Ages & Stages Guide

Having problems understanding your child? This ages & stages guide may help! Keep in mind that every child develops in their own unique way; use this guide as a general reference.

Development of the Pre-Schooler

At One and Two Years Old

  • Child can creep, climb, walk and run.
  • Needs limits set, and needs outlets for boundless energy.
  • Likes to throw, dump and fill.
  • Can speak and respond to a few words and phrases; asks for things by vocalizing and pointing.
  • Physically, some rudiments of toilet training appear.
  • May begin to feed self and awkwardly extend an arm or leg for dressing.
  • Socially treats other children and adults as objects and has no concept of sharing.
  • Moods are shifting, temper is short-lived.
  • Genital play may begin around 8-12 months. Pleasurable interest in body is normal.
  • At this age, distraction and removing child from incidents are the best discipline techniques.

At Two and Three Years Old

  • Child speaks in two and three-word sentences.
  • This is the “no-no” stage, and “no” is emphatically expressed to all suggestions.
  • Responds best to routine.
  • Toilet training is quickly learned.
  • Is capable of relaxing and feeding self, with some spillings.
  • Attention is short; child needs to move from one activity to another.
  • Social play is mostly solitary (alone) and parallel (plays along with other children, not with them).
  • Treats other children as objects.
  • Is very possessive, and numerous disputes are a result of this.
  • Two-year-olds like to scribble– making lines, dots and circles.
  • Enjoys music and can learn simple songs.
  • Begins to show interest in gender differences and body parts.
  • At this age, humor or distraction are the best approaches to discipline.

At Three Years Old

  • Child is developing good motor control.
  • The baby look is disappearing; arms and legs lengthen.
  • Physical development: Child can undress, but still needs help dressing.
  • Child manages self well in all routines, being less rigid and ritualistic.
  • Social development: Begins group play with one or two children, but still enjoys playing alone.
  • Is beginning to share.
  • Is curious and highly imaginative.
  • At this age, humor or distraction are still the best approaches to discipline.

At Four Years Old

  • Child is usually very active and assertive, with much “out of bounds” behavior.
  • Has good motor control.
  • Four- and five-word sentences are common; likes to ramble on.
  • Is very sociable and likes to exaggerate.
  • Is often bossy and boastful. Indulges in name calling and tattling. Argues frequently.
  • Can cooperate with other children in play activities and likes to share experiences.
  • Child wants to learn about his body; wants to learn where he came from.
  • Child develops rhythm and enjoys music.
  • Can build elaborate block structures– likes to talk about them.
  • Attention span is growing longer.
  • Is imaginative, dramatic and versatile, constantly asking “why” and “how.”
  • Shows interest in games of “doctor” with same-age children.
  • Same-gender play is common at this age.
  • At this age, humor and distraction are still the best discipline tools.

At Five Years Old

  • Child has mastered large muscle control, but still has difficulty with small muscle control, such as printing
  • Can recognize a difference between their right and left hand.
  • Learns socially accepted behavior and can behave with manners.
  • Plays well in groups and is cooperative, with both adults and children.
  • Likes to listen to stories; learns by imitating.
  • Has many questions and wants truthful answers.
  • Is becoming self-sufficient; can assume some responsibility, such as helping with simple household tasks.
  • Child’s drawings show representation, i.e., a figure becomes the child, parent or grandparent.
  • Is more sympathetic; is aware of causes of distress.
  • May test swear words, often with much giggling.
  • May subject younger, uninterested children to sex play.
  • At this age, some reasoning can be used as a discipline technique. Humor and distraction are still important tools to use.


