An Age-By-Age-Guide to the Stages of Child Development

What To Expect From Birth Through Adolescence

From the minute they're born, children grow at different rates and develop in delightfully unique ways. Yet most hit milestones, go through major transitions—from weaning from the breast or bottle to reaching puberty—and reach important stages of emotional maturity at roughly the same times. 

But even given that there's a wide range of normal when it comes to the rate at which kids blossom from tiny newborns to strapping teenagers, it's possible to predict with some degree of certainty where a child will be at a particular age and stage. Here's a very broad field guide to child development from day one until adolescence. 

1
Your Newborn

A Newborn Baby
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A Newborn Baby. Photo (c) Brent Deuel

Feeding and Nutrition

If you plan to breastfeed, put your baby to your breast as soon as she's born. She'll instinctively try to find your nipple, although she may not latch on right away. That's OK. You'll have plenty of time to establish a breastfeeding bond. You may not be able to do this if you had a cesarean section, but don't worry: You'll have a chance to breastfeed once you're out of the recovery room. Either way, a nurse will be able to help you and your baby get the hang of nursing. It's a natural thing to do, but it's not always easy to get started. If you need help after you go home, a lactation consultant can give you extra guidance and support. 

The best way to schedule feedings is to not schedule them at all. Instead, nurse on demand—that is, when your baby is awake and asks (well, cries) to be fed. This could be as frequently as every 90 minutes. Infants being fed formula from a bottle will usually take 1 to 3 ounces every two to four hours. The formula you choose should be fortified with iron. Your pediatrician will be able to help you pick the best one for your child. 

Sleep 

When your newborn isn't eating, she'll likely be sleeping. If you can, do the same: Nap when she naps and let someone else take care of household chores. You need all the rest you can get to recover from childbirth. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends newborns and babies up to 3 months old sleep 14 to 17 hours each day, although for some babies as few as 11 hours or as many as 19 is acceptable. If your little one sleeps more or less than that regularly, let your pediatrician know. 

First Checkup 

Your pediatrician will want to see your baby when she's 3 to 5 days old. Because all infants lose a few ounces during the first few weeks, the doctor will weigh your little one to make sure she hasn't dropped too many. He'll always be checking her for jaundice.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • The only safe way for an infant to travel in a car is in the back seat, securely strapped into a rear-facing ​car seat. In fact, the hospital or birthing center likely will require this before you can take your baby home. Sometimes attaching a car seat can be tricky. If you need help with this, check with your local police department. They may have car seat experts on hand or can direct you to one. 
  • Put your baby to sleep on her back to reduce her risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Never put her down alone on a waterbed or beanbag, and leave soft toys or loose blankets in her bassinet or crib that might somehow cover her face and block her breathing.
  • Until your baby is older and her immune system is stronger, it's a good idea to keep her from large groups of people or other sick children. Don't be shy about asking anyone who wants to hold your baby to wash their hands first.

2
Your 2-to-8-week-old Infant

Sleeping Newborn Baby
Two Week old babies require a lot of safety precautions around the home. GMVozd/Getty Images

Feeding and Nutrition

If you're breastfeeding: Nurse your baby on demand by following his cues. Not every cry means he's hungry, so if he seems to want to eat more often than every hour and a half or so, make sure he isn't fussing because he needs a diaper change or isn't comfortable for some reason. Maybe the little tag in the neck of his onesie is scratching his neck, or he isn't warm enough. (In general, babies need one more light layer than older kids and grown-ups.) He may be tired and is having trouble soothing himself. 

If you're bottle-feeding: Your infant will likely take 2 to 3 ounces of iron-fortified formula every two to four hours. 

Sleep

If your baby sleeps for more than four or five hours without feeding, gently wake him up to nurse or take a bottle. Ideally, he'll snooze a total of 14 to 17 hours every day, and no few than 11 or more than 19, according to the NSF. 

2-week Checkup

At this well-baby visit, the pediatrician will measure your infant's height, weight, and head circumference and examine him to make he's growing and developing as expected. By this time he should have reached (or even surpassed by a few ounces) his birth weight. The doctor may repeat your child's newborn screening tests. If your baby didn't get his first hepatitis B vaccination in the hospital, he may get that shot at his 2-week checkup.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • At 4 weeks you might consider introducing your baby to a pacifier. It will help to satisfy his need to suck, which is a powerful and comforting instinct for new babies. A binky may serve another important purpose: There's some research to show using a pacifier may be protective against SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises giving a pacifier only at sleep times. If it falls out of your baby's mouth once he drifts off, don't reinsert it.
  • Some common health issues to be aware of at two weeks are reflux and baby acne.

3
Your 2-to-3-month-old Infant

Mother kissing smiling boy toddler on the cheek
Around two months old, children start to smile and become more interactive. Tara Moore/Getty Images

Feeding and Nutrition

If you're breastfeeding: Although you should continue to feed on demand, it's likely your baby will (finally) be on a fairly regular schedule and able to go three to four hours between nursing sessions.

If you're bottle-feeding: Your baby will take 5 to 6 ounces of iron-fortified formula every three to four hours. A few bottle-feeding basics to keep in mind: Don't put your little one to bed with a bottle or prop a bottle in order to feed her "hands-free." And of course never heat formula, or breast milk for that matter, in the microwave. Place the bottle in a bowl filled with hot water for a few minutes to take the chill off. 

There's no need to give your child water, juice, or cereal yet. In fact, the AAP advises waiting until a child is a year old before offering juice, even if it's 100 percent fruit juice. But do note that the AAP recommends breastfed infants receive oral vitamin D drops each day to promote strong, healthy bones. 

Sleep

Until now, your baby may have been sleeping in a bassinet or cradle. This is a good time to move her to a crib. Make it a safe place to sleep: Don't put bumpers or loose bedding in the crib. A fitted sheet is all you need; use that adorable baby quilt as a wall hanging or drape it across the back of the rocking chair for now. Even a stuffed toy can inadvertently cover a baby's face and make it hard to breathe. To keep your baby warm and cozy, dress her in a one-piece sleeper. 

Well-Child Checkup

At this visit, your baby's doctor will measure her height, weight, and head circumference and examine him to make sure she's growing and developing as expected. Your child will also start getting routine vaccinations, including DTaP, IPV, HepB (these three may be combined in one shot), Hib, Prevnar, and RotaTeq.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • If your baby has colic, her symptoms should peak around 6 weeks and be gone for good by the time she's 3 or 4 months old. 
  • Your baby is old enough for insect repellents containing DEET. Your pediatrician can recommend one if it's a time of year when mosquitoes are in season and you'll be outside a lot. 
  • Get ready for an onslaught of adorable milestones. Over the next few months, expect your baby to smile, laugh, and make noises, and lift her head and chest up while lying on her stomach. She'll also be on the way to rolling over, bearing weight on her legs, sitting with support, and holding onto a rattle.
  • A really important thing to remember when it comes to milestones: Babies develop at their own pace and there's a wide range of what's normal when it comes to when they reach each milestone. Try hard not to compare your little one's progress with her cousin's or your best friend's child. If you do feel your baby is lagging behind in some way, see your pediatrician. 
  • Some health issues you may come up against at this stage include thrush, diaper rash, infant reflux, heat rash, and eczema.

4
Your 4-to-5-month-old Infant

Mother playing with a happy smiling four month old baby boy in the nature
Four to Five Month old baby. All Canada Photos RM/Getty Images

Feeding and Nutrition

At 4 months, breast milk or an iron-fortified infant formula is the only food your infant really needs. If he's nursing, you can continue to feed him on demand. Bottle-fed babies should be getting 5 to 6 ounces of formula four to six times each day—a total of 24 to 32 ounces. Over the next month or two, though, you can start to familiarize your infant with the feel of a spoon and semi-solid food in his mouth. After you get the green light from your child's doctor, mix a little baby cereal with breast milk, formula, or water and feed it to your baby with a spoon (not in a bottle). Parents often start with rice cereal but it sometimes causes constipation. Try oatmeal or another cereal with fiber if rice cereal is a problem.

Sleep

Your baby will likely shave a couple of hours off his total sleep time: The NSF recommends infants ages 4 to 11 months sleep 12 to 15 hours each day, including naps.

Well-Child Checkup

At the 4-month checkup, the pediatrician will weigh your baby and measure his height and head circumference. He'll give her a complete once-over to make sure she's developing at a healthy rate and will ask you questions about her feeding and sleeping. There will be more shots: Immunizations at this age include DTaP, IPV, HepB (these three may be combined in the combo vaccine Pediarix), Hib, Prevnar, RotaTeq. 

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • Some fun milestones to look forward to around this time: Your baby may master rolling over from front to back, bearing weight on his legs, sitting with support, pulling to a sitting position and sitting with support, and holding onto a toy.
  • Since she'll likely have graduated from a baby tub to the regular one, set the temperature of your hot water heater to 120 F to prevent accidental burns. 
  • Of course, it's not safe to leave a baby alone on a bed or changing table.

Common Infant Problems

Continue to look for signs of the common issues mentioned for 2-month-olds. In addition, be aware of a skin rash known as cradle cap.

