view.
Blocks, balls, bottles. Give him blocks to pile, balls to push and floating toys. In the bathtub he will play with plastic bottles and small containers; he will love to fill and empty them. Don’t use toys that don’t drain because they make a fine home for bacteria and other nasty microbes.
Words and books. Reading stories is a good way to learn new words. Choose a book with simple colour pictures.
From 9 to 12 months
Fine motor skills
Your little one will want to explore every corner of the home. He races around on hands and knees and disappears before you know it. He’s becoming more and more independent. He may not walk yet but he can stand up, squat and bend over.
Using furniture for support, he stands up, takes a step or two and falls down. And starts over! His hand coordination is improving and he is becoming more and more capable of doing things. He picks up crumbs and tiny objects and holds them between thumb and forefinger. He still puts things in his mouth because that’s how he discovers. So pay attention!
Your child can understand what you tell him, especially if you speak plainly and use gestures as well as words. This is the stage when your baby starts to follow simple instructions (e.g., show me your nose). He knows “bye-bye” and “clap” and how to hide. He is beginning to communicate for specific reasons, to get something or attract attention.
You have to know what he wants because he illustrates his babble with gestures while saying “ba ba ba, ma ma ma” and so on, holding out his hand and eventually pointing to the thing he wants. He turns when his name is called and imitates the sounds you make. He also still enjoys noise-making toys, and can locate the source of a familiar but hidden noise or voice (from several metres away).
He is becoming very sociable. He and the children he plays with are beginning to imitate each other. He cries when he can’t see you any more. You are still the centre of his life but he is exploring the world around him with great curiosity. It can put your patience to the test but this curiosity is a sign of good development.
He can begin playing alone, but would much prefer that dad be there to give him a friendly hard time. He still doesn’t play with the same toy for very long, but can show his appreciation for one specific object.
Your child enjoys imitating you. He is beginning to show interest in books and music. He really enjoys games of emptying and filling. He is able to use his knowledge in new situations. If you prevent him from taking something, he will look for other ways to get it. He can coordinate several actions to achieve a goal, such as crawling across the room to get a toy.
He links events and reactions, such as how his parents react to his crying. He is fascinated by the results of his actions, and may pull on the tablecloth to get the glass of milk on the table.
Your baby will love simply playing with a ball.
Photo: Geneviève Caron-Fauconnier
A ball. Sit on the floor face to face with your legs open. Roll the ball between his legs. Ask him to send it back the same way. He will be proud of himself when he sees you’re happy he succeeded.
A toy chest. Give him a box full of colourful, washable toys such as balls, blocks, stacking rings and fabric animals. Keep him fairly near to you. He’ll start playing by himself.
A cupboard for baby. Give him permission to go through a cupboard located away from the stove and full of plastic containers in various shapes and colours. While he plays with them you can work quietly in the kitchen. Don’t forget to use security locks on all the other drawers and cupboards.
Smells. Use mealtime to introduce your baby to different odours, such as bread, meat, fruit, vegetables and spices. This will help develop his sense of smell.
Books. Let him handle his first books, made of cardboard or cloth. Point at things on the pictures and tell him their names. He will learn to identify them and later to name them.
From 12 to 15 months
Fine motor skills
Your baby can walk, or almost. But there’s no rush. Children grow at their own pace. Maybe he prefers to wait until 15 to 18 months. Don’t push it. He’ll soon be climbing on the furniture and moving chairs around you.
He is very capable on all fours and can climb the stairs this way. He is learning about shapes, putting small cubes inside big ones, balls in holes, rings on a cone.
He sorts objects by shape and colour. And he likes testing different actions. For example, if he drops an article down the stairs he’ll throw another one down to see what happens.
Children generally say their first words at about 12 months. A baby’s first words will refer to people close to him (e.g., mommy, daddy) and to familiar articles (e.g., ball, doll). It’s important to know that some words will not match adult speech (e.g., banky for blanket). He recognizes the names of familiar people and things. He enjoys repeating what he hears and continues to babble.
Your child is very sensitive to his parents’ emotions, especially in unfamiliar or threatening situations. A parent’s worried or confident expression will affect his behaviour and feelings. Your young child is more sensitive to family mood than anything else.
During your baby’s one-year medical exam, the doctor will ask you some questions about your child’s growth; for example:
- Does he turn toward you when you call his name?
