Defining Normal Behavior as Our Children Grow

If we know what to expect at each stage of development, it is easier to decide if our child's behavior is "normal." These stages are approximate. The age isn't as important as the progression. Some children reach a stage faster, some reach it slower. Generally, all kids go through much the same things. Knowing what to expect can help parents deal with the frustrations and problems that are quite normal for each age. Behaviors that get stuck in one stage are cause for concern, otherwise, don't worry.

One can get by parenting easy kids with common sense and love. Parenting difficult kids requires love, compassion, endurance, and skill that is not common. Fortunately, the necessary parenting skills can be learned. A parent's skill won't change the child into an easy kid, but it will prevent problems from getting worse.

To go directly to:

Six Months
Nine Months
One Year
Fifteen Months
Eighteen Months
Twenty-one Months
Two and a Half
Eleven - Twelve


What to expect: Babies cry.

Needs: Love and basic care.

A baby can't be spoiled by too much love. Also needed: nutrition, kisses, steady change of diapers, change of scenery.

Parents' need: Time off and sleep.

Special problems: Fussy baby.

Six Months

What to expect:

  • Child is always moving.
  • Favorite game: dropping and throwing toys.
  • Child puts everything into his or her mouth.

Needs: Same as infancy. Protection.

Never leave your child unattended. Babies roll off beds, changing tables. Unless the baby is on the floor, keep a hand on the baby or use a restraint system. Keep small things off the floor and out of reach.


  • Take things away from baby or take baby away from things.
  • The word "NO" should be used in moderation, gently. Be kind.

Nine Months

What to expect:

  • Baby is crawling, pulling up.
  • Child has no concept of property.
  • Everything is a toy.
  • Still puts everything in the mouth.


  • Child-proof environment.
  • Close supervision.


  • Discipline by moving the child away from the problem or move the problem away from the child.
  • Use the word "no" with kind firmness.

Special problems: Separation fears.

Baby is afraid to be left; wakes up during the night.

One Year

What to expect: Child needs to explore and is into everything.

  • Likes to dump things out.
  • Child must touch and taste everything that is new.
  • Likes to tear paper apart and pull plants over to see what will happen.
  • Enjoys throwing food on the floor to see what will happen.
  • Wants to eat what others are eating.


  • lots of hugs
  • safe environment
  • firm limits
  • plenty of sleep
  • nutritious food

Discipline: The best discipline is a distraction and a firm voice.

  • Physical punishment is not understood by the child.
  • Remove the child from the problem or take the problem away from the child.

Fifteen Months

What to expect:

  • Likes to put things in and take them out again.
  • Wants to feed self but can eat only with fingers.
  • Takes one nap per day, usually in the afternoon.
  • Goes to bed easily.
  • May start biting. Teething pain makes gums sensitive and biting makes them feel better.
  • Does not understand the word "don't".

Needs: Close watching, gentle corrects, and encouragement.


  • To stop the child, physically move him.
  • Yelling or hitting won't teach the child "NO".
  • Do not expect the child to obey, even though the child understands much of what you say.

Eighteen Months

What to expect: Still into everything.

  • Starts climbing.
  • Needs pull toys and toys to hug and cuddle.
  • Can drink from a cup by himself but spills all the time.
  • Can fill a spoon but can not turn the handle to get it in the mouth.
  • Refuses to let parents feed him.
  • Easily upset.
  • Wakes during the night.
  • Can remove clothes and shoes and prefers not to be dressed.
  • Often disobeys.
  • Runs away from parents.
  • Starts sit-down temper tantrums.
  • Refuses to cooperate either by saying "no" or pulling away.


A few rules are necessary but the child forgets all the old ones when given a new rule. Use kindness to correct the child or you will have a very anxious 3 or a very naughty 3.


  • To correct him: hold the child's hands, speak clearly, use the same words for each rule.
  • Save spanking for physically dangerous situations; one swat is all that is necessary to get the child's attention.
  • Praise the child when does things you like.

Twenty-one Months

What to expect:

Can handle a cup well but spills all the time. Wants to push the stroller. Likes to run around without shoes or clothes. Can indicate the child's needs. the child's behavior starts to get worse. Demands things, NOW! Biting can be a problem.

Needs: Give more love during bratty stages.

Discipline: Most effective discipline is separation.

Remove the child from a bad situation or let the child sit on a time-out chair (four minutes) when the child is naughty. When the child falls apart, put the child to bed.

Special situation: Fussy child, won't eat, sleep, or play?

Take the child's temperature. The child is probably sick.