5
Your 6-to-7-month-old Baby

Feeding and Nutrition

Continue to give 4 to 5 feedings of breast milk or an iron-fortified infant formula (24 to 32 ounces) and 4 or more tablespoons of an iron-fortified cereal each day. You can also start to feed her well-cooked, strained, or mashed vegetables and fruits or commercially prepared baby foods.

The AAP recommends "breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child."

Your infant will probably have given up middle-of-the-night feedings by this age (although some breastfed infants will continue). If not, and your baby is gaining weight well, slowly reduce how much you are putting in the bottle each night. Gradually stop this feeding all together.

Sleep

Your baby's sleep patterns aren't likely to change much at this point:

Well-Child Checkups

Expect a complete physical exam, a review of feeding and sleep schedules, and the typical growth measurements. Again, immunizations include DTaP, IPV, HepB (these three may be combined in the combo vaccine Pediarix), Hib, Prevnar, or RotaTeq.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • Your infant has probably doubled her birth weight by now.
  • The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists says it's OK for a child to use a pacifier up to age 3, but now is a good time to start limiting it to naps and bedtime.  
  • Begin childproofing your home, before your child becomes too mobile.
  • The most significant physical milestones for 6-to-7-month-old babies are sitting up and rolling over.
  • Your baby's skin can handle a gentle sunscreen now, but it's still important to keep her out of the sun as much as possible. When you're outside, even on hot days dress her in lightweight clothing that covers her arms and legs, a sunbonnet or hat that has a rim all the way around to protect her face and the back of her neck, and sunglasses (if she'll keep them on). Although you can now use on your baby, avoid too much sun exposure.
  • The timing of when a baby's first tooth comes in can vary quite a bit, but be prepared for those first little pearls to start popping through—and the discomfort teething can bring. Some infants seem to barely notice, but others are quite uncomfortable. A teething ring and, with your doctor's approval, an age-appropriate dose of acetaminophen can bring relief. 

6
Your 8-to-11-month-old Baby

An infant starting to walk at nine months.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery An infant starting to walk at nine months. Photo (c) Juan Collado

Feeding and Nutrition

Continue to give your baby three to five feedings of breast milk or 24 to 32 ounces of iron-fortified infant formula each day. Add to that 4 or more tablespoons of cereal, vegetables, and fruit once or twice a day. You also can start to add more foods that contain protein and finger foods as well.  

Sleep

Babies this age typically sleep a total of 12 to 15 hours, including as few as one and as many as four half-hour to hour-long naps during the day, according to the National Sleep Foundation. 

Well-Child Checkup

At your baby's well-child visit, the pediatrician will give him a complete physical exam, go over his eating and sleep patterns with you, weigh and measure him, and make sure he's on track with his developmental milestones. He'll also get his third dose of HepB vaccine if he hasn't already and the nurse may draw blood to screen him for anemia and lead poisoning.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • Your baby will love repetitive games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake. He'll also enjoy being read to. It's never too early to crack a book. He's going to be on a mission to figure out his world, so give him lots of opportunities to explore. Oddly enough, as he becomes increasingly independent he may start to show signs of separation anxiety and stranger anxiety. Encourage him to explore, but don't let him stray out of sight. You need to keep an eye on his safety and he'll need to know you're nearby.
  • Your little explorer will be checking out everything he can get his tiny mitts on so be extra vigilant about safety hazards. Keep the floor and any surfaces he can reach free of plastic bags or objects small enough for him to choke on. A good way to gauge this: Anything that can fit into the inside of a toilet paper or paper towel roll is a potential choking hazard. Falling television sets and unstable furniture also are a danger to little ones who are able to pull up on things. Secure TVs, shelves, and anything else that might topple easily to walls.
  • Don't be tempted to turn your baby's car seat around yet: He should continue to ride facing backwards until he's 2 or has reached the weight and height limits of his car seat. Although this means some larger babies may be ready to graduate to a rear-facing convertible car seat, there are several models of infant-only seats with 30- to 35-pound weight limits that should get you to the next car seat safety milestone.

7
Your 12-to-14-month-old Toddler

Pexels

Feeding and Nutrition

If she's been drinking formula, your child can switch to homogenized cow's milk. Give her whole milk, not skim or low-fat. Many experts now believe organic milk from grass-fed cows is far healthier than hormone-and-antibiotic-laden milk from cows that eat grains, especially for children, so keep this in mind when milk shopping. It costs a little more, but in the long-run could be worth it. See what your pediatrician thinks.

