The Tot Q&A: Hitting Milestones

Baby development in the first 12 months is amazing because so much happens. Most healthy babies develop new skills in a completely natural way. But it’s always important to remember that babies will grow and develop at very different rates. The Tot Early Childhood Development Specialist, Anastasia Moloney, answers your questions and concerns about hitting milestones.


Q: What are the best tools/resources/toys to ensure a 6-12 month old is meeting major milestones? 

A: During 6 to 12 months, children are getting ready to explore more of their environment and will soon begin crawling and cruising. At this age, parent-child interaction is most important to help support development. This interaction is shown through love, attention, time, and touch with your baby.

At this age, basic songs, rhymes, finger plays and peekaboo are great ways to interact, develop social skills and language. Books are also very important for language development and there are some fun interactive ones to help build your baby’s attention span. Start with simple and tactile picture books like this wooden flip book by Goki. Then you can move on to more detailed board books like Baby’s Box of Fun.

Babies at this age love exploring using various senses, so experiment playing with different sounds, materials and textures. Don’t forget, at this age everything goes in their mouths so make sure that toys are safe and not a choking hazard. Try finger painting with their first foods or squeezing non-toxic paint sealed in zip lock bag for fun sensory play!

As for toys, cause and effect toys such as rattles, shakers etc and dump and fill toys are great for this age. Tots will mostly dump things or take them out but this is great for fine motor skill and cognitive development. Cause and effect helps children understand that ‘if I do this, then this happens’. Much like when a baby learns that when they cry, they get attention or their needs met. As they get older, you can help them to understand slightly more complex cause and effect such as what happens when they splash water or when they push a ball and it rolls etc. There are lots of great non-toxic and safe cause and effect toys for 6-12 month olds on The Tot like this Veggie Rattle Market Bag or this Shape Sorting & Stacking Cube

Q: What kind of interactions should a 4 week old have? What are important activities?

A: The best thing at 4 weeks is bonding with baby. Lots of skin to skin contact, time being held or baby wearing. You cannot spoil a 4 week old and they love being close to you. They also love hearing your voice: whether it be singing, reading or even just talking/commenting about your environment. It’s also never too early to start tummy time – in fact, most doctors recommend that you begin placing your tot on his belly for a few minutes every day from the day you get home from hospital. For the first few weeks, and only when your baby is awake and alert, try placing your him on his stomach on a hard surface, such as the floor, for just two to three minutes at a time, several times a day. Slowly increase this amount until your baby is spending 15 uninterrupted minutes each day on their tummy. Babies also love watching your face, so pull fun and silly faces and play games like peekaboo.

Q: Any advice on getting through 4 month sleep regression?

A: This is very common, so know that you are not alone. The best thing to do is to stick to your usual routine, stick to what you have been doing to get to baby down. If you haven’t established a simple bed time routine now then be sure to do this. This can be a bath and book just before bedtime or something as simple as a bedtime song. Continue to swaddle baby or use a sleep sack and try offering a non-toxic, natural rubber pacifier for self-soothing. A dream feed or a top off before you go to bed can also help to stretch their time asleep. And if possible, try to sleep when baby sleeps or reach out to friends or family if you can and ask for help! Hang in there it will get better!

Q: My baby isn’t mimicking noises at 6.5 months or making single syllable sounds, but is babbling a little bit. I know we should not compare but my daughter was definitely copying my sounds by now. Is this concerning or ok?

A: It is difficult not to compare, but please remember that children develop at their own rate. What you can do is keep imitating the sounds your baby is making as much as possible. This will help her to know that you are hearing her and communicating. Soon, start to add one or two new sounds yourself after you’ve been imitating her for a while. Continue to sing, rhyme and read with her as much as possible. A few things to look for is to see if your baby is turning towards sounds or your voice. Is she startled by loud noises? Does she giggle or laugh? If your concerns continue, it is always best to discuss them with a healthcare professional.

Q: My 11 month old is dragging herself and not using her knees to crawl. How can I help her realize that her knees will help her to crawl? Thank you!

A: Crawling isn’t expected to develop typically until 9 to 11 months, and this is just a suggested age range as children all develop at their own rate so taking a little more time is fine. Also, she has found a way to move so there is less motivation to learn hands and knees crawling. It is definitely something to keep an eye on in the next few months and mention it to your health care provider if you don’t see changes, but in the meantime, there are some great activities that can encourage that shift from “army crawling” where they drag their legs to hands and knees crawling.

Some activities to try include:

  • Let her explore an item on a raised surface so that she is on her knees leaning against the surface
  • Let her explore an item while lying over your legs, this allows her to strengthen her arms or legs in a crawling position with support.
  • Position items that she wants to explore to the side of her body instead of in front. This encourages reaching and twisting. By practicing reaching and twisting, your child is practicing crossing her midline which is a skill used in crawling as well as strengthening her core.
  • Finally, create an obstacle course. In the obstacle course have things for her to crawl over such as pillows or even have her crawl over you. This forces your army crawler to practice a different way of moving.

Q: What is the best balance of structured/interactive play vs independent play at 7-8 months? Does this change from 8-12 months?

A: Play is very important throughout all stages of development. The best way to think of it is that structured play is great for teaching, modeling and introducing new skills while free play allows them to explore and practice this play – so they will need more time testing and mastering the skills than they do for instruction time.

At 7-8 months, children learn through love, attention, touch and affection, however, interactive play is very important too. A great way to engage in interactive play is to follow your baby’s lead. This will still let them explore and practice what they have learned but it can also give you some natural, unstructured moments to add to play time. See what they gravitate towards and are seeking from you. If they focus on an item, mimic what they are trying to do with it, then try modeling something different with the same item. If they are smiling and looking at you, try playing an interactive finger-play game, sing a song or try clapping.