What to expect:

Likes to remove everything from drawers and cupboards. Can hold a glass with one hand but still has difficulty with a spoon. Is not interested in eating and becomes a poor eater. Dawdles, plays and refuses to eat at mealtimes. Can help in getting dressed by putting arms and legs in the holes. Asks "What's that?", refers to himself by name, and LOVES to say "no". Likes to be outdoors and makes a short walk last a long time. Picks up everything the child sees. Under pressure, runs from parents. May be ready to use a toilet but will not have adequate control for another year. Out-of-control temper tantrums when frustrated or tired -- very classic behavior. Calls parents back after put to bed. Needs bedtime rituals in order to go to bed. Makes rituals out of everything. Wants to make the child's own decisions.

Needs: Parents have to be smarter than the two-year-old, not tougher or more out of control than the child is.

Child needs limited choices: Either... or. Don't ask the child if the child wants to do what the child has to do. Teach the child real names for all the child's body parts.


  • Understand things from the child's viewpoint then help the child adapt to requirements.
  • Separation (Time out) is the best tool.
  • Work on one thing at a time.
  • Don't act like your two-year-old.

Parents' Motto: They won't be like this forever.

Two and a Half

What to expect: This is the Age of Conflict.

  • Child is never sure whether the child wants to be independent and separate ("Me do it", "myself,""no,no, no")
  • or dependent and treated like a baby ("Hold me", "carry me", "help me").
  • Parents never know what to expect.
  • Temper tantrums increase and are used for attention and control.
  • Child wants the same foods all the time, refuses any change, says "no" even when the child means "yes"
  • Starts to stutter or stammer
  • Masturbates frequently
  • Wants to be treated like a baby when the child gets tired.

the child is just starting to learn the rules and tells himself "no, no" while breaking them.

Needed: Patient, kind, firm parents.


  • Easy time to over-use spanking but it will not help; the child's bad behavior will get worse.
  • Instead of spanking all the time, learn to ignore attention-getting misbehavior when possible.
  • Take over for the child when necessary.
  • Separation is useful for both child and parent.
  • Avoid useless power struggles.
  • Parents need time-off everyday to relax and regain their patience.
  • When things get too crazy, parents need to spend some time alone in the bathroom in order to calm down before dealing with their 2 1/2.

Parents' Motto: This too shall pass.


What to expect: Likes to do things by himself.

  • Can unbutton and unzip the child's own clothes.
  • Does not know the front from the back or which shoe fits which foot and the child doesn't care.
  • Favorite expression is "All by myself" but cries easily when the child can't do it.
  • He wants to help parents do things.
  • Refuses to hold parent's hand even though the child must.
  • Wants to walk in stores instead of riding in stroller.
  • Develops sudden fears and phobias.
  • Resists taking naps but needs one.
  • Can control bladder and bowel functions, but still has accidents.
  • By 3 and 1/2, child whines all the time.
  • May stammer and stutter when upset or excited.
  • Nose picking, fingernail biting, and tumbsucking reach a peak.
  • Child also learns to spit.
  • Favorite lines are "Don't look," "Don't laugh", "Don't talk" which the child uses on parents.
  • Prime time for imaginary friends.


  • Patience.
  • Time to grow. Remember, a 3 year old is a baby that looks like a child. Don't force threes to be bigger than they can be at the moment.
  • An enabling environment.

Discipline: This child wants to be good. Help him.

  • Tell the child what you expect and why before the child asks and before the child misbehaves.
  • Needs honesty from parents.
  • If the child's mistakes are treated like crimes, child will develop emotional problems.
  • Treat accidents like learning experiences.
  • Show the child how to make amends.


What to expect: The "Out of Bounds" 4 is exuberant and rebellious.

  • the child talks well and thinks the child is a big shot.
  • Fours tell outrageous lies and are very stubborn.
  • They talk all the time and mix reality and fantasy.
  • They ask "why" in order to argue.
  • They are bossy and defiant, "I won't".
  • They refuse to nap but will fall asleep at 5:30 and wake up ready to stay up all night.
  • They think up all sorts of ways to avoid getting in bed.
  • At night, they are likely to have bad dreams.
  • They can dress and undress themselves with little assistance.
  • They eat too fast or not at all.
  • They can now wash hands and face and brush teeth without assistance if they have been trained.
  • They run ahead of adults and refuse to hold hands.
  • Fours play feelies with other children and need honest information about bodies and babies.
  • A fussy four needs exercise and then a rest.
  • When excited, the child will need to urinate.
  • When stressed, the child's stomach will hurt.

Needs: Social opportunities.

  • Small play groups.
  • Props for pretend play.
  • Art materials for creative expression.
  • Tolerance.
  • Parents with a sense of humor.

Discipline: Don't argue with a four-year-old.

