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Child development: 3-6 months

social; emotional; physical; physical development; hearing; speech; language; six months; motor skills; three months; baby child development; development; baby ;

Babies between three and six months old have have come a long way in the first three months and they are usually very social  beings who delight in being with you.  Parents have usually learned enough of their baby's ways and messages to get their responses right for most of the time. Early troubles such as feeding difficulties and crying have often settled down.

The Raising Children Network website has a lot of information about babies, including information about development, behaviour, fitness, health and daily care. As well as articles there are several videos. The Raising Children Network site has been funded by the Australian Government.
http://raisingchildren.net.au   

Contents


Social and emotional development

  • By three or four months old your baby is beginning to get a bit of an idea about being in the world and you are getting to know each other.
  • She will be making eye contact with you and you will be smiling at each other. She will be able to 'read' some of your expressions and she will smile when you show you are happy and may look worried if you look cross or tired.
  • She has learnt that you are the person [or one of the people] who comes a lot of the time to meet her needs but she does not yet fully understand that you are a separate person.
  • She still has a idea that the whole of life is happening inside herself and she is making all of it happen. The idea that you are completely separate from her, and can take yourself away from her, will not come until she is seven months or older. 

When you understand what she wants and try to meet her needs she feels that the world is safe and predictable and good things come from inside her as well as from you. She is getting the idea that relationships are rewarding and also that she is valuable and this is an important basis for her relationship with you and other people as well as her own self esteem.

  • At this stage she is often happy to smile and interact with strangers because she is getting so much pleasure from smiling and interacting with you.
  • You and she will be having 'conversations' with each other, she will be getting excited at the feeling of you responding to her, and kick her legs and wave her arms.
  • She will still easily become over stimulated, so take care - when she does have too much excitement she will start to cry and need to be calmed down.

At four months your baby:

    • smiles lots
    • laughs out loud and squeals with delight
    • shows she enjoys life by laughing and kicking her legs
    • likes people
    • is interested in her surroundings and activities going on around
    • clearly shows enjoyment at being bathed, talked to etc.

Physical development and motor skills

  • Your baby is starting to get some control over his body - even starting to realise that it is actually his body.
  • He will spend time looking carefully at his hands and touching and looking at his feet, getting the idea that it feels from the outside as well as the inside and that it's all attached.
    3-6 month baby playing with fingers and toes
  • He will grasp at objects in front of him now and you will need to put stronger mobiles above his cot and pram/stroller.
  • His body might be hard for him to control but it does interesting things when he can!

    6 month baby lying on tummy on floor

It is good for him to spend time on his tummy on the floor kicking his legs and waving his arms as if he is about to swim off at any moment. This strengthens his back and helps him to begin to learn how to crawl. He will get frustrated after a while with not being able to hold his head up for a long time or move forward - but give him as long as he can tolerate.

Note: do not leave a baby on his tummy when he sleeps. Sleeping on the tummy increases the risk of Sudden Infant Syndrome (SIDS). See the topics 'Sudden unexpected deaths in infancy (including SIDS)' and 'Safe sleep for babies and toddlers' for more information.

Put interesting things on the floor near him so he wants to try to move towards them when he is ready. He will take everything to his mouth - that's his way of exploring the shape and texture of objects. Rattles, plastic spoons and toys - anything smooth, small enough to hold but too large to swallow and coloured will be good objects for him to discover the nature of matter.

Your baby:

    • rolls over from front to back at about 4-6 months
    • is able to lift head and chest when on his tummy by 4 months
    • when on tummy will lift and wave his arms and legs about
    • begins to discover his hands belong to him and plays with fingers about 3-4 months
    • grabs and plays with his toes when lying on back about 4-5 months
    • is able to hold objects for brief periods at 3-4 months
    • brings toys and objects to his mouth if put in his hand
    • swipes at dangling objects 3-4 months, but usually misses
    • sits up when being held by his hands but topples over if left in sitting position
    • grabs for a toy such as a block, rattle at around 5 months
    • is able to support own weight when stood on feet [this does not mean he is ready to walk]
    • when being held he grabs at hair, spectacles, other objects like badges or chains.
      6 month baby sitting on lap
      sits up while being held by hands

Hearing and vision

  • Her eye muscles work well and she can follow you with her eyes, move from looking at one object to another and focus on small objects. Have a look at 'Your baby's eyes'.
  • If she can she will check what she sees by grasping and putting the object in her mouth. "Yes," she thinks, "that's round and smooth and mum keeps saying the word 'spoon' - this 'spoon' thing has existence in the world as an object in it's own right."
  • Her exploring is important, so give her time to look properly at objects and try to help her be comfortable so she can concentrate on them.
  • Sounds as well as sights are becoming familiar and defined - your baby will recognize voices and turn her head towards them.

