The Six Developmental Milestones/Capacities, as authored by Dr. Stanley Greenspan
These six milestones or capacities can be considered a developmental ladder where each new rung or milestone is built upon the previous. For instance, Milestone 1 must be mastered to secure the development of Milestone 2. In contrast, if one or more specific milestones are not fully realized, the ladder will be shaky. Typically developing children often master these capacities automatically and relatively easily. However, children with challenges often do not. This is not necessarily because these children can’t, but because their individual challenges make the mastery more difficult. Parents, therapists and other caregivers can help children of any age in developing these capacities. And once these milestones are in place, the child has a secure foundation to scaffold higher and higher levels of growth. Together, these six basic developmental capacities lay the foundation for all future learning and development in a child's life. Click here for a detailed overview of the Six Developmental Milestones/ Capacities.
Stage 1: Self Regulation & Interest in the World
Milestone One is the first building block to develop. It involves self-control/self-regulation and interest in the world. A baby's very first challenge is to try to process all that they see, hear, and feel. In time, a typically developing child will begin to separate the sensations and understand which sensations are soothing and which are uncomfortable. The baby turns towards those sensations that are soothing to calm themselves: looking at Mommy, watching daddy, or gazing at a toy in their sightline, the feel of a special blanket or the sound of their nighttime music. This is called self-soothing or self-calming. If a baby is able to consistently self-calm, they can become attentive and interested in the world.
Goal: Becoming calm, attentive, and interested in the world. Click here for detailed information about Stage 1.
Stage 2: Intimacy, Engagement, & Falling in Love
Milestone Two involves relating and engagement. In order for the second milestone to thoroughly develop, the first milestone must be in place. For a child to learn intimacy, they must first be able to consistently and properly take in all that they see, hear and feel without experiencing overwhelm. In the second milestone, the infant expands from merely responding to the world around him to actively relating to the world around him. Typically developing infants begin to use their gestures, sounds, and movements to communicate. The actions are purposeful in that they are meant to engage a response: reaching for a kiss or giggling at Daddy, for example. As different forms of engagement repeat over and over, intimacy develops. In their earliest experiences of intimacy with caregivers, infants learn to fall in love. They can experience their parents as nurturing and joyful. They reach out. They trust. This ability to be intimate allows an infant to form warm and trusting relationships that grow throughout their lives.
Goal: Falling in love. Click here for detailed information about Stage 2.
Stage 3: Two-way Communication
In this level, interaction is now back-and forth. While interaction can be verbal or nonverbal, the infant now actively gives and seeks response from his world. They might use sounds, gestures or expressions to convey their intentions. This level of development can be seen in children playing peekaboo, rolling a ball back and forth or returning a smile. These early efforts at two-way communication teach us about our own intentions, provide our first sense of making things happen, and begin to establish our sense of self. As the early interactions become more elaborate, the infant learns to communicate with greater complexity and understand the intentions and communications of others. The infant is building the foundation for participating in much more sophisticated conversations later in life.
Goal: Becoming a two-way communicator. Click here for detailed information about Stage 3.
Stage 4: Complex Communication
In this level, communication becomes more complex and is used for problem solving. If a child wants something, they can fit together their small, individual pieces of communication to get what they need from an adult. For example, if a toddler wants more food, she can make sounds and move her caregivers hand close to her plate. If she wants an object that a caregiver is holding, she can reach for it, make sounds or engage her caregivers' gaze. An older toddler might run to greet Mommy at the door, hold his arms up for a hug and then teasingly run away. This complex arrangement of gestures conveys: Mommy, I'm glad you're home. Hug me. Now chase me!" This level is the beginning of learning problem solving processes, experimenting, continuity of thought, and new ideas. It involves organizing ideas to reach a means. Later, this process helps children to put words together into a sentence and becomes the foundation for higher levels of thinking.
Goal: Using a series of interactive emotional signals or gestures to communicate. Click here for detailed information about Stage 4.
Stage 5: Emotional Ideas
In this stage, we see a toddler beginning to experiment with abstract thinking. The toddler is developing the ability to use words(abstract symbols) meaningfully and to initiate interactive pretend play. Words can have meaning and create results. For example, a toddler that wants juice can now say, "Juice!" Additionally, toddlers at this stage begin to engage in more complex fantasy play. Where once the toddler only stacked and knocked over blocks, now he may play house, or cooking, or build blocks into a fort where puppies live. This child uses these scenes to create with a wide range of feelings and ideas as he discovers her world. Abstract thinking in a child creates an adult who can problem solve with creativity and focus.
Goal: Using symbols or ideas to convey intentions or feelings. Click here for detailed information about Stage 5.
Stage 6: Emotional & Logical Thinking
In this level, children begin to connect one idea to the next and see logical connections and sequences between them. This includes expressions of emotions. Whereas previously emotions were disconnected experiences, now a child is beginning to connect the pieces: "I am mad at you because you took my toy." During this stage, the child becomes more fully verbal. She can answer what, when and why questions and wants to know things like "Why do we have to eat?" or "Why does daddy shave his beard? The child is developing a basic understanding of the world and how it works. This is the beginning of the long journey to obtain higher levels of abstract and critical thinking.
Goal: Building bridges between ideas. Click here for detailed information about Stage 6.