- Does he look directly in your eyes?
- Does he point at things to show his need or interest?
- Is he beginning to pretend (feeding a baby, talking on the phone)?
Play with your baby at building – and rebuilding – a tower. This will help him learn to gather and handle objects.
Photo: Céline Leheurteux
Decorating the refrigerator. Your child will have fun with fridge magnets. Moving them around helps teach the finger and thumb to pinch, and improves hand-eye coordination. Careful! Be sure the magnets are firmly assembled and too big to swallow (see Choosing toys).
The falling tower. Show him how to make a stack of three or four blocks. Put one down and ask him to add a second, and so on. Then tell him to knock the stack down – and start over.
Mastering the stairs. Once he starts walking, there’s a new game he’ll love: going downstairs backward.
Nursery rhymes and chitchat. Chatting with him frequently is a good way for your baby to learn language skills. He will enjoy having body parts named, for example. To add to your choices, your local library may have CDs of the nursery rhymes and songs that children love so much..
From 15 to 18 months
Fine motor skills
By now your child is walking. He happily struts around with legs apart and arms out for balance. It’s a good time to buy him some soft shoes for walking outdoors (see First shoes). He climbs stairs on all fours, goes downstairs backward, gets into cupboards, climbs on chairs and touches everything.
He’s learning to handle screw tops, door handles and the pages of a book. He helps you dress him, and undresses quickly and throws away his boots. He can take a few steps sideways or backward. He can roll a ball toward an adult.
He can also draw pictures with a large crayon. He can stack two or three cubes and put things in a bowl. He likes to fill and empty containers.
Careful! He still puts things in his mouth, including stones. He is so excited he wants to eat and sleep less.
He is still experimenting with gravity, dropping things on purpose from his highchair. Throwing things is still part of his learning program. He looks for various ways to do what he wants and tries out new behaviour. For example, if he steps on a plastic duck it makes a noise. He may then try to squeeze it in his hands or sit on it to make the same noise. He’s starting to solve problems by trial and error.
This is the beginning of independence, and a very important time in a child’s social development. It can be very hard on parents. He will follow you and imitate the things you do around home – toilet, housekeeping, toothbrushing, preparing meals. Lend him a cleaning cloth, a spoon and a bowl. Name the things he does. Invite him to imitate the sounds of things he hears: cars, airplanes, the vacuum cleaner, dogs and cats. He likes to pretend he’s on the phone. Play music for him and he will dance to the rhythm. Play chase and hiding games with him and he’ll be delighted. He loves playing in sand and splashing water.
He likes playing alongside other children of his age but each will play independently. Interactions between two children of the same age become longer and more complex. Periods of mutual imitation indicate that, to a certain extent, the child is conscious of the other’s intentions.
Rather than responding to what he wants before he asks, let him express his needs.
Photo: Geneviève Colpron
He is starting to grasp simple instructions (e.g., “go get your teddy bear”) and depending less and less on your gestures. When he hears a noise, he looks toward the source of it. By 18 months, he knows at least 18 words that his parents understand, and he speaks one word at a time. He says “daddy” and “mommy” and a few useful terms such as “down”, “wait” and “more”.
He may name some body parts (nose, eyes), pets (dog, cat), and articles of daily life (ball, car). He tries to repeat words and imitate the sounds of animals.
Give him time to talk and encourage conversation, because he will learn through practice. When he says a word, add more words to it. For example if he says “turn”, you say “yes, the top is turning fast.”
Puzzles and a tool box. He is becoming more capable with his hands. He loves toys he can put together and take apart, nesting and stacking games. It’s time for his first jigsaw puzzle (with large parts), a plastic tool box and some big building blocks.
Your child is able to pick up ever-smaller objects.
Photo: Mireille Lewis
A pull toy. He likes to push and pull a vehicle. Give him toys with long handles, carts, wagons, balls and boxes full of various things. Tie a piece of string to an empty shoe box and suggest that he put his teddy bear in it. This makes a great sled.
Bubbles. You can blow bubbles for him to catch in the bathtub. He will get very excited so be sure to keep him sitting down. This will be just as much fun outside on the grass.
Drawings. Give him paper and non-toxic wax crayons. Show him how to doodle and he will immediately see the link between action and result. After praising the artist, hang the masterpiece on the fridge.
From 18 to 24 months
Fine motor skills
Your child has a wild need to move now. He runs, stops, starts, stops again, legs wide, chest forward, crouches as if urinating, stands up, starts running again and falls down. He bumps into everything. He kicks his ball to move it. He dances by spinning around and around when he likes the music. He loves playing outside. He needs room to walk, jump and run the way he wants. Teach him to rest when he’s tired by sitting cross-legged. It’s a good position for the legs.
By about 2 years he can do a standing jump and between 2 and 3 years he will be able to hit the ball with his foot. He will also learn to walk on his toes.
He is becoming more coordinated every day. He may be able to run a piece of string through something hollow or a bobbin of thread. Between 2 and 3 years old, he will be able to hold scissors and turn the pages of a book one at a time.
He doesn’t want help at the table. He holds his spoon well but still has trouble getting it to his mouth. He willingly splashes his soup on himself. He can easily take off his hat and socks, and you can encourage him to dress himself by choosing clothes that are easy to put on.
By about 18 months, your child will clearly understand simple sentences like “go get your ball” with no gesturing. He will also turn his head toward a noise. By 24 months, he can do what you ask (e.g., point at a picture in a book). He likes listening to little songs and stories. By 30 months, he can correctly answer questions about who, what and where with words and actions.
His vocabulary is now growing quickly. From the 18 words he knew at 18 months, he has learned 100 by 24 months. The first 2-word sentences appear at about 2 years (e.g., daddy gone, more milk), and grow to 3 words by about 2 ½ years. At this age, your child is also starting to use small words like “me” and “one.”
Little conversations will soon become possible. You’ll be able to talk with your little one about an event or a thing. Don’t worry if he still can’t pronounce all the sounds and syllables. Children make lots of language mistakes at this age.
Your child is becoming more self-assured and independent. Do you feel the distance is growing between you? In fact, he’s discovering the world around him. He sometimes talks a lot and continues to imitate you. He feeds his teddy bear, washes it, walks it and puts it to bed. He’s playing the role of mother and father.
At 2 years old, he wants to do everything by himself: eat, drink and undress, mainly. He loves learning. Sometimes he makes a mess but never mind. Let him experiment while you watch. His success will make him confident.
Your child will have fun with you or with an older child but not yet with a toddler his own age. He may find it hard to lend his toys but you will gradually convince him to share. It will be easier at 3 or 4 years. Many children go through a phase when they push, bite and hit. Say NO clearly but don’t hit or bite your child.
Your child is ready for his first construction games.
Photo: Sarah Witty
Between 18 and 24 months, he learns that objects exist even when he can’t see them. When your child sees an object moved from one place to another, he looks for it in the last hiding place. He also looks for articles he hasn’t seen moved.
Your child can understand symbols now, and can think of people, things and events he doesn’t see. He can imitate someone who isn’t there, or pretend to. He can draw objects. At about 2 years old, he will be able to sort articles based on common characteristics such as colour.
He is also beginning to understand cause and effect. When your child bangs on things with a spoon, he realizes that each one has its own sound.
A story every night. As often as possible, take the time to read your child stories. Point out pictures by naming objects and actions. Ask him to turn the pages and let him handle the book.
Your child will learn that reading goes from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom, and that stories have a beginning and an end. He will express his emotions. This is a great time to share precious moments of pleasure and togetherness. Choose books he likes. You can go to the library, and ask family members to give him books as presents.
Other word games. Writing is everywhere. While taking a walk, satisfy his curiosity by reading things that attract his attention: posters, the names of stores, advertising, road signs, etc. He will learn to recognize logos, which is the first step toward understanding words.
The sound of music. He is also discovering music. Listen to CDs and sing his favourite songs with him. He often prefers songs accompanied by simple gestures. Since he is using toys with more ability, you can provide him with simple instruments like drums, a xylophone and cymbals.
Free creativity. It’s time to use toys that let him create things. He likes finger painting, modelling clay and mud pies. Say something about what he makes. He will want to talk about it. Don’t forget to show off his handiwork – he will be very proud of it.
Long live the outdoors. Your child needs to move. He needs space to run and jump. Play with him outside in your yard or the park as often as possible. He likes playing outside and it’s good for him.
Costumes. He loves disguises and will borrow grownups’ hats and shoes. Set aside some old clothing that doesn’t matter if it gets dirty.