Speech and language

Long before they can speak, babies are listening to their parents and carers. They begin to make little noises and sounds which come before speech. If parents and carers imitate these they are 'talking' to the baby. This is the beginning of your baby learning to talk.

By responding to your baby's needs when he cries, you show that you have heard him and that he matters. This is the start of communication.

  • Show him your tongue and practice simple sounds together - "maa, daa" are good ones to begin with. He will be very interested in how your mouth works and how the sound comes out.
  • When he makes a sound, repeat it to him so he knows what sound he has made.
  • Repeat single words to him a lot - name what he is seeing (a spoon) and what you are doing (bath). Say his name.
     
    These conversations are extremely important, not just because you are teaching him to talk but also because he is getting the feeling of a 'him' and a 'you' and a joining in the middle through language. This is a new and complicated concept and is the basis for all his relationships throughout his life.

Your baby:

    • coos and gurgles with pleasure
    • begins babbling and then listening at around 3-4 months
    • 'talks' to toys at around 5-6 months
    • turns head to sound

Activities for a 3-6 month old child

  • Talk to your baby all the time, telling her what you are doing and what different noises are. Use simple words and very short sentences.
  • Make faces and blow raspberries on her belly.
  • Sing to her.
  • Place her on the floor in a safe place on her tummy for play.
  • Place her on the floor without a nappy to allow her the freedom to kick.
  • Provide her with bright objects to look at and place some within reaching distance so that she can accidentally touch them initially and then try to touch them again.
  • Provide her with a variety of things to do and either change what she is looking at or move her to a different spot so she has something else to look at.
  • Place colourful toys nearby for her to touch/try to touch, look at and hit.

Alert!

These are very important months. Don't hesitate to get help from your doctor or community health nurse if:

  • your baby is unhappy or unsettled much of the time
  • you are unhappy or anxious much of the time
  • your baby is not turning to look for you when you speak
  • your baby is not smiling and cooing even some of the time
  • your baby is not kicking his legs
  • you feel that you and your baby just aren't getting on together as well as you would like.

Safety

Your baby can now grasp some small objects and put them in her mouth which means that she may swallow them or they may cause her to choke.

Babies often roll over by the time they are 4 or 5 months old and can get into danger quickly. Make sure that she is not left alone unless she is in a safe place.

Summary

Social-emotional

  • laughs aloud, by about 3 months, (between 2-4 months)
  • enjoys being played with (laughs, kicks) by 4 months

Talk with your doctor or nurse if

    • your baby shows no obvious pleasure in interacting with people
    • your baby is not making eye contact with people

Motor skills, vision and hearing

  • rolls over around 5 months (between 4 to 6 months)
  • lifts head and chest when lying on her tummy by 4 months
  • looks at hands and plays with own fingers, about 3 months
  • can hold an object by 3-4 months
  • starts being able to chew 5-6 months
  • watches activities of those around
  • makes eye contact
  • likes looking at people and bright objects

Talk with your doctor or nurse if

    • he seems more floppy or stiff than other babies
    • he is not opening and closing his hands and fingers
    • his arms and legs are held in one position most of the time
    • he is not looking around at objects and people.

Daily activities

  • has more or less a routine for the day
  • begins to react to familiar situations by smiling, cooing and excited movements
  • parents able to say whether the baby 'enjoys' things, like baths, being undressed
  • recognises the breast or bottle, and makes movements showing pleasure

Talk with your doctor or nurse if

    • it is still hard to help her settle
    • she is not gaining weight well

Thinking and understanding

  • recognises mother and other close family members
  • shows interest in what is going on around him

Talk with your doctor or nurse if

    • she does not seem to recognise mother or others
    • she does not seem interested in things around her

Speech and language

  • turns head to a talking person by 5 months
  • searches for a sound (turns head) by 4 months
  • makes lots of little sounds
  • takes turns when 'talking' with parents

Talk with your doctor or nurse if

    • he does not react to loud noises
    • not looking to find where sounds are coming from (eyes only at this age)
    • not making sounds.

Note:

All children are different and develop at different rates. So if your child does not do all the things in this topic, it may be because your child is working on some different area of his learning and development at present. 

However, children usually follow the same pattern of development. If your child is very different from other children, if you are worried about your child's development or if it seems to go backwards, you should talk to a health professional.  If there is anything wrong, getting in early will help. 

However they are going, remember that what matters is to support them on moving forward from where they are now.

Resources in South Australia

  • Parent Helpline 1300 364 100
  • Child and Family Health Service
    1300 733 606 for an appointment Monday to Friday 9am to 4.30pm

 

Want to read more?

Raising Children Network - 'Babies 3-12 months'
http://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/babies.html 

References 

Cullen K, "Child psychology - a practical guide" Allen and Unwin 2011

Griffiths R, Huntley M, 'The Griffiths Mental Development Scales' The Test Agency, 1996

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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