If you're continuing to breastfeed at least 2 or 3 times a day, there's no reason to introduce cow's milk (unless your child's doctor advises you to). And don't be shy about continuing to nurse if you and your child still enjoy the closeness and convenience. According to the  AAP, "there is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer."

Otherwise, your child will be on an eating schedule that basically matches the rest of the family's: three meals and two snacks each day. Although some kids at 12 months are eating only table food, some are still eating baby food alone, and some are enjoying a little of each. If you want to offer your child juice at this stage, make sure it's 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar or artificial sweetener. The AAP says 4 ounces of juice per day is plenty for children ages 1 to 3. 

Sleep

Your toddler should be able to sleep for at least 11 hours each night. She may still take two naps each day, although some kids give up the morning nap sometime between 12 and 18 months.

Well-Child Checkup

At this doctor visit, expect a complete physical exam, a review of your child's feeding and sleep schedules, and the typical growth measurements. Immunizations might include some combination of MMR, Varivax, Hib, Prevnar, and hepatitis A. Since the age range is 12 to 15 months for most of these shots, your child will likely get some now and some at the 15-month checkup. The third IPV and HepB shots are also sometimes given at 12 months.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • If your child hasn't taken her first steps yet she'll likely do that soon. Let her go barefoot as much as possible (not outside where she might step on something sharp or burn the bottoms of her feet on hot pavement, of course), to allow her to build up the muscles in those tiny feet and toes.
  • At snack and meal times your toddler should be mastering feeding herself. Encourage her to eat with her fingers, try to dip into soft foods with her spoon, and drink from a cup. Let her get as messy as necessary: This is what bibs (and pets) are for.
  • Find out if there's fluoride in your tap water. If there isn't or you prefer to use bottled or filtered water, your pediatrician may want to prescribe fluoride supplements to help keep your child's pearly whites strong and healthy as they continue to come in. 

8
Your 15-to-17-month-old Toddler

A fifteen-month-old walking down stairs.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A fifteen-month-old walking down stairs. Photo (c) Elena Korenbaum

Feeding and Nutrition

By 15 months, your child has likely said bye-bye to baby food and is eating cut up or mashed versions of what you and the rest of the family eats. Be careful to not serve foods he might choke on, such as whole grapes; raw vegetables; popcorn; hot dogs; nuts and seeds; chunks of meat, cheese, or peanut butter; and hard or sticky candy. If you're still breastfeeding, keep it up for as long as you and your child like; he won't need cow's milk as long as he nurses at least two or three times a day. 

Limit cow's milk and dairy products to about 16 to 24 ounces each day and juice to 4 ounces. This is a good time to stop giving your child a bottle if you haven't already.

Sleep

Ideally, according to the NSF, your child will sleep for 11 to 14 hours each day, including one or two naps.  

Well-Child Checkup

At the 15-month checkup, your child's doctor will examine him go over his eating and sleep habits, weigh him and measure his height and continue his immunization schedule. The shots he gets at this visit will depend on which ones he got at her 12-month checkup and may include some combination of MMR, Varivax, Hib, Prevnar, and Hepatitis A. The fourth DTaP and third IPV and HepB shots are also sometimes given at 15 months.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • Expect your toddler to combine syllables; say mama/dada and several other words; understand simple commands; walk well on his own—perhaps even run a bit or climb a few steps; bang objects together (give him access to the pots, pans, and wooden spoons in the kitchen and he'll be happy as a lark); enjoy being read to and pointing to pictures of familiar objects.
  • Tantrums aren't uncommon at this age; nor is picky eating. Both behaviors typically are a result of a child's growing independence, which is a good thing, so try to use gentle, loving discipline techniques, such as distraction, whenever possible. And praise your little one for good behavior. He's more likely to continue doing something he gets encouragement for than to stop doing something he's punished for. 

9
Your 18-to-23-month-old Toddler

An Eighteen-Month-Old
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery An Eighteen-Month-Old. Photo (c) Brian Powell

Feeding and Nutrition

Try not to let your child fill up on milk or juice; otherwise, she may not have room for solid food. Don't push her to eat if she isn't hungry or to clean her plate if she gets full before it's empty. That can be a recipe for eating problems down the road. It's not unusual for kids this age to eat only two full meals each day, so if your tot has a good breakfast and lunch, then it's probably fine if she just picks at her dinner. Your child may now start to refuse to eat some foods, become very picky, or go on binges where she will only want a certain food. An important way children learn to be independent is through establishing independence about feeding, so as long as your child is growing normally and has plenty of energy to get through a day of play there's probably no reason to worry about what she eats or how much. 

Sleeping

There should be no major shifts in your child's sleep schedule at this point: She should log between 11 and 14 hours of shut-eye each day, including an afternoon nap. 