Development of the Primary-School Aged Child

At Six Years Old

  • Child is usually in first grade at school; is constantly active, whether sitting or standing.
  • Is still having difficulty coordinating eye and hand movement.
  • Is beginning to distinguish between fact and fantasy.
  • Is often noisy, boisterous and inconsistent.
  • Is easily excited and violently emotional; loves one minute and hates the next.
  • Is demanding of others and negative in response, expecting others to conform to her way of thinking and doing.
  • Is self-centered and demanding; does not cooperate well in organized games.
  • Child seeks approval and does not easily accept criticism, blame or punishment.
  • Has difficulty making decisions.
  • Interest in sex play may taper off around six or seven.
  • At this age, lots of encouragement for accepted behavior works well as a discipline.

At Seven Years Old

  • This is an age of frustration
  • Child expects too much of self and wants to do everything perfectly.
  • This is a more withdrawn age.
  • Tends to feel that peers, parents and teachers are unfair.
  • Feels a need for a place in the family; tends to be jealous of siblings.
  • Complains often; cries frequently.
  • Likes to be alone; has a “nobody loves me” attitude.
  • Reading, and observing/watching take up a great deal of time.
  • Is busy touching, feeling and explaining.
  • At this age, because he tends to worry, child responds best to encouragement and indirect correction.

At Eight and Nine Years Old

  • Carelessness begins to show.
  • Often works or plays to the point of exhaustion.
  • Wants to meet the community.
  • Prefers to work and play in groups. This is the gang and club stage.
  • Is interested in relationships with others.
  • Has an interest in the family group, but has difficulty getting along with siblings due to extreme sensitivity.
  • Tries to express his ideas; takes part in activities beyond his capacity.
  • At this age, encouragement and clarity of expectations are the best forms of discipline.

Development of the Pre-Adolescent

At Ten and Eleven Years Old

  • This is the period of transition.
  • Childish patterns of behavior are being discarded. Child develops his own attributes, independent of adults.
  • Conduct is inconsistent and disorganized.
  • Child is restless, sensitive and moody.
  • Signs of sexual development can be seen.
  • There can be regression to infantile habits of nail-biting, tears, etc.
  • This is the age of peer and gang influence.
  • There is strong motivation in group competition, and lots of teamwork.
  • Works well on group projects and enjoys boy-girl competition.
  • Loyalty to group and family is noticeable.
  • Is a hero-worshiper; is drawn to heroes of his time and gender.
  • Has a longer attention span and increased memory detail.
  • Sees details more clearly than the main ideas.
  • Is more interested in what’s concrete and real than the abstract.
  • There is an increased mastery of “tool skill,” especially reading.
  • Child is a collector.
  • Child is an excellent model builder.
  • Has strong feels of modesty; needs privacy.
  • At this age, clear behavioral limits are needed. Child needs to know what is expected of him, and what the consequences will be.

At Twelve and Thirteen Years Old

  • This is a period of rapid growth– physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
  • Girls are developmentally about two years ahead of boys.
  • The early adolescent is acutely sensitive about being different.
  • Develops close relationships with the same gender.
  • Is acquiring the ability to reason; begins to question authority-is no longer content with being told what to do.
  • Is antagonistic/negative to most adult authority.
  • The early adolescent wants to know why; can handle abstract concepts.
  • Is experiencing the awakening of sexual awareness.
  • Is searching for self-image, i.e., “Who am I? Adult or child?” Acts out different roles with each.
  • Security and deep love are needed in spite of child’s inability to respond.
  • The standards of peers are more important than the adult world.
  • Conforms to fads for security.
  • Develops a new sense of history and chronology.
  • There is a strong sense of social justice, and a desire to feel needed and useful to society.
  • Being impartial, just and patient will help the adolescent explore and discover his role in life.


Adapted in part from the Parenting Skills Manual, developed by North Valley Parent Education Network, Chico., in conjunction with the Family Communication Program of Shasta County.

North State Parent
About North State Parent

North State Parent is a free monthly publication that circulates within five California counties: Butte, Glenn, Shasta, Southern Siskiyou and Tehama. Our pages are filled with family-oriented places to go, services and products geared for women and things to do; a focus on parenting, community, health, education, teens, youth, and much more.

Updated: Aug 3, 2011 @ 2:39 pm