How Your Child Grows

Parenting – How your child will grow

The rate at which your baby crawls, walks or talks will no doubt be different to others of a similar age. Your baby may walk at 11 months, while your friends baby may still be crawling at 16 months. Both are quite normal; each child is different because each is an individual. This section looks at the way children grow.

How Children Develop

Children arent just born different, they also have different lives and theyll learn different things. A child who plays a lot with toys will be learning to use his or her hands and eyes together. A child who goes out to the park every day will soon learn the names of ducks and trees. A child who is often talked to will learn more words. A child whos given love and praise for learning new things will want to learn more.

Some children have difficulty learning, perhaps because of physical problems with, for example, hearing or sight. You may already know that your childs development is likely to be slower than normal or you may be worried about your childs progress. Your child may be offered regular development reviews (see keeping an eye on your baby’s development) but you dont have to wait for a check-up. If youre concerned, talk to your health visitor or GP. If somethings holding your child back, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can do something to help.

Feet and Shoes

Babies feet At birth and throughout the first year of life, babies feet are very different from yours. They are a different shape, being wider in the forefoot and narrow at the heel with the toes often curling easily. They are designed to function barefoot, so if they are cramped by tight bootees, socks, stretch suits or pram shoes, the toes cant straighten out and grow properly. Try to keep your babys feet as free as possible and make sure bootees and socks leave enough room for their toes, both in length and width. The bones are also undeveloped at this stage and consist solely of cartilage, so they are very soft and pliable. There are twenty six bones in each foot which gradually develop throughout infancy, becoming bony by the age seven or eight.

First steps

Do not force your baby to walk; they will do so naturally and in their own time. The age at which a baby takes his or her first steps varies quite a lot between individuals. It can occur between 10 and 18 months, but later than this does not imply anything is wrong.

First shoes

Dont put your baby into proper shoes in the early stages of walking, as they are unnecessary and in fact may affect the growth. It is wise to allow your baby to walk barefoot in order to strengthen the muscles in the feet. However make sure there is no risk of injury to the feet by ensuring the floor is clear of obstruction and clean.

Once ready to walk outside, the provision of shoes becomes necessary. Remember to take the following points into consideration whenever you buy shoes for your child:

* Always have your childs feet measured by a qualified fitter for each new pair of shoes. Children under four years old should have their feet measured every six to eight weeks. Those over four should have their feet measured every ten to twelve weeks.

* Shoes should be about 1 cm (a bit less than 1/2 in) beyond the longest toe and wide enough for all the toes to lie flat.

* Shoes with a lace, buckle or velcro fastening hold the heel in place and stop the foot slipping forward and damaging the toes. If the heel of a shoe slips off when your child stands on tiptoe, it doesnt fit.

* Buy footwear made of natural materials, i.e. leather, cotton or canvas as these materials breathe. Plastic shoes make feet perspire and may cause fungal infections and abrasions.

* Never rely on the question do they feel comfortable? Because childrens bones are soft, so distortion and cramping can occur without your child feeling it.

* Never buy second-hand shoes or hand shoes down as these take on the shape of the previous owner and will rub and not support vital areas.

Early Care

Whenever possible you should encourage your baby to kick and exercise free from the constrictions of clothing. This will enable the muscles of the feet and legs to strengthen ready for when walking begins.

Babies and small children’s feet grow at an incredibly rapid rate, so the fit of socks and baby-grows should be monitored continually. If they begin to look even slightly restrictive, change the garment for the next size up. Bedclothes should not be tucked in too tightly as this can also be restrictive to your baby’s feet.

Baby’s nails sometimes curl round and follow the contours of the toe. This is quite normal and is due to the thinness of the nail in the early months. They will soon toughen and develop a more conventional free edge. Never cut down or probe into the sides of the nail, and always trim the nails straight across and not too short.

Common foot problems

Dont be concerned if your baby appears to be walking flat-footed. In the early stages of development this is quite normal and gives them a more stable base until the legs and feet have gained strength.

It is also quite common for toddlers to walk with their feet apart or for young children to appear to be bow-legged, knock-kneed or walk with their toes turned in or out. Most minor foot problems in children correct themselves. But if you are worried about your childs feet or how he or she walks in any way, talk to your doctor or health visitor. If necessary, your child can be referred to a chiropodist, orthopaedic surgeon or paediatric physiotherapist.

Bow legs a small gap between the knees and ankles when the child is standing up is normally seen until the child is two. If the gap is pronounced or it does not correct itself, check with your doctor or health visitor. Very occasionally, this could be a sign of rickets.

Knock knees this is when a child stands with his or her knees together and the ankles are at least 2.5 cm (1 in) apart. Between the ages of two and four, a gap of 6 to 7 cm (2 to 23/4 in) is considered normal. Knock knees usually improve and correct themselves by the age of six.

In-toeing (pigeon-toed) here the childs feet turn in. The condition usually corrects itself by the age of eight or nine and treatment is not usually needed.