Well-Child Checkup

What to expect: a full physical exam, growth measurements, and vaccines. Your toddler probably will get the DTaP vaccine at this visit and, if she hasn't already, her third HepB, third IPV, Varivax, and/or hepatitis A shot.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • Children at this age are very self-centered and usually aren't developmentally ready to understand how to share. That's OK. Your child may not play with another kid, but she'll likely play alongside other children.  
  • By 18 months, most children are capable of holding their pee and bowel movements, according to the AAP. But kids this age are rarely cognitively ready—in other words, able to understand that the urge to relieve themselves means they should sit on a toilet to do it. As much as you may be looking forward to ditching the diapers, try to be patient. If you push potty training before your toddler is really ready, it will be more of a battle than if you wait another six months or so. By then she'll "get" it more easily, she'll be more physically capable of dealing with clothing (unzipping pants, pulling underwear up and down and so forth), and she'll probably be eager to use the bathroom like the rest of the family. 

10
Your 2-year-old Toddler

A Two-Year-Old
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A Two-Year-Old. Photo (c) Rosemarie Gearhart

Feeding and Nutrition

Two-year-old kids can be notoriously picky eaters, and most do not manage to eat a balanced diet every single day. (Plain macaroni and applesauce for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, anyone?) Even so, over the course of a week, most toddlers will manage to get enough variety into their diets to cover the nutritional bases. If you're worried your child isn't, talk to the pediatrician.

You might also discuss the type of milk you give your child. You can begin to offer 2-percent, low-fat, or skim milk now, although it's important to note that nutrition experts are increasingly coming to advise everyone who drinks cow's milk to stick with a whole. There is some evidence that skim milk actually increases the risk of weight gain and also of type 2 diabetes. Whatever type of milk you serve your child, consider spending a few extra cents on organic milk from grass-fed cows that haven't been given hormones or antibiotics. Ask your child's doctor for advice. If you and your tot want to continue breastfeeding, that's absolutely fine. According to the AAP, "there is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer."

Sleep

Your toddler should sleep a total of 11 to 14 hours, including an afternoon nap, every day. 

Well-Child Checkup

At this doctor visit, you can expect the complete physical exam your doctor's been doing all along. Immunizations will likely include the second Hepatitis A shot and a nurse may take some blood to again screen for lead poisoning and anemia. 

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • This is the age at which it usually makes sense to move a child from a crib to a toddler bed, especially if she's starting to climb out of the crib or she's reached 3 feet tall. Make it fun for her: Let her pick out her own bedding (even if you can't stand the idea of hot pink dinosaurs) and create a little ceremony out of the switch. This will help make the transition of leaving her familiar cozy crib for new sleeping arrangements easier.
  • At 2, your child may be starting to really chat you up, creating short sentences from a vocabulary of at least 50 words, including pronouns (I, me, you, mine). She'll also know the names of body parts and be able to follow two-step commands, such as, "Get your hat from the closet and then put it on."
  • At this age, you can expect your child to begin dressing herself, brushing her teeth with your help, put on clothing, and stacking four to six blocks. She should be able to walk up steps, kick a ball and throw one overhead, and jump up and down. 
  • Your child may be ready to start potty training in earnest. According to Zero to Three, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting parents throughout the developmentally-rich stages of toddlerhood, signs of toilet-training readiness include staying dry for two hours in a row or waking up dry from naps; realizing she's peeing or pooping as it happens (she might go into another room when she's having a bowel movement, for example); is able to do things like walk to the potty and sit on it (with help, if she needs it); can pull her pants up and down; can follow simple instructions; and most important, asks to wear big kid underwear or to use the potty like mom or dad or an older sibling does.

11
Your 3-year-old Preschooler

A Three-Year-Old Having Fun With Paint
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A Three-Year-Old Having Fun With Paint. Photo (c) Jean Schweitzer

Feeding and Nutrition

A 3-year-old will want to continue to have as much say in what she puts in her mouth as possible. Your job, then, is to give her lots of food options, but make sure they're healthy ones. If she has a choice between potato chips and strawberries, she may well go for the chips. But if she's offered strawberries or blueberries, whole-grain cold cereal or oatmeal, yogurt or hummus, whatever she opts for will be good for her. 

Sleep

As she enters her preschool years, a child will likely need a bit less sleep. The NSF recommends children between ages 3 and 5 sleep between 10 and 13 hours. Some kids this age can get by on as few as 8 hours or may need as many as 14 hours of sleep. And although your child may resist it, she should continue to take an afternoon nap.

