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Overview of child development

In the first 1,000 days of their life (from the time they're conceived until their second birthday) a child's brain develops trillions of connections and grows hugely.

After that, their brain starts "pruning" – strengthening the nerve networks or pathways they use and losing the ones they don't. This forms the foundation of all the child's learning and development through the rest of their life.

Development covers many things, such as:

The term "typical development" means a child reaches specific milestones at around the same age as other children. But the typical age ranges for some milestones can be quite large. For example, it's totally normal for a child to learn to walk when they're anywhere between nine and 18 months.

Parents often wonder if their child is developing as fast as they should. It's important to remember that some children can reach milestones earlier or later than average but still be within the usual range.

Each child develops differently, although development follows the same, largely predictable order. Usually, children start with large and simple skills then move on to more refined and complex skills. For example, they'll learn to grasp or grab something before learning how to play with a toy; they'll learn to babble before saying a word; they'll learn to scribble and draw before learning to write.

Diagnosing a development problem

If you think your child may have a development problem, the first thing to do is to talk to your child's GP, Well Child Tamariki Ora provider or early childhood teacher. It's a good idea to make a list of the things you or other people are worried about.

They'll ask you questions about your child’s history and behaviour and will watch your child playing. They'll also examine your child to check their general health and learn what they can and can't do. Your GP may refer your child for hearing and vision checks.

If needed, your GP might suggest that your child see other health professionals. This could be a speech-language therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist or a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in looking after children).

If your child is diagnosed with a developmental problem, it can help you understand some of their behaviour or differences in the way they're developing. This can help you plan how to respond to your child's behaviour and what support they might need.

There are several different types of developmental problems that need different levels of help. Some children will have more than one problem, and developmental problems can change as your child gets older.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Child development problems

Written by a Canterbury occupational therapist. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created August 2021.

Sources

See also:

B4 School Checks

Ideas for keeping kids active

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Review key: HICDG-40335