  • Talk less than the child does.
  • Don't ask a four if the child did something. You will teach the child to lie.
  • Teach the child the consequences for misbehavior; then when the child misbehaves, apply the consequences.
  • Be very consistent with a four and the child will learn to control the child's own behavior.
  • Four seems big but the child is still a baby when stressed or tired.
  • Give the child lots of hugs and kisses even if you have to catch the child to do it.


What to expect:

  • A five can take charge of bathroom responsibilities, wants to tie shoelaces, can dress with skill, can safely cross streets, needs to help with the family chores, and cannot be left alone.
  • Investigates everything -- including fire.
  • Eats more than ever before.
  • When playing, makes up rules as the child goes along.


  • Lots of sleep (no naps).
  • Good food (no junk).
  • Plenty of exercise (limited TV).
  • Attention for good behavior.
  • Training in cooperation.


  • Privileges need to be connected to responsibilities.
  • Consequences need to be clear for misbehavior before child misbehaves.


What to expect:

  • Is fiercely independent, a real "know it all".
  • Is obsessed by rules.
  • In perpetual motion, especially at the table.
  • Seldom finishes food and has no table manners.
  • Always in motion but clumsy, can run into the wall and trip over the child's shadow.
  • Six tattles to let adults know that he/she knows the rules.
  • May have temper tantrums again.
  • Worst behavior when the child is with the child's mother.

Needs: Responsibility for self-care. Hates to be babied.

Discipline: Six is best with the father.

It is better to let father take over the difficult times such as meals, bath, and bedtime. Make expectations clear and consistent.


What to expect:

  • Seven complains all the time, mostly about parents. At this age, most children decide they are adopted, even if they aren't.
  • All they think about is playing.
  • Feel mistreated by everyone, withdraw from trouble and complain.
  • Do care what others think about them.


  • Listen without solving their problems.
  • Encourage problem-solving.
  • Don't over-react with this child.

Discipline: Firm kindness.

  • Avoid being manipulated.
  • Don't give in to their overly sensitive dramatics.
  • Be patient and encourage at every opportunity.


What to expect:

  • Demands attention from parents but wants parents to think the way the child does.
  • Overly sensitive to parents approval or disapproval.
  • Often fights with mother.
  • Sees every situation as black or white.
  • Believes all rules are black and white and has trouble playing with peers.
  • Boys want to play with boys and girls want to play with girls.
  • May cry when tired and has stomachaches when worried.


  • Recognition.
  • Encouragement.
  • Structure.
  • Techniques to reduce stress.


  • Give lots of attention for good behavior. Describe the behavior.
  • Don't argue with an eight-year-old.
  • Rules must be consistent.


What to expect:

  • Fiddles with things and is increasingly awkward.
  • Friends are more important than mother.
  • Rebels against too many directions and direct orders.
  • Thinks all adults are stupid.


  • Skills for cooperation.
  • Opportunities to tell themselves what to do.


  • Avoid being too bossy with a nine.
  • Encourage independence and cooperation.


What to expect: The most docile age.

  • Accepts parents wishes and generally obeys.
  • Learns to disobey in small rebellions: doesn't mind immediately, argues.
  • Sees rules as flexible and makes excuses for all misbehavior.
  • Demands that friends keep promises.


  • Space.
  • Opportunities to make decisions.
  • Must be held accountable for the results of choices.


  • Don't argue.
  • Give them room to rebel in safe ways.

Enjoy the ten-year-old. It is a Golden Age.

Eleven - Twelve

What to expect: Peer pressure is intense.

  • Want guidance from parents but not lectures.
  • Body changes cause embarrassment and self-consciousness.
  • Girls' behavior becomes eradict as hormonal influences take over.
  • Develop strong friendships.
  • Often embarrassed to be seen in public with parents.
  • They begin to understand how others feel.
  • Want to make their own decisions, choose their own friends.


  • Listen to this child; teach by example - not lectures.
  • Build a strong relationship based on respect and caring. Spend time together.
  • Don't try to control the pre-teen. Control the consequences.
  • Make expectations very clear before a situation arises, not after.
  • Give them a major responsibility for some part of family life. Make them feel useful and necessary. Ignore their complaining about chores.
  • Plain, matter of fact talk about sexuality, drugs, the future. Use every opportunity that comes up. Ask the questions; don't wait for them to ask you.


  • Give responsibility and let the child learn from consequences.
  • Don't argue.
  • Listen to the child's feelings to keep the lines of communication open.
  • Make as few rules as possible and enforce them consistently.

APA Reference
Gibson, E. (2019, August 10). Defining Normal Behavior as Our Children Grow, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: August 10, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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