Milestones are integral to tracking a baby’s process as they grow, learn and develop.

By setting defined times when children should be showing certain behaviors or taking specific actions, it’s easier for parents and medical professionals to spot any delays or problems with normal development. According to the CDC, it’s essential to follow these milestones as a checklist so parents and doctors can act early on any missed developmental milestones.

This article covers milestones for one-year-olds, why they are essential, and some typical milestones that 75% or more children meet by this age. Read on to learn more about how to help children achieve these milestones, alongside what you should do to act early if a child loses skills or seems to be behind other children in their age range:

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What are the milestones for one-year-olds?

Milestones for one-year-old are pre-defined behaviors, developments, and types of growth typical in children around twelve months old. For a one-year-old baby, many observable milestones are observable through play, talking, and engaging with the child. For instance, physical development, such as pulling themselves up on furniture to stand and walk or communicating with parents with simple words like ‘mama,’ ‘dada,’ and waving ‘bye-bye.’

While older children may have more nuanced or academic milestones, one-year-olds’ milestones are more superficial. However, they are critical development stages to track, as babies at 12 months rapidly learn and grow, developing vital skills later in life. Milestones for one-year-olds cover a range of specified areas, including social and emotional milestones, cognitive development, physical capabilities, and language development.

Why are milestones important?

Milestones are essential as they provide a reference for parents, childcare workers, and medical professionals to identify if a child is developing correctly. There is little time for testing and analyzing behavior analyzing in a medical setting. Parents can use milestones to gauge their children’s development inside specific parameters and time frames to decide whether their baby is in the normal range of development or may need intervention.

A checklist or calendar of development milestones provides parents with a clear idea of whether their child is within the normal range or if their development needs a detailed check-up with a medical professional. By having a solid understanding of if a child is outside the norm of development, action can be taken swiftly to provide that child with developmental services. For instance, physical therapy, speech therapy, or developmental preschool.

Typical milestones for one-year-old children

The CDC has a clear, up-to-date definition of the different milestone range that children should meet based on comprehensive research, which has been recently updated in 2022. These milestones fall within a normal range, meaning children should develop these skills around these times, but there is no strict deadline or requirement. For instance, some children begin to walk at eight months, while some can take as many as 15-18 months to develop the motor skills to walk entirely. Despite the gap between these two milestone achievements, they are both considered at the extreme ends of the ‘normal’ range.

Some of the typical milestones that most children can do by one year old include:

Social and emotional milestones

For most children, the ability to actively engage with and play games is a crucial indicator of their social and emotional milestones. For example, playing with pat-a-cake, sharing toys, and encouraging parents to play with them are all key signs of this social and emotional milestone. One-year-old children should actively engage in play rather than passively participate and may also seek it out from parents, siblings, and other adults.

Language and communication milestones

Children around the age of one will develop an early understanding of words and language. At this age, they can typically name their parents ‘mama’, ‘dada’, or another similar but straightforward name such as ‘gaga’ or ‘baba.’ Alongside this, one-year-old babies have a more robust understanding of non-verbal languages, such as waving hello or bye-bye to people as they enter or leave. Finally, children around the age of one start to understand the meaning of certain words. For instance, if you say ‘no’ to a child and they stop or pause briefly, this is a sign of communication development.

Cognitive milestones

Cognitive milestones involve the development of thinking, learning, and problem-solving skills in the world around the child. For instance, a one-year-old may have the necessary cognitive development to understand how to put items in containers, such as putting a block into a cup or a toy into a box. Additionally, they will have better object permanence, where they will look for hidden things, such as a toy placed under a blanket. This milestone represents the first steps towards problem-solving and practical thinking, often displayed through play.

Physical development milestones

Physical development milestones involve how a child moves and their capabilities in controlling their bodies. For a one-year-old baby, milestones of this age include using furniture, parents, and other people to pull themselves up into standing permission. A child that can pull themselves up may also use furniture to move around the room, occasionally attempting to walk to a parent or a place without something to learn. Over time, babies that learn to stand become less wobbly and more confident in their movements.

Motor skills development

Alongside the maximal developments involving movement, one-year-old babies also develop fine motor skills requiring better control. For example, picking things up between a thumb and forefinger, such as small bits of food or toys, is an expected milestone at this age. Drinking from a cup, either with a sippy top or when aided by an adult holding it, is another milestone to watch out for in developing motor skills.

How can you help children to reach their milestones?