As they get a bit older, they will be able to explore more independently and can focus longer on structured tasks. However, keep following your child’s lead and see how you can expand on their ideas.

Q: My baby hates tummy time so I’m worried she will never learn to roll over! She just turned 3 months… When should I start to worry? 

A: Typically babies don’t usually roll until they are about 6 months old. This will give you and your babe some time to hopefully make tummy time more positive and to strengthen the muscles she needs for rolling. Continue to try tummy time for brief periods each day. It is important for strengthening many muscles including their back and core. Do not allow for too much time in a stroller or a car seat as this can discourage movement.

Some ways to make tummy time more fun can include adding toys or a mirror within their reach, lie on the floor with her and make faces or smile or try massaging her back or feet. Another way that might feel more natural for a little one is trying tummy time on your chest. Vary locations or let someone else try tummy time with her – sometimes just switching it up can help.

If rolling is your only concern, and as long as you see other motor skills developing such as your baby holding her head up, sitting supported, and eventually sitting independently, you don’t need to worry too much about it. However, if you feel that other motor skills are not being demonstrated, be sure to discuss your concerns with your health care provider.

Q: What types of speech developments should a 14 month old be hitting? And at what age should there be concern in order to bring it up to a doctor if there are delays?

A: A majority of the milestone charts look at the ages of 12 months and 18 months as this is the age range in which kids begin to develop skills. I would see how your child is doing compared to the 12 month milestones. If you feel like s/he is meeting most of them, then I would begin work towards your 18 month milestones. If you see that you child is still developing several of the 12 month milestone skills, then it is worth mentioning this to your doctor. Remember, the earlier you can recognize an area where your child might be struggling, the quicker  your child can receive individualized help or support to help them develop the skill.

Some of the 12 month milestones for language include:

  • Imitating speech sounds
  • Saying a few familiar words
  • Understanding simple instructions and common words

At 18 months of development your child will begin to:

  • Show understanding of familiar names of objects, people, and body parts
  • Follow simple routine directions
  • Use 8 to 10 words

Q: Are there any developmental books or authors that you can recommend? Thanks very much!

A: Absolutely! Some online resources I recommend include:

  • Zero to three: This is great for developmental milestones in the early years
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
  • Center for Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL)

A few books I personally like for my own parenting needs are:

  • The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline – both by Daniel Siegel
  • The Power of Play by David Elkind

Q: Hello! Despite my first baby being born 41 weeks, my second baby arrived at 28 weeks. She is doing as well as possible and is now on her due date. I decided to leave work to stay home with her and to watch her development closely. We are a trilingual family to make things even harder. Any tips or any literature to suggest to aid the early development of a very premature baby?

A: Yes, I would recommend the same resources that I recommended above:

  • Zero to three: This is great for developmental milestones in the early years
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
  • Center for Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL)

With a preemie, the development is often delayed and you need to look at the age tables for the adjusted age if your child, not just the calendar age. To find your child’s adjusted age, count the number of weeks between her birth date and her due date, and subtract that amount of time from her current age. Focus on the appropriate activities for the adjusted age. These will be a good guide to help you know where to focus.

At the beginning, spend time bonding with baby. Do as much talking, singing, reading to baby in any of the 3 languages.

Q: My 4 month old just learned to turn. However, after a few minutes on her tummy, she starts bawling as she wants to go back to lying on her back. How do I teach her to turn back? Also, when is a jumparoo suitable for her?

A: That’s great that she has learned to turn one way. It takes different muscles to turn each way so she may be still strengthening the other muscles. Try encouraging her movement through play, either with a toy or by lying next to her just out of reach in order to encourage her to turn from her stomach to her back.

A jumparoo is fine as long as her head control is good and her feet touch the ground. Just remember to use it in moderation, this means that her time spent in it should be no more than 15 minutes each session.

Q: My almost 8 month old twins (born 5 weeks early) still don’t sit on their own. I’ve tried the Bumbo chair but neither like it very much. What else can I do to encourage independent sitting? And is this sitting required to use a walker? And are walkers actually recommended? Thanks so much!

A: In order to encourage independent sitting, sit and support your babies upright on the floor. One at a time, sit with his/her back up against your stomach so he/she is supported. Place your hands low on his/her waist or hips. This will make them engage their core muscles more for balance. They will be quite wobbly at first! Use toys to help them explore. If they are propping themselves up with their hands, hold the toy out in front of them so they try to reach for it. Finally, practice sitting in a safe spot and occasionally let them fall (gently of course and use your hands to slow the fall). This helps them to eventually learn that they need to engage their muscles or use their hands to catch themselves.

As for walkers, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using walkers not only because they can discourage your child from learning to walk on their own, but also because they can be dangerous. You can read more about it on the AAP News & Journals’ website.

Q: I have 17 month old twin girls (born 34 weeks) with very different personalities. We are struggling with them biting each other as well as issues with sharing. Do you have any tips or activities to help with fostering sibling love?

A: At 17 months sharing is not a skill they will have mastered yet. The best way to start practicing sharing is by playing games that naturally incorporate taking turns – like rolling a ball back and forth. For now, having them play next to each other with similar items will be much more successful and less stressful for everyone. Also, try commenting on what the other is doing as they play.

Finding activities that they can enjoy together, but where everyone has their own role or materials will be much more successful. Messy/sensory play such as finger painting or making play dough flowers is a great joint activity.

Family time for all of you to bond will also help creating a strong sibling connection. As your girls get a little older try playing family games that encourage them to work together where it’s the kids versus the adults.