Mental Milestones In Children You Should Not Ignore

Is your toddler busy exploring, socialising and asking many questions? If not, consider the matter for these are some of the mental milestones a child should attain during her growing up years.

By Amrita Gracias

Mental Milestones In Children You Should Not Ignore

Think your child’s physical growth is the only thing that matters. Think again?  For, mental growth also plays a vital role in your child’s overall growth and development. Each toddler grows at her own pace. So, it is imperative that you, as a parent, try to understand key mental milestones in your toddler’s life.

A child’s developmental progress is assessed by the key, yet fundamental, milestones that he achieves through every stage of childhood. Mental milestones involve the ability of a child to think, learn and engage. They involve all the cognitive skills that a child must attain, which include a combination of domains like language, motor ability, adaptability and even social relationships to name a few. Mental milestones comprise thought processes that are initiated through sensory experiences, which in turn trigger functions comprising other developmental abilities.

Successful cognitive development necessitates three main areas of functioning:

  • Concentration: This involves your child’s ability to pay attention and focus on the learning experience so that he may absorb the knowledge that he is receiving. Lack of concentration allows him to acquire only some, or none, of the information required to master a skill. This would manifest as him being unable to complete a simple task entirely.
  • Memory: Successful learning warrants your child being able to remember and recall her various sensory experiences. Long-term, short-term, sequential and receptive memories are various forms that assist her in perfecting these capabilities. One of these should function depending on the learning process, thus enabling her to make connections between the past and the present.
  • Logical Thinking: This is your child’s ability to reason and question. When thoughts arise, she attempts to make sense of them while the brain in filtering the information as she decides what he wants to do next. For instance, when he sees a set of blocks on a table that he wants to play with, his brain processes this information and provides the necessary inputs that activate the motor functions to go over to the table and play.

Your child is growing at a rapid pace, where her mind is constantly exploring and discovering her small, but interesting, world. During this phase, her mind receives and processes all the information she absorbs, which helps her develop new skills. “There is a basic need for brain cells to be stimulated”, explains Merciline, “and when this happens, the right cells are tuned for future uses of one’s cognitive abilities”. She explains that it is extremely important that this stimulation happens in early childhood as it forms the basis for cognitive development. “Intelligence is innate and it requires the right stimulation from appropriate activities to acquire the necessary skills”, she says.

A child undergoes many milestones from the time he is born till the time he becomes a toddler. This following article has a milestone chart, which helps you keep track of your little darling’s progress. It also informs you of what to anticipate and when to raise a flag.


Here, we examine a few of the key mental milestones that your toddler must achieve.

0 – 1 years:

During this period, your toddler should achieve mental milestones like:

  • Engaging in social smile
  • Responding to familiar people
  • Responding to the environment
  • Getting stimulated with colours and textures
  • Saying a few words
  • Understanding the concept of object permanence – can find a hidden object

1 – 3 years:

During this period, your child should achieve mental milestones like:

  • Speaking using small sentences
  • Responding to simple instructions
  • Increasing her social and vocabulary skills
  • Involving self in lots of play and social activities

3 – 5 years:

During this period, your child should achieve mental milestones like:

  • Asking many questions to gain information
  • Ability to explain his experiences
  • Involving herself in play activities that start with imitative and parallel play and moves to associative and cooperative play
  • Beginning to develop the concept of friendship
  • Dealing with new situations and alien environments like school
  • Abiltiy to follow commands and instructions

As your child attains some of these basic mental milestones, specific neurons in the brain relating to these cognitive functions are stimulated. This prepares the brain for higher levels of learning. In fact, non-stimulation leads to fewer brains cells being used resulting in the underdevelopment of basic cognitive abilities.

Lack of exposure to proper stimulation causes developmental delays. Common problems often include speech disorders, inability to comprehend simple instructions and complete tasks. Activities should cater to all the primary senses for successful learning. “For instance, when a child performs an activity that uses the ‘touch-and-feel’ method, learning takes place through multisensory stimulation and integration. However, activities that don’t cater to these vital needs tend to stimulate only one sensation”, says Merciline.

Speech and communication play an important role in a child's development along with other factors. This article looks into the different ways speech and language assist in many areas, which include academics and even social relationships.

Remember that your child begins to observe and learn from birth. The right environment, exposure, stimulation and bonding during childhood are significant factors that determine and influence his cognitive capabilities.   

With inputs from Divya Merciline, Lecturer and Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Department of Clinical Psychology, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai.

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