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Your child's development 0-5 years

Your child relies on you as a mum or dad to feel secure and in order to develop. The youngest children express the want and need for contact with you in different ways - in step with their own development.

Dad with two children

Your child needs you to interpret their signals and to "respond" in a good way. Many people eagerly await the first smile, the first word, or the first steps. Be patient - they come when the child is ready.

You will quite quickly discover that a child is a small person with thoughts, feelings and with his own unique personality. It takes time to get to know and find out what your child wants, what it wants from you and how it reacts.

Children are as individually different as adults, so there is no golden rule that applies to every child's development. Neither is this a form of competition. Remember that there is a great variety and breadth in children's normal development. Some will be a little earlier – others a little later than average.

However, there are many common denominators. In the following, we give an overview of which developmental features are typical at different points in the child's first four years.

By learning and understanding more about where your child is in their development, you will be able to stimulate and meet the child where it needs you right now.

Follow your child’s development

The interaction with your child begins already when it is in your tummy. A few weeks after birth you can communicate more directly with your baby.

Most children start to

  • recognize the voice of mum and dad
  • recognize your scent, especially the smell of your milk
  • see optimally at a distance of 20 – 30 cm
  • communicate with you using sound and movements
  • show interest in faces

You have experienced the first few days and weeks with your child, and you begin to get to know each other better.

  • Perhaps you are beginning to see a little of who your child is?
  • How do you experience the quality of contact with your child?

To feel secure and to become attached to you, your child needs a lot of care and loving feelings at this early stage. Your gaze and voice are the greatest gifts you can give your child. The child also needs a lot of physical contact. Many children calm down when they are stroked over the back and tummy.

  • There are many ways to give your child love. What does your child like?
  • How does your child react when you smile at it?
  • How does your child react to physical contact?

The child initiates contact with you through his body movements, sounds and facial expressions. It is important that your child gets a response. In this way, he learns that initiating contact has an effect and he gets confirmation that he is an important person for you.

  • How does your child react when you respond?

The child also takes initiative in other ways, such as turning away from you briefly when it gets food and also when you are looking and smiling at each other. It is only natural that the child needs a break to digest food or from sensory stimulation.

It is important that you respect your child's need for a short break and that you adjust to this by waiting until the child is ready again.

It is also important that you have the patience to wait for a response from the child when you take the initiative – your child needs time!

Even just after birth, you will automatically talk to your baby, trying to put words on what you think he feels, talking about what you do together etc. Even though your baby does not understand the words being said, he hears your voice and feels comforted.

  • Have you noticed that your baby sometimes responds with sounds when you talk to her?
  • What happens if you respond by imitating her sounds and giving her time to answer you again?
  • How does your child react to physical contact?
  • Does your child like you sing to her?

When your child is about six weeks, she is more alert and active than straight after birth.

Most children start to

  • firmly fix their gaze on things
  • smile
  • make sounds and communicate with their whole body
  • make different crying sounds that have different meanings

During this period, it is easier to see that your child is "talking" to you, as both of you take turns to make sounds, smiles, and gestures. Care and a great deal of love are still the most important things you can give your child:

  • Show openly your loving feelings — show that you love the child through cuddling, smiles etc.
  • Follow the child's initiative by imitating the sounds and movements she makes, by giving her the necessary breaks when talking together and by trying to understand what her different types of crying mean. Is your child hungry, upset, tired, feeling cold or has she got tummy ache?

Try to start an “emotional conversation" where you share happiness and good feelings. The child will be happy to talk and chat. When communicating with your child, she may become passive if you take over by talking too much and too long so that she can’t find a way in. End the conversation when your child shows that she’s had enough for now.

It’s a big change in life to be responsible for a small child who needs you day and night. During this period, many parents get less sleep than they are used to and get tired and worn out.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • Does your child react differently when there is contact between you now compared with just after birth?
  • How does your child react when you caress and cuddle her now?
  • What makes your child smile?
  • What happens if you get too active when you interact with your child?
  • What happens if several people talk to the child at the same time?
  • How has the transition to being a mother or father been for you?
  • How do you find that your child reacts when you're tired?
  • How does it make you feel when you don't have the energy you wished you had?

When your child is about 3-4 months, the world opens up and the child becomes more curious.

Most children start to

  • look at you and communicate with you for longer periods
  • look around and examine their surroundings with their gaze
  • laugh and experiment with their own voice
  • babble more than previously
  • show happiness by using their whole body

Your child is getting more and more interested in the world around them. Face-to-face contact is still exciting, but now the child also begins to be curious about other things. When your child has explored something with their gaze, he will often turn to you so that you can look at it together.

Therefore, it is important that you show interest by following closely what the child is interested in. Nod, smile and come with small comments. Then the child will feel secure and can explore the world further.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • How do you notice that your child is more interested in the world around him?
  • What is your child interested in?
  • Do you try to put his interests into words for him?
  • What is it that causes your child to show happiness?
  • How do you show the child that you’re interested in the same things as her?
  • What is it about your child that triggers positive feelings in you?