Well-Child Checkup

At this well-child visit, the pediatrician will do a thorough physical exam, take growth measurements (weight and height), check to make sure your preschooler is on target with developmental milestones, and possibly do a screening vision test. If your child hasn't already gotten her HepA shot, she may get it now.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • In the car, buckle your child into a forward-facing car seat with harness straps until she outgrows the seat. She may protest, but this one is non-negotiable. 
  • At this age, your child is becoming more independent. You can expect her to dress and even manage buttons, stack as many as nine or 10 blocks, draw circles and squares, and use blunt-edged scissors. She'll also be able to begin brushing her own teeth, but watch to make sure she gets every surface of every little pearly white. This is the year she should have her first visit to the dentist.
  • Three-year-olds are increasingly able to control their bodies and are becoming stronger by the minute. Your kid will wow you with all sorts of physical feats: walking up steps by alternating her feet, jumping down from the bottom step of a staircase, hoppin, walking on her toes, pedaling a tricycle. Her vocabulary will have expanded tremendously and she'll be able to put three or four words into sentences. This may drive you a bit crazy because she'll likely start peppering you with lots of "why" questions. On the other hand, you'll be delighted to find she can remember nursery rhymes and may have some incredibly lively conversations with imaginary friends.  
  • Since she'll likely be in nursery school, her teachers may be on the lookout for signs of potential learning problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is great, because the sooner such an issue is discovered, the easier it will be to deal with. 

12
Your 4-year-old Preschooler

A four-year-old riding a tricycle.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A four-year-old riding a tricycle. Photo (c) Andrew Rich

Feeding and Nutrition

As always, what your child eats is important to his overall health. The foods he puts into his body can have a huge impact on his risks of becoming overweight, developing diabetes, or having weak bones. Continue to offer him healthy choices at meals and for snacks. Keep the options low in added sugar and unhealthy fats and help him develop a taste for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and unsweetened dairy products. Your own eating habits will shape his, so it can't hurt to make a thoughtful daily diet a family affair. 

Sleep

In order to fuel his physical and mental development, your 4-year-old should continue to sleep between 10 and 13 hours a day, including an afternoon nap, according to the NSF. If your kid resists napping, call it rest time and put him in his bed with a book to look at. He'll probably fall asleep (and if he doesn't, he'll have at least given you both a refreshing break).

Well-Child Checkup

In addition to a routine examination, your 4-year-old will likely receive a slew of shots at this doctor visit, including the DTaP, MMR, IPV, and Varivax booster (if he hasn't had chickenpox). The doctor (or a staff nurse) also may screen him for vision and hearing problems. 

You can begin to visits to the dentist every six months to your child's regular health care schedule. Between these twice-yearly appointments, continue to monitor his brushing to make sure he's doing a thorough job at least twice a day. If he has any teeth that are close together, the dentist may suggest you start flossing between them. That can be a challenge for a little kid, but there are lots of easy-to-manage flossers made for tiny fingers. Ask your child's dentist what he recommends.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

Keep your kid safe in the car by continuing to strap him into a forward-facing car seat with harnesses. Height and weight, not age, should be what determines when a child moves on to the next level of car safety.

Begin to talk to your child about stranger awareness. He's obviously not going to be going anywhere without a grown-up anytime soon, but it's an important concept for him to be familiar with.

At this age, you can expect your child to fully dress himself (but not be able to tie his shoes quite yet), play simple board games and card games (so prepare yourself for endless rounds of Go Fish), and learn and follow simple rules, such as "Always wash your hands before dinner" or "No shoes on the sofa." He should be able to hop, walk downstairs alternating feet, put together 4- to 5-word sentences, name four or more colors, and count to at least four. He also may like to sing and will volunteer to tell you things without your asking.  

If he's fully potty-trained, even at night, he still may wet the bed sometimes. If this happens a lot, talk to your pediatrician. He also may show symptoms of growing pains.

13
Your 5-year-old Preschooler

A five-year-old getting ready for school.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A five-year-old getting ready for school. Photo (c) Wendy Shiao

Feeding and Nutrition

Now that he's heading for kindergarten and may be spending time away from home without you, at play dates with friends, for example, it's important to continue to make sure he (mostly) eats healthily at home: This way when he's offered a treat at, say, a birthday party or while hanging out with indulgent grandparents, you know it will be balanced out by what he normally eats at home. Which isn't to say you shouldn't enjoy cookies or ice cream with him sometimes yourself. After all, what's childhood without a little sugar? 

Sleep

Some time between 5 and 6 your child's sleep needs and patterns will naturally change. The NSF says most kids give up the afternoon nap sometime after age 5, although there are children who'll continue to want (or at least need) to snooze or rest for an hour after coming home from a busy day at school.

