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Child development

Child development

"Ready to learn at 2, ready for school at 5" How children develop at this stage in their life plays a key part in how ready for school they will be. 'School readiness’ is about children being ready to learn and able to reach their individual potential.

More information is available on the school nurse website.

Children need opportunities to practice skills in all areas of development.  Your health visitor can provide you with activities and suggestions to support development of fine motor, gross motor, social and emotional and communication skills.

NHS Choices - Birth to five development timeline 

Keeping your toddler physically active:

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and promotes development. The Chief Medical Offer recommends that:

  • Pre-school children who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active for 180 minutes (3 hours) over a day.


  • All children should undertake a range of moderate to vigorous activity for at least 60 minutes (1 hour) over the day.      

  • Children should minimise the amount of time they spend being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except sleeping).

  • Exercise should be a fun part of everyday life - try running, cycling, skating or scooting with your child. 

For more information discuss with a member of your health visiting team at your child’s 2 -2.5 Year Health review and see our Useful information section for more ideas and suggestions.


Learning should be fun:

  • Taking your child to a playground where they can meet other children, climb, jump and run will improve their physical development;

  • Craft activities like cutting, sticking and colouring improve coordination. Spending time with other children will help your child learn to share with others and understand other people’s emotions. 

  • Cooking, eating together and sharing books are all an important part of supporting your child to be ready for their first day at school.

Read more about ideas for play at different ages at NHS Choices.

Social and emotional development:

Between the ages of two and five children develop an understanding of their own mental life and those of others. They start to understand the difference between thinking about doing something and actually doing it. They are also able to begin to notice other people’s thoughts and feelings and start to develop empathy. Children who have adults around them who notice them and understand their feelings and thoughts are more likely to be able to learn to think about themselves and others in these terms.

Speech and language development:

Communicating, talking, understanding and knowing what to say are important skills. Going from a babbling baby to a talkative toddler seems like a miracle, but your child needs YOU to make this happen. Talking in your home language to your child is important- don’t wait for them to talk to you. Babies communicate with us from birth and as toddlers grow, so do the number of words they understand and then use. Find some top tips on ways to improve your child’s speech and language at iCan and talking point.

Local Children’s Centres provide many activities and host events that support children’s development as well as helping you find out what is going on in your area. Find your local children centre.

Sometimes children’s development may not be as expected, this can be due to several different reasons; an underlying condition or diagnosis may mean their development is affected.  Short term illness may temporarily impact on one or more areas of development but after time things get back on track.  Or it may be that children have not had the opportunity to learn and practice certain skills.  Speak to your health visitor  if you are worried about your child’s development at any age.

Children with health needs or disabilities

If your child has been diagnosed with complex need or a disability the following link NHS Choices - caring for children with complex healthcare may be useful.

Having a child with additional needs can be difficult; we are here to help you navigate your way through what can often feel like a complex system of health and social care. We are also here to help parents adjust to the different demands and emotions that this can bring. Contact a Family  is a national charity for families with disabled children or children with health needs. They provide information, advice and support. They bring families together so they can support each other and campaign to improve their circumstances. Parent Voice is an information and advice service for parents and carers of disabled children aged 0-25 in Hampshire.

Hampshire Local Offer provides helpful information and advice on services for children with special needs or disability in Hampshire.

Behaviour: "Terrific twos!"

Children are amazing, but all parents will have times when they find their child's behaviour challenging. Learning how the world works involves testing limits; this is all a normal part of growing up.

Children’s age, development and home environment impact on how they behave. We are all different - what may be a problem for one family may not be an issue for another. How you feel as a parent on a particular day, or how your parents managed your behaviours, may impact on how you parent your child and manage their behaviours. 

Here are some useful "positive parenting" strategies that parent/carers have found helpful:

  • Seeing the world from your child’s point of view and trying to understand why they may behave in a certain way can be helpful. Is tiredness, hunger or frustration a trigger?       

  • Spend some time every day playing with your child. Let them take the lead and avoid asking too many questions or giving them instructions. Instead just describe what they are doing, for example, "You're feeding the teddy, yum, I think he likes it"; "you're colouring it all in green". This is called "descriptive commenting" - it helps to keep children focussed on their play and makes them feel special and that you are noticing what they are doing. Children who are bored or not receiving attention are more likely to look for attention by misbehaving.   


  • When giving a command, remember to be specific- say what you want eg. "Please keep the sand in the sandpit", rather then "don't throw the sand" can help children focus on what you are asking and they are more likely to listen.     


  • Praise is important as all children want to please their parents (even if at times it feels like they don't). Reward the behaviour you want to see more of and give it your attention. Praise your child's effort rather than waiting for perfection. This does not need to cost money- a hug and saying "well done" and naming the behaviour are very powerful eg, "well done for sharing so nicely", "that was a good try". For some behaviours, you might want to reward with stickers or a chart that you draw smiley faces on.


  • When your child is having a "tantrum"- removing attention is often the most effective response- this is harder than it sounds. Too much talking and trying to reason with your child at this time can often make things worse.

For more information on your child's individual needs, please contact your local Health Visiting Team. Most Children's Centres also run parenting programmes that many parents have found extremely helpful.


During sleep the body repairs and regenerates tissues and strengthens the immune system. If children do not have enough sleep it can lead to irritability and lack of concentration. There is evidence that it may also lead to obesity.

Generally, the younger a child is the more sleep they need, however the amount of sleep needed at a given age can vary from child to child.

There are things you can do to promote sleep, remembering that each child is unique and sleep patterns will develop over a period of time.

Please contact your local HV Team for information specific to your child’s individual needs. The school nurse section of this website also contains useful information on improving children's sleep.


Toilet Training

Children are able to control their bladder and bowels when they're physically ready and when they want to be dry and clean. Every child is different, so it's best not to compare your child with others.

 Most children can control their bowels before their bladder.

  •  By age one, most babies have stopped doing poos at night.

  •  By age two, some children will be dry during the day, but this is still quite early. 

  • By age three, 9 out of 10 children are dry most days – even then, all children have the odd accident, especially when they're excited, upset or absorbed in something else. 

  • By age four, most children are reliably dry during the day


Learning any new skill takes time and practice and it is helpful to remain patient and calm as your child practices using a potty/toilet. See our useful information section which contains advice on how to potty train.