Expert Opinion

Navigating Early Childhood Developmental Milestones

Q: At what age should I expect my toddler to start speaking in sentences?

A: Most toddlers begin to form simple sentences between 18 to 24 months. However, it’s important to remember that each child’s development is unique. You may have noticed that some toddlers you know started talking earlier, while others took a bit longer. This “window” of what we consider typical development is big, so please remember that your toddler is developing at their own pace.

If you’re wanting to encourage speech development, try talking to your child regularly, reading together, and engaging in interactive play. If you have concerns about your child’s speech development, especially if they’re not using any words by 18 months, consider consulting a paediatric speech pathologist or paediatrician.

Q: How can I tell if my child’s social skills are developing appropriately for their age?

A: Social skills in toddlers and preschoolers evolve gradually. By age 2, many children start to show interest in playing alongside other children and may begin to engage in simple cooperative play by age 3 or 4. But their social skills started long before this, when they started returning your smiles and engaging in to-and-fro babbling “conversations” with you.

If you’re wondering whether your child’s social skills are developing as expected, look for signs such as responding to other children, initiating interactions, and showing empathy. Remember, social development varies widely. If you’re concerned about your child’s social skills, particularly if they seem excessively withdrawn or the other extreme – overly friendly, it might be beneficial to seek advice from your paediatrician or a child psychologist.

Q: My 4-year-old seems to struggle with following instructions. Should I be worried about their cognitive development?

A: It can be easy to wish that our toddlers would be 100% compliant, can’t it? But actually, your child’s ‘struggles’ can actually be a sign that their development is progressing exactly as it should be! At four years old, children are still developing their ability to follow multi-step instructions and it’s typical for this age group to require plenty of reminders and guidance. However, toddlers are also developing their sense of autonomy – wanting to do things all by themselves!

However, to help your toddler with following instructions, try breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps and use clear, concise language. If you notice consistent difficulties in understanding or remembering instructions, or if there are other developmental concerns, it may be wise to consult with a paediatric psychologist for a comprehensive evaluation.

Q: Is it normal for my 3-year-old to have frequent tantrums?

A: The short answer is Yes! In fact if your 3 year old wasn’t expressing their opinions strongly, we might be worried! Three-year-olds have tantrums as they learn to navigate their emotions and assert independence. During these moments, it’s crucial to provide a safe, calm environment. Acknowledge their feelings and gently guide them towards appropriate ways to express themselves. Consistent routines, clear expectations, and positive reinforcement can also help in reducing tantrums. However, if tantrums are excessively frequent or intense, it might be helpful to draw upon resources such as books and courses to determine whether there might be some underlying causes that you can work on to reduce tantrum frequency.

Q: What are some signs that my preschooler might have a developmental delay?

A: This is a great question, although it’s important to remember that all childhood development, particularly in the years up until school commencement age, is incredibly varied.

While indicators of developmental delays can differ, some signs to look out for include: significant difficulties with speech and language, challenges in social interactions, limited interest in play, or problems with motor skills like walking or handling small objects. Often these developmental milestones will be tracked by your maternal child health visits, but if your child is not meeting typical developmental milestones, or if you have any concerns about their development, it’s important to consult a paediatric psychologist. Early intervention is proven to support children to reach their full potential when delivered well before school age, so the sooner you identify and act on these difficulties, the better.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova