Child development: Infants and toddlers (0-3 years old)

Emerging Minds, Australia, January 2024

Related to Child development

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Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child. We also appreciate that every child is unique and has different strengths, vulnerabilities and experiences that shape their health and development.

Understanding how a child’s reactions, thoughts, behaviours and sense of control are influenced by their development can help you imagine what life is like for your child right now. Knowing what children are (and aren’t) likely to be able to do and understand at their current age helps you respond in ways that support their positive development and mental health.

This fact sheet describes the main developmental experiences and capabilities of babies and toddlers up to around three years of age, and offers ways parents, family members and other adults can support children’s healthy development and wellbeing.

Key things to remember about children’s development:

  • Every child grows and develops at their own pace, and so their developmental journey is unique. Some children master certain skills earlier than others and some take longer or need a bit more help and direction.
  • A child’s development is shaped by their unique genes as well as their relationships and experiences at home and in the other places they learn and play.
  • Neurodivergent children and children with a physical or intellectual disability may think, move, communicate and/or process senses differently, which can influence their developmental pathway.
  • The best way to support your child’s development and wellbeing is to provide a safe and secure environment and respond warmly, consistently and appropriately to their needs.

A note about developmental ‘stages’ and ‘milestones’

Health professionals and other resources may refer to ‘stages’ of development or lists of developmental ‘milestones’ to check whether a child’s development is ‘on track’ or if there are any areas of concern. Milestones are specific skills or capabilities children typically develop by certain ages. Milestones are based on neurotypical processes and can’t reflect the unique characteristics and experiences of each child. For this reason, we’ve chosen not to refer to specific ‘stages’ or ‘milestones’ in this resource.

If you’d like more information about milestones, we recommend the following resources:

Children’s development from birth to around three years old

In the first three years of their life, a child grows and learns a lot, quickly. From birth to around three years old, their brain will almost triple in size!

Physically, your baby will go from having very little control over their body to crawling, standing, walking then running. At the same time, they’re rapidly developing language, communication, social and emotional skills as they learn to understand what is being said and what is happening around them.

As children are learning and growing so quickly, it can be difficult to know if their behaviours are:

  • part of normal developmental changes
  • due to expected developmental delays (because they were born prematurely, for example)
  • related to their experiences (for example, if your family has experienced a flood or bushfire, or a parent is unwell); or
  • signs of possible developmental concerns.

An infant and toddler’s closest relationships – with their parents, extended family and other adult caregivers – are the most significant factors in their life. The quality and stability of those key relationships influences how the child’s brain grows and functions, and their wellbeing and learning throughout life. Stable relationships with nurturing adults help children thrive.

In this audio clip from the Emerging Minds podcast (2 minutes, 53 seconds), new parents Sarah and Claudius share what they’ve noticed about their baby Christopher’s development in his first year.

Developmental experiences of infants and toddlers (0–3 years)

As a parent of an infant or toddler, it can be difficult to understand how your child is experiencing the world and why they’re behaving the way they are. This table shows the main developmental experiences and capabilities of babies and toddlers up to around three years of age, along with ways parents, family members and other adults can support children’s healthy development.

Before you read this list, take a moment to think about what you’ve been noticing about your child.

Have you noticed any changes in:

  • their movement and physical abilities?
  • how they communicate with you?
  • the ways they respond to other people, or try to get their attention?
  • how they like to play?

As you read the suggestions for ways to support healthy development, consider:

  • What are you already doing that is supporting your baby’s or toddler’s development?
  • Are there any ideas here that you might try?


If your family is navigating tough times

When a family is facing difficulties – such as financial or housing stress, health issues or relationship breakdown – it affects everyone, even very young children. It’s normal for a child’s developmental process to be interrupted and different to what’s described above if they, you or the whole family is dealing with tough times.

Find out more about how you can support your child’s development during tough times in our fact sheet.


When to seek advice

As a parent you know your child best. If you have any concerns about the way your baby or toddler moves, speaks, learns or interacts with other people, talk to your doctor/GP or child health nurse.

Please make an appointment to see your GP, child health nurse or another health professional if your infant:

  • doesn’t smile or interact with people
  • isn’t moving both arms or both legs
  • is still clenching their fingers in a tight fist at six months
  • isn’t reaching for objects by six months
  • doesn’t seem to hear or see properly (they don’t follow you with their eyes or respond to sounds)
  • isn’t starting to babble (e.g. ‘bubba’, ‘dada’) by around 10 months, or isn’t saying any clear words by around 18 months
  • isn’t trying to stand up by around 12 months; or
  • doesn’t seem interested in interacting with others (e.g. playing games like peekaboo, rolling a ball) or the world around them.3,4,5

Or if your toddler (2–3 years):

  • isn’t interested in playing with toys or other people
  • isn’t walking without support, or is falling a lot
  • finds it hard to feed themselves using a spoon or fork or has trouble picking up small items
  • doesn’t understand simple instructions; or
  • isn’t using many words, or is not starting to use simple sentences like ‘red car fast’ or ‘let’s go Mum’.3,4,5

Identifying a cause or a developmental delay and getting help early can make a big difference to your child’s development and long-term wellbeing.


More information

This fact sheet is part of our series on key developmental experiences for children from birth to age 12. This collection of resources explores what parents and other adults can do to support the healthy development of children in each age group.

Other resources in the series:

The following Emerging Minds Families resource offers more information on supporting your infant or toddler’s development and wellbeing:

Raising Children Network has more detailed information about development (including language, social & emotional and sexual development) and development concerns in:

By learning and staying curious about what your child is experiencing, thinking and feeling, you can support their healthy development and their mental health and wellbeing, now and into the future.




  1. Takahashi, I., Obara, T., Ishikuro, M., et al. (2023). Screen time at age 1 year and communication and problem-solving developmental delay at 2 and 4 years. JAMA Pediatrics, 177(10), 1039–1046. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2023.3057
  2. Department of Health. (2021, 7 May). Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians [Web page]. Australian Government.
  3. Queensland Health Child Development Program and Brisbane North Primary Health Network. (2016). Red Flags Early Identification Guide (for children aged birth to five years). Queensland Government.
  4. Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority. (n.d.). Your child’s development [Web page]. ACECQA.
  5. Healthdirect. (2021). Developmental milestones in babies and children [Web page]. Australian Government.

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