First Year Developmental Milestones

There are so many firsts you’ll be ticking off one by one as your child reaches them in his first year. Let’s take a look at these milestones so you’ll know what to expect.



Witnessing your child gain and learn new skills as he grows older is a joy of any parent. From crawling to standing and seeing your child’s first smile, there are so many things to look forward to in your child’s development.

It is especially exciting to see all the skills your child will develop in his first year because everything is still brand new; your child will be busy exploring and learning anything and everything in his surroundings. We know there are lots of things for you to expect in your child’s first year, so we’re going to take you through the different milestones your little one will reach during this time of his life.


Physical Development

There are two important categories in your child’s physical development: his gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills, such as walking and running, are movements controlled by large muscle groups like arms, legs, or the whole body. Fine motor skills refer to small muscle movements involving the hands and fingers coordinating with the eyes, such as holding small objects and writing.


Let’s see what gross motor skills your child should achieve by his first year. According to Dr Charmaine Teo, associate consultant, Child Development Unit, NUH, your child should be able to:

  •  Sit by himself by six months
  •  Pull to stand and crawl by about nine months
  • Walk while holding onto furniture – also known as cruising – by ten to 11 months



Your child might even be able to walk by himself by his first birthday.



Next up, fine motor skills. Dr Teo lists the following milestones your child should reach:

  •  Transfer objects from one hand to the other by about seven months
  •  Pick up small objects with his thumb and index finger by a year old
  •  Let go of objects by a year old


Cognitive Development

The ability to think, learn, solve problems and make decisions is known as cognitive development. “In the first year, your child is exploring everything around him or her,” says Dr Teo. Everything is new for your child in his first year so his curiosity will push him to explore and learn about his environment.

Your child will also learn the concept of object permanence by nine months. This means he understands that objects exist even when he can’t see them. For example, if you hide your child’s toy behind your back, does he look for it? If he does, he's demonstrating his understanding of object permanence. To help your child with this concept, play games like peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek with him. 


Here are other milestones to look out for in your child’s cognitive development. According to Dr Teo, your child will:

  • Put things into his mouth
  • Open cupboards and boxes
  • Look at the correct object when you name it
  • Imitate your gestures


Social and Emotional Development

In his first year, your child will be busy learning to interact and bond with his parents. “Initially, they enjoy being held and cuddled and will learn to recognise faces and begin to smile for social purpose. They enjoy interactions such as peek-a-boo and being tickled,” says clinical psychologist, Dr Vanessa von Auer of VA Psychology Center.



Your child might also begin to develop stranger anxiety around the ages of four to eight months. When your child has stranger anxiety, it means he has learnt that he is independent of his parents, and he might cry when he is with someone unfamiliar to him.



Separation anxiety is another social and emotional stage your child might experience. Not to be confused with stranger anxiety, separation anxiety means your child becomes upset when you leave him. Children tend to develop separation anxiety once they understand the concept of object permanence. Whether you’re heading out for work or just going to the bathroom, your child might start clinging on to you, cry or throw tantrums. It’s going to be hard if your child hits his separation anxiety stage, but just remember that it is all a normal part of his development.


Other milestones your child might reach, according to Dr von Auer, are:

  • Begins to show assertiveness with likes and dislikes
  • Can become possessive over toys or favourite items


Language Development

It is exciting when your child begins understanding you and you are able to interact meaningfully with him. While your child might not speak in complete sentences yet, there are other ways for him to communicate with you.

“First words start to emerge in the first year, so they will try to say words and imitate words,” says Pamela See, educational and developmental psychologist at Th!nk Psychological Services, “They will be able to use simple gestures to aid communication. For example, pointing to indicate that they want something. They will also be able to understand some receptive language and respond accordingly, for example, ‘give me car’.”

Your child will also understand the meaning of the word “no” – he might even shake his head to mean “no”. Other gestures your child will do are waving goodbye or blowing kisses.

And the one thing all parents wait for their child to say? “Mama!” or “Papa!” Your child might be able to say those names when he is specifically calling for you or your spouse.


Helping Your Child with his Development

Parents play a big role in their child’s development. Teaching and encouraging your child as best as you can will go a long way towards helping him develop his skills.

If you notice any areas of weakness in your child’s development, try to help him with those areas so he can practise his skills. “Parents can expose children to activities, environment and people who may help in the progression of skills. For example, if an infant has difficulties grasping items with his or her hands, exposing him or her to grabbing of rattles or soft toys – which are sensorial in nature – can help the infant learn to make the appropriate grasping movements with his or her hands,” explains Dr von Auer.



Try not to rely on any form of digital media to teach your children such as smartphones, television or tablets. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that children aged below 18 months avoid using digital media.



“Studies continue to show an association between excessive screen time in early childhood with cognitive, language and social/emotional delays, as well as attention and executive functioning difficulties in later life,” explains Dr Teo, “Infants and toddlers learn best through hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers. Playing, talking and reading with your child helps him or her develop his or her skills,” says Dr Teo.

Dr Teo stresses the importance of sleep too. “Adequate sleep cannot be overlooked for optimal growth and development,” she says, “Infants less than one year old need 13 to 16 hours, toddlers between one to three years old need 12 to 14 hours, and pre-schoolers between three to five years old need 11 to 13 hours of daily sleep.”

And as much as you want your child to stay safe, there is bound to be trips, falls or bumping head on walls as he is exploring his environment. “Allow your child plenty of opportunities to run, climb and explore his or her surroundings safely,” advises See.

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