Increasingly active exploration.

Most children start to

  • get hold of things by grasping more consciously and keeping hold of what they get
  • keep their attention on one thing at a time
  • be more physically active by turning around and rolling
  • understand which events normally follow after each other during the day
  • like to hear their own voice
  • use their voice intentionally by whining, shouting and making other loud noises

Your child now begins to explore the world around her more and more. Sometimes your child needs to explore the world by herself, but often she needs your help to explore and to understand what's going on.

At this stage it is important that you:

  • continue to show your child that you are there and that you love him. most children start to enjoy more activity: being tossed in the air, peek-a-boo games etc. But be ready to stop when your baby has had enough!
  • help your child to focus their attention, for example by presenting one toy at a time. This helps the child to concentrate and is essential in order for the child to learn
  • put words on what you are doing together and what your child is looking at. The child needs this in order to understand what is happening around him how the world fits together. It gives the child security and structure in everyday life
  • put words on the emotions your child expresses; for example, when he is tired, happy, tense, eager or upset. In that way, your child gets to understand himself better.
  • start to help the child regulate his sleep pattern

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • How do you help your child to focus their attention?
  • How do you notice your child is more attentive now?
  • How do you help your child in her motor development?
  • What does the "conversation" between you feel like now?

The child explores his surroundings.

Most children start to

  • crawl in various ways and eventually sit up by themselves
  • investigate and explore their toys
  • explore their bodies
  • create even more new sounds
  • become sceptical of strangers
  • gradually understand more and more words

Now, the child is truly eager to explore their world and learn about what is happening around them. It's best if you're there as your child's helper. You follow closely what your child is interested in and support your child's learning. It is also important that you are there as a safe base so that your child can turn back to you when he becomes wary of the unknown.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • Does your child like to explore toys on their own?
  • How do you help your child explore his surroundings?
  • How does your child react to being encouraged to explore?
  • How is your child's sleep pattern? Does she need more help to regulate sleep?

The child constantly manages to do new things, and needs to be acknowledged and praised for everything she achieves.

Most children start to

  • point to the things that they are interested in
  • explore ever more of their surroundings because they can move more freely around, crawl, stand up and eventually walk
  • use their toys in new ways, for example by putting bricks on top of each other, throwing toys on the floor or playing give-and-take games
  • play the same games and perform ritual activities over and over again

During this period, regular routines are important in connection with meals, bedtimes, saying goodbye and similar things. You can help your child to understand what is allowed and what is not. This should be as similar as possible from day to day and from person to person

It is important that you are there as a safe base.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • How do you show your child that you are pleased with it now?
  • How do you and your child have fun together?
  • How can you help your child feel secure in everyday life through regular routines?
  • How can you encourage your child to do what is right?
  • How do you set boundaries for your child in a positive way?
  • How does your child react to these positive boundaries?
  • How do you cope with the situation when you yourself are tired and your child does not do what you want?

Around 18 months of age, your child still needs a lot of love and care, praise and approval.

Most children start to

  • walk alone (some still need a little support)
  • point to make you look where they want
  • explore the world around them even more than before
  • say a few words
  • understand more and more of what is being said
  • imitate simple tasks
  • clearly show what they want

You can help your child focus their attention so that you are both focussed on the same thing.

It's good that you put words on what things are called and how they work. This is important for the child's intellectual development and in order to learn to speak.

During this period, the child begins to develop self-confidence and self-esteem. The child needs to know that she can deal with different situations. You can help your child understand what she is allowed to do and what she is not. It is a challenge for parents to set boundaries in a positive way, so that your child does not get the feeling of suffering constant defeats. With such young children, you can also direct their attention away from what they are not allowed to do and over to some other activity.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • How do you arrange and prepare situations so that your child feels that it succeeds?
  • Can you give examples from your everyday life where you set positive boundaries for your child?
  • How do you give your child praise now?
  • Are there any songs or simple nursery rhymes you remember from your own childhood that you want your child to learn?

When children are around two years old, there are many things they can do and want to do.

Most children

  • walk and also run
  • like to play, but don’t play very much with other children yet
  • begin to want to do things by themselves and often say “no”
  • put two or more words together
  • understand simple language

Your child needs a safe and secure atmosphere to grow up in. You provide help and support, but you can increasingly withdraw as your child manages to do things by herself.

You can start with what your child is already interested in when you want her to learn something new.

Remember that what seems trivial to you may be very important to your child. Try to put yourself in your child's shoes when you set boundaries so that your child feels acknowledged.

During this period there are also many children who acquire siblings and who consequently experience jealousy. It is common to have too high expectations of the older child, who you suddenly regard as “big” in relation to the new baby. It is important that you involve your child early in the arrival of a new family member. At the same time, you must take into account that the child is still small.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • What qualities do you most appreciate in your child right now?
  • Can you give examples of how you help your child to master different activities?
  • How can mealtimes be positive experiences, both for you and your child?
  • Is there something special your child is interested in and wants to learn more about? How can you help that happen?
  • How do you tackle situations when the child protests? In some situations, such as teeth cleaning, it is important that adults do not leave the responsibility with the child. How do you and your child cooperate on such tasks?