Children engaged, active, and involved in the play in various ways may be more likely to reach their natural milestones within the defined limits. While some babies may still require additional support or intervention, most children will reach their milestones within the boundaries with active support from parents, teachers, or nursery workers. Some of the ways you could help a child to achieve their milestones include:

Teach wanted behaviors

Wanted behaviors are ways to adjust a child’s behavior to make it more appropriate through positive words and praise. For example, if a child is rough with a family pet, teaching them how to pet a dog gently or cat is a way to introduce a wanted behavior over an unwanted one. The key to this method is giving positive praise, hugs, and reinforcement to encourage repeated good behavior.

Engage and interact with speech and song

Engaging with a child consistently is extremely valuable for their development. For instance, singing or talking to your child about different things you are doing, such as washing their hands, brushing their hair, or tidying up toys, provides engagement and active communication. The more children hear words and engage with them. The better it is for their development. Research has shown that adding a musical tone is essential to child development, with greater engagement and happiness.

Build on their language

Encouraging children to build on single-syllable language is a valuable way to help them reach communication milestones. For instance, if a child calls a toy car ‘car,’ you could reinforce that language by responding with ‘yes, that’s a red toy car’ to improve their speech over time. As language and communication require gradual but consistent progress to hit milestones, encouraging bigger words and sentences over time is valuable for building those essential skills.

Provide safe spaces to explore

Providing children with a safe, secure space to explore, whether at a baby group or in the home, is valuable for encouraging active movement and developing fine motor skills. For instance, a baby that can roam the whole ground floor of a house may be more inclined to pull themselves up on furniture and attempt to move from one area to another. This action helps to build critical physical skills, working towards developmental milestones.

Limit screen time

The CDC recommends that babies under two have limited or no screen time aside from active engagement, such as facetime with family members and loved ones. Instead, encouraging talking, playing and direct interaction with the natural world is valuable for meeting milestones and developing many necessary skills.

Use ‘no’ sparingly

The use of the word ‘no’ is something most children learn around this age. However, overuse of the word can be a problem, with children needing to have the refined skills to understand the differences between ‘no’ in a dangerous situation and ‘no’ when you don’t want them to do something. Using redirection and engagement in other activities helps to develop their skills without shutting them down from learning in the future.

Celebrate milestones and development

Ensuring successes and progress are celebrated is vital in encouraging children to continue to learn and improve their skills. For example, praising, giving hugs, and clapping when a child starts to pull themselves up to standing will encourage them to continue improving their physical skills, progressing towards walking.

Encourage fine motor skills through play

Providing children with engaging toys and games that involve finer motor skills is valuable for helping them to refine their movements and grow in confidence. For example, games that require them to place toys inside other toys, such as stacking cups or rings, are an effective way to build on their skills and develop finer movements. Picking up food, toys, and other items helps develop these skills.

Create a diet that’s suitable for the development

A suitable diet is helpful for their development. For instance, providing foods with different tastes and textures encourages a child to grow in confidence and be open to trying new things. Restricting their fluid intake to water, breast milk, or plain milk is also helpful for their development, with as few sugary drinks as possible.

Provide new opportunities for play

Encouraging children to play in new ways is an effective way to help them develop physical and cognitive skills to hit their milestones. For example, encouraging children to make noise with makeshift musical instruments, such as pots and pans with a wooden spoon, is a valuable way to build skills. Switching up games and making new ones is also helpful for developing learning and thinking skills as they grow.

What if a child doesn’t meet milestones for a one-year-old?

The purpose of defined milestones is to provide clear guidelines for normal development in children of certain ages. The revised version of the CDC’s development checklist has been amended to highlight potential developmental delays or problems. For example, children that do not reach certain milestones may have autism or other developmental disabilities. By spotting the signs early, it’s possible for children that need extra help to receive the care and resources they need. Here are the recommended steps for a child that isn’t meeting the necessary milestones:

  1. Consult with your baby’s doctor: If milestones are passing by and a child is far behind them, whether in all areas or a single one, consulting a medical professional is the first step.
  2. Ask for a specialist referral: If necessary, a doctor may recommend a referral to a specialist for further help or diagnosis.
  3. Connect with an early intervention program: Children with developmental delays can ‘catch up’ or improve their learning and growth with interventional programs, such as speech therapy.

Milestones are an essential way to gauge whether a child needs additional help. While these guidelines aren’t set in stone, they are helpful information for parents and medical professionals. Understanding how children should develop makes it easier to see signs of growth and ways a child is falling behind. Most children will generally develop within these parameters with the proper care and attention.

For children needing additional support, early intervention can be invaluable for helping them improve essential life skills.