Challenging Milestones


While a child growing up can be a wonderful and magical time, there are also many challenging milestones associated with each developmental stage. Take a look at what these challenges are and how you can assist and educate parents in managing these. 

0 - 18 months

Cry when in pain, tired, hungry, cold, thirsty, wet, lonely, or in a new situation. 
Crying babies are not misbehaving. They are trying to communicate. Picking up and comforting a crying baby will not spoil her.

Afraid of strangers, unfamiliar situations, and being separated from caregivers
Do a short and sweet good-bye. Try to find familiar people to care for the baby. Create consistent routines when possible.

Have trouble handling strong emotions.
Need adult help (swaddling, rocking, holding, quiet talk) to calm down.

Enjoy audience and applause.
To encourage behavior, provide attention, smile, and clap. Ignore undesired behaviors.

Can play alone for brief periods of time.
Provide frequent checks and attention.

Become angry when frustrated.
Remain calm, don’t take it personally. Try to distract or redirect their attention.

Learn by exploring the environment.
Assume they will touch or put things in their mouth. Put small objects (choking hazards) and breakables out of reach.\

Have short attention spans; easily distracted.

Have several different items to play with (wooden spoons, plastic containers, lids, blocks, short books). Expect church, grocery stores to be challenging, especially for tired, hungry toddlers.

Can follow very simple instructions.

Keep instructions short—one or two words (No touch! Be gentle. Hot!). Use actions to show what you want (e.g., say “Clean up time!” and start putting away toys).

Want to do more things for themselves.

Be patient. When it’s safe, let them try to do things by themselves. Allow extra time. Expect messy meals and frustration. Applaud their efforts, even if not perfect.

18 - 36 months

Want to do more and more things by themselves.

Encourage finger foods and self-feeding. Let them try to get dressed or undressed on their own. Start with easy tasks (e.g., taking off socks, pulling up elastic waist pants), get the task started, let them finish. Expect frustration if they can’t do things for themselves.

Are beginning to show independence; stubborn; say NO

Provide choices. Rather than asking “Do you want to get in the car?” say “We have to get in the car. Do you want to walk or should I carry you?”

Have difficulty sharing, taking turns.

Make sure there are enough play objects to go around. Explain to older children that it is hard for the baby to share.

Have trouble waiting; the vague notion of time; want things right now.

Understand that this is not rude behavior. Provide concrete time markers—e.g., after your bath, when Daddy gets home, etc. Provide distraction during wait times.

Have trouble expressing emotions with words.

Use dolls, books, and other people to teach about emotion words like happy, sad, angry, or tired. Try to help them find the words if they are upset. Praise when they do use their words.

When frustrated/angry— use tantrums or hit and kick to get what they want.

Ignore tantrums as much as possible. Do not give in. If they are in danger of hurting themselves or others, distract/redirect or physically hold them until they are able to calm down. Do not hit back or yell in response to tantrums.

Have short attention spans; easily distracted.

Have several different items to play with (wooden spoons, plastic containers, lids, blocks, short books). Expect church, grocery store to be challenging, especially for tired, hungry toddlers.

Enjoy adults’ attention.

Anticipate frequent attempts to get attention. To encourage good behavior, provide attention, praise, smile, clap. Ignore undesired behaviors.

Just beginning to remember rules--don’t really understand right from wrong.

Repeat rules frequently. Remind children about rules ahead of time.

Are very curious. Ask a lot of questions. Like to sort things, test how things work.

Expect the same question to be asked many times. Make sure house is safe; put dangerous things out of reach.

3 - 5 years

Beginning to play cooperatively. Still hard to share but begin to understand turn-taking.

May need adult help to take turns. Be sure to have enough play objects to go around. Consider putting away special toys that may be hard to share with playmates.

Can tell when someone is angry or upset, but still have trouble taking someone else’s perspective.

Model empathy by saying how you feel when they do something (“When you grab that from Daddy, it makes Daddy feel sad.”)

Sometimes can resist temptation.

Use positive attention to reward these moments. Some children talk to themselves out loud for self-control.

Eager to help.

Have them help out by cleaning up their toys, drying dishes, setting or clearing the table, or laying out their clothes for the next day. Praise helping.

Better ability to use imagination; can imagine terrible things can happen.

Fears and nightmares may disrupt sleep. Calmly reassure them that they are ok and you are there. Remind them that dreams are not real. Use a night light.

More able to communicate thoughts, feelings, but control is still a challenge.

Praise them for using their words. Acknowledge their feelings. Try to come up with strategies for dealing with those emotions, like deep breaths or counting. Some children control their emotions physically—close eyes, cover ears or walk away.

Ask a lot of why, how, when questions,

Expect the same question to be asked many times. Provide answers if you can, or try to find the answer later.

Learn by imitation, exploring, doing. Love pretend play,

Anything they see or hear may be imitated—even undesirable behaviors.

Beginning to understand basic time concepts: before/after, today, yesterday, tomorrow,

It can be helpful to prepare them for a change, e.g., “Tomorrow, instead of going to school, you will be staying home with Grandma”.

Can’t play or do something for too long. Get bored without adult guidance.

Longer attention span than when they were toddlers. Still may need a few minutes of adult attention to engage them in a new activity, like 5 minutes of coloring with mom and then they make their own picture. Check-in frequently to praise their efforts.