Well-Child Checkup

There should be no surprises at this exam: The pediatrician will continue to weigh and measure your child, monitor his physical and developmental growth, screen for vision and hearing problems, and give any shots that are due. The typical vaccines at the 5-year well-child visit include the DTaP, MMR, IPV, and Varivax booster (for kids who haven't had chickenpox).

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • With his ever-growing independence in mind, continue to reinforce safety information about stranger danger, how to cross the street, and so forth. This is a good age to teach a child how to dial 911 in an emergency. He can learn his address and your phone number as well.
  • If based on the information that came with your child's car seat he's tall enough and weighs enough to have outgrown it, you can move him to a booster seat that will elevate him enough that he can safely be buckled in with the car's shoulder-and-lap-belt. The lap part should fit snugly across the tops of his thighs and the shoulder strap should cross his chest without digging into his neck.
  • At the age of 5, a child can start taking on some simple chores and most kids this age are eager to do so. Try not to miss this chance to get your little helper into the habit of doing things like putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, cleaning his dishes from the table, and giving the cat or dog fresh kibble or water.
  • Your child can start learning about money now. Consider giving him a very small allowance and make clear what the money is for: to save for a special toy, perhaps, or as spending money during vacation. A good rule of thumb is to calculate the amount of a child's weekly allowance based on his age: 50 cents or a dollar per year, for example. 

14
Your 6-year-old

A six-year-old coloring.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A six-year-old coloring. Photo (c) Daniela Andreea Spyropoulos

Feeding and Nutrition

Obesity in kids has reached epidemic levels. The percentage of children who are obese has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the CDC, which blames factors like too many calories from juice, soda, fast food, oversized portions, and not enough activity. You can lower your child's risk of becoming dangerously overweight by continuing to encourage healthy eating habits, limiting time in front of video games and TV or computer screens, and setting a good example yourself. 

Sleep

From now until she's a teenager, your child will need between nine and 11 hours of quality sleep every night. Some ways to encourage this include requiring her to shut off her phone, tablet, or laptop at least an hour before bedtime; enforcing a regular bedtime that will allow her to log those nine to 11 hours (just count back from whatever time she has to be up in order to get ready for school); and making her bedroom a relaxing place to be. 

Well-Child Checkup

Your child's doctor will monitor her overall health with a complete physical exam, give her any vaccines she's missing, and screen her vision and hearing. 

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • Be on the lookout for common school-age concerns like ADHD, allergies, and asthma. Your child may also experience growing pains.
  • Once they're spending all day at school some children become self-conscious about using the bathroom and will hold their bowel movements until they get home. This can lead to constipation and, eventually, a condition known as encopresis. Of course, you don't want to press your kid about this if you suspect it's a problem, but do make sure she's comfortable coming to you about this or any other personal issue.

15
Your 7-to-8-year-old

An eight-year-old school girl.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery An eight-year-old school girl. Photo (c) Debi Bishop

Feeding and Nutrition

Many school-age kids get too many calories from what they drink—not only from soda and other sugar-laden beverages but from fruit juice: The AAP recommends children 7 years and older drink no more than 8 ounces of unsweetened, pasteurized 100 percent fruit juice each day. The rest of child's liquid should come from milk and water. For kids who are very athletic the occasional sports' drink after a sweaty workout is OK. 

Sleep

A regular bedtime that will allow your child to get between nine and 11 hours of quality sleep every night will be key to helping her grow and learn. As best as you can, try to keep her weekend sleep schedule the same as the during the week. The same advice goes for school holiday breaks and summer vacations: It can be tough to make up a sleep deficit after even a few nights of inadequate shut-eye.  

Well-Child Checkups

This will be a typical examination, plus any shots that may be due. Some kids start to show signs of impending puberty at this age; the pediatrician will let you know if your kid is one of them. 

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • She may throw a fit, but until your child is between 8 and 12 and is at least 57 inches (4 feet, 9 inches) tall, she'll need to continue sitting on a booster seat in order for the car's seat belts to protect her in an accident. This might be especially tough for a kid whose friends are bigger than she is, but this is one rule that's simply not negotiable. 
  • School performance and social issues will become increasingly important. If you have concerns before your regularly-scheduled parent-teacher conferences, reach out to your child's teachers for help and guidance. They will be as invested in seeing your kid succeed as you are.
  • Expect your child to seem to boomerang away from and toward you and the rest of the family—at times insisting on making individual decisions about things like what she wears or how her hair is cut and then needing to be cuddled and coddled. It might make you nuts, but go with the flow to the extent you're comfortable: As long as your child is safe and healthy it's good for her to begin to develop her own moral standards and independent ways of thinking. 