When the child is around 3 years old, an exciting time begins.

Most children can:

  • hop or walk backwards
  • ride a tricycle
  • dress themselves with a little help
  • browse through a book
  • start to count and also recognize letters
  • play more together with other children (where previously they have played more “in parallel”)
  • show compassion for another person who has hurt herself or is upset

Now the child understands that she is a separate person who can influence their surroundings. In other words, the child understands that she can set boundaries and decide for herself. The unfortunate thing is that she is not quite ready to convey this using language. A three-year-old has the ability to put together short sentences, most manage sentences of about three words. But this ability is not always enough to explain what she really wants. For example, that she didn’t want milk in the boring cup that dad chose, but in her own favourite cup.

Something else that happens at this age is that the child is now able to imagine things that are going to happen or might happen. For example, she can imagine herself wearing her new dress to the nursery, looking forward to showing everyone how pretty she is. You can imagine yourself how disappointed you would be if that plan came to nothing the following morning.

The three-year-old imagines things that parents have no access to because the child can’t express them in words. It’s therefore important to be aware of this, when your child protests and gets “stuck” for something that seems unreasonable. There is always a reason why the child gets angry.

And though both parents and children become frustrated occasionally, it’s good to remember that things usually become easier as the child becomes better at using language to express themselves.

Things that might be useful or to keep in mind:

  • Acknowledge your child when you see she reacts to something, even if you don't know what it is.
  • Bend down to the same height as your child when you’re trying to get contact with her.
  • The child never does anything just because she wants to be difficult. Children do not have any other agenda when they protest and get “stuck”, other than wanting you to calm them and help them. Because they don't know how to do this themselves yet.
  • Children definitely start to seem older during this period, because a good deal of changes occur. But they are nevertheless just new starters, only having just begun to realize that they are a separate human being and not a part of their parents. So they will need a lot of room to make mistakes, and they are completely dependent on patient, adult role models.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • How can you arrange things so that your child gets to decide some things for himself?
  • How can you get an idea of how your child experiences things and understand how he feels?
  • How do you deal with your child when his emotions take over?
  • How do you cope with your own feelings in these situations?
  • What is your child interested in at the moment?

When your child reaches the age of four, there’s still a lot he needs help with from you.

Most children

  • are curious about everything new
  • want understanding and information, they often ask "Why?”
  • use their imagination a lot
  • are keen to play, both alone and together with others
  • have many challenging thoughts about, for example, war and death
  • are wary of change

Your child still needs a lot of care, and still needs to feel little and looked after sometimes. It’s good to have you there to answer questions and to explain. Getting involved with daily chores is a great opportunity to learn!

In addition, the child needs help to understand and learn what is right and wrong.

Questions for discussion and contemplation:

  • What do you most appreciate about your child now?
  • Think back to the time before birth, when you wondered about the new person that would come into the world. How would you describe your child now?
  • Does your child like to join in on daily activities, such as cooking?
  • How do you use these situations to teach your child about the world around him?
  • What do you and your child like to do together now?
  • How do you teach your child the difference between right and wrong?
  • Are there situations where it is difficult to set boundaries?

5 year-olds develop quickly in many fields.

Most children can now

  • dress themselves and tie their shoes
  • describe their own and other people’s feelings (angry, sad, happy)
  • enjoy to make people around them happy and get positive responses
  • begin to grasp the concept of rules and often like following them to gain approval

Their motor skills and body coordination develop at full speed. They now manage to hold their pencil or crayon “like an adult”. They can use scissors and learn crafts like using a needle and thread to sew or weave and, with help, they may also be able to use a knife and cut a branch.

Language development is also rapid; five year-olds can play with words, construct new ones and make rhymes. At this age, children are able to express their needs and wants more effectively, which results in fewer conflicts due to misunderstandings.

For a 5 year-old the notion of right and wrong becomes very important, especially that of fairness – or even more importantly what is unfair.

As parents, one might forget that even if the body and the vocabulary develop, 5 year-olds are far from being mature. They may often sound more grown up than they are, that is why, we as adults, tend to expect too much from them. The ability to master one’s emotions is not fully developed before the age of twenty, so 5 year-olds still need a lot of help to handle difficult feelings.

Before they are five, children have usually discovered their own sexuality, they can ask you how you make children and become aware of the difference between girls and boys. You can prepare yourself for possible questions about this issue by reading our article about children and sexuality.

Some questions for reflection:

  • Do you remember to praise your child when he does something nice – and do you do it in a way he understands?
  • Do you let your child participate in setting common rules for your family?
  • What do you do when your child asks questions you do not straight away know how to answer?
  • How do you help your child to deal with big and difficult feelings? Is it different now from when she was a few years younger?