16
Your 9-to-10-year-old

A ten-year-old with braces.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A ten-year-old with braces. Photo (c) Shelly Perry

Feeding and Nutrition

Encourage your child to develop nutritionally-sound habits that will fuel his growth and development now and set him up for a lifetime of healthy eating. Serve a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins such as fish, esp especially cold-water varieties that are high in omega 3 fats, nuts and nut butter, healthy oils such as olive, and avocados. Designate fast food and junk food as treats.

Sleep

School, homework, and afternoon sports and other activities will begin to eat away at your child's day, which may create a challenge when it comes to making sure he's able to get in both work and play time as well as enough sleep—between 9 and 11 hours each night—to be well-rested. If he has a cell phone, tablet, or laptop of his own, this is the time to teach him that it's important to log off at least an hour before bedtime: Exposure to the light from a screen can interfere with quality sleep. 

Well-Child Checkups

This will be a typical examination, plus any shots that may be due. Your child may be showing signs of puberty, which his doctor will discuss with you.

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • If it hasn't already come up, begin to talk to your child about the dangers of cigarette smoking, vaping, drinking alcohol, and, yes, even drugs. Many kids have already begun experimenting with these things by the time they start high school, or even middle school, so, according to the AAP, you can't begin the conversation too soon. 
  • Bullying can be an issue for early tweens. On its website, the nonprofit organization Stomp Out Bullying lists signs a child is being bullied, including anxiety about going to school, sadness or depression, loss of appetite, unexplained cuts or bruises, fear of going to school, and nightmares. 

 

17
Your 11-to-12-year-old

Preteen on a swing.
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery Preteen on a swing. Photo (c) Shelly Perry

Feeding and Nutrition

You may find it becomes more and more difficult to sit down as a family for meals, thanks to music lessons, sports practices and events, and your child's blossoming independence and desire to hang out with friends. Try to work in a family meal or two each week though: This is an important way to protect kids from obesity and even getting involved in dangerous activities such as drinking and drug abuse. Keep in mind, it doesn't have to be dinner! Weekend breakfasts or brunches, or even dessert together count. 

Sleep

Preteens need at least nine to 11 hours of sleep every day, including on weekends, according to the NSF. 

Well-Child Checkups

Your child's doctor will likely suggest your child get her first HPV shot around the time she turns 11. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a bug that has been shown to increase the risk of certain types of cancer when spread through sexual contact. The CDC advises  "all kids who are 11 or 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine six to twelve months apart. Adolescents who receive their two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine." The CDC also recommends kids get a meningococcal vaccine at the 11 or 12. 

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

  • The preteen years can be among the most challenging for you and the most confusing for your child. Puberty alone is enough to make you both a little nuts. It's possible your daughter will begin to develop breasts and need to begin wearing a bra. She also may get her first period, so it's a good idea to stock up on sanitary pads just in case. 
  • This will sound a little scary, but it's a good idea to keep an eye out for signs your preteen might be experimenting with drinking or drugs. These may include the scent of smoke or alcohol on your child's clothing or breath; red eyes; secretive behavior; and a sudden change in friends she hangs out with.
  • At 13, the CDC says most kids are big enough to safely ride in the front seat of the car. 

18
Your 13-to-18-year-old

A Fourteen-Year-Old Football Player
Ages and Stages Photo Gallery A Fourteen-Year-Old Football Player. Photo (c) Eileen Hart

Well-Child Checkups

At some point during the teen years, your child may want to switch to a pediatrician of the same gender as he or she is—for example, if your son's doctor has always been a woman, he may feel more comfortable being seen by a male doctor in the same practice or another practice. Not all kids feel this way, but it's something to be aware of and prepared for. Regardless of the doctor, you'll probably be banished from the exam room; your child's doctor will then speak to you after he's seen your child. 

Good to Know: Safety, Milestones, and More

Your child will likely begin driving by the time he's 17. You can't stress enough the danger of texting or talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel of a car. Don't just talk the talk, though; walk the walk. Even older kids continue to learn by example and to copy their parents' behavior. In fact, be a safe driver in every way: If you've been drinking or are too tired to drive safely, let your child see you give up the keys to a friend or call a car to get you from point A to point B. 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. "Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk." Pediatrics. 129(3):e827-41. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-3552. 2012.

HealthyChildren.org. "Pacifier Safety." Nov 21, 2015.

American Academy of Pediatric and Pediatric Endocrine Society. "Vitamin D Deficiency and Rickets." 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Childhood Obesity Facts." 2017.

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