Out-toeing (feet point outwards) again this condition usually corrects itself and treatment is not needed in most cases.

Flat feet if when your child stands on tiptoe the arch forms normally, no treatment is needed.

Tiptoe walking if your child walks on tiptoes, talk to your doctor or health visitor.


Oral care should start from even before your babys first teeth emerge, as certain factors can affect their future appearance and health. Tetracycline, an antibiotic, can cause tooth discoloration, so should not be used by nursing mothers or by women in the last half of pregnancy. The age when babies get their first primary (or milk) teeth varies. A few are born with a tooth already through, while others have no teeth at one year. Most infants sprout their first tooth at six to eight months, usually in front and at the bottom, with the last of the molars appearing between 20 to 30 months. There are 20 primary teeth in all, 10 at the top and 10 at the bottom. The first permanent second teeth come through at the back at around the age of six. Good oral care is one of the most important health lessons you can teach your child. Help your child brush their teeth twice each day, limit the number of sweet snacks and visit the dentist regularly.


Due to the discomfort of teething, your baby may experience increased drooling, gnawing and chewing, sleep disturbance and general unhappiness. Teething is often blamed for an onslaught of other problems such as coughing, diarrhoea and fever, but a recent study found these are often unrelated. Teething symptoms should only happen during the few days surrounding the eruption of each tooth, so if symptoms are prolonged, your child may be sick with something else.

Pain Relief

It can help to give your baby something hard to chew on such as a teething ring, though avoid stiff plastic or silver ones as they may exacerbate the pain if clamped down on too aggressively. Some soft plastic or liquid-filled rings may be frozen for extra comfort, but avoid the variety with small objects floating inside. Even gnawing on a wet washcloth, a crust of bread or breadstick, or a peeled carrot provides relief. Avoid rusks because almost all contain some sugar. Constant chewing and sucking on sugary things can cause tooth decay, even if your baby has only one or two teeth.

For babies over four months old you can try sugar-free teething gel, available from the chemist, applied on the gum. Speak to your GP or health visitor if your baby is younger than four months.

Possible Problems

If your baby hasn’t started teething at the usual time, don’t be alarmed. Like other milestones such as walking and talking, every child has their own pace. It may be as late as 14 months before a tooth will emerge. In rare cases, delayed eruption may be the result of rickets, a vitamin D deficiency. If your child hasn’t begun teething by 18 months, see your GP to rule out this possibility.

Decay in babies teeth can be caused by frequent exposure to liquids containing sugars, including milk, formula, and fruit juices. The sugary liquids collect around the teeth for long periods of time, particularly as your baby sleeps, leading to cavities that first develop in the upper and lower front teeth. Try to prevent your baby falling asleep with a bottle of juice or milk, instead, when your child is ready to sleep give a bottle filled with water. If you breastfeed, avoid letting your baby nurse continuously and after each feed, wipe your baby’s teeth and gums with a clean, damp washcloth.

Caring for your childs teeth

Brush your childs teeth thoroughly, twice each day, using a small pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste or a tiny smear for babies. Start brushing as soon as your babys teeth start to come through. Buy a baby toothbrush or one with soft bristles for older children and use it with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste. You can also clean your babys teeth by wrapping a piece of damp gauze with a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste over your finger.

Check with your dentist whether baby toothpaste has enough fluoride for your babys needs. Dont worry if you dont manage to brush much at first. The important thing at the start is to get teeth brushing accepted as part of the everyday routine.

Gradually start to brush your childs teeth more thoroughly, brushing all the surfaces of the teeth twice a day. Not all children like having their teeth brushed, so you may have to work at it a bit. If it becomes difficult, try games, or try brushing your own teeth at the same time and then help your child to mimic you.

How to brush

The best way to brush a babys teeth is to sit him or her on your knee with the head resting against your chest. Stand behind an older child and tilt his or her head upwards. Brush the teeth in small circles covering all the surfaces, angling the brushes toward the gums. Let your child spit the toothpaste out afterwards.

It’s a good idea to supervise your child’s brushing until the age of six, following the guidelines below:

Cutting down on sugar

Its not just the amount of sugar in sweet food and drinks that causes tooth decay but more importantly, how often and for how long there are sugary things in the mouth. This is why sweet drinks in a bottle and lollipops are so bad, as the teeth are bathed in sugar for quite a long time.

From the time you start your baby on foods and drinks other than milk, avoid giving sweet things, this will to encourage a savoury taste. Watch for high sugar content in baby foods, even the savoury varieties can sometimes have large amounts. Baby drinks such as squashes and syrups, especially fizzy drinks, should be avoided.

If you give your child sweet foods and fruit juice try to limit these to mealtimes to avoid tooth decay. Well-diluted fruit juice containing vitamin C can be given with a meal, as this can help iron to be absorbed. It is better to give milk or water between meals.

Try to find treats other than biscuits or sweets and ask relatives and friends to do the same, instead use things like crayons or small toys.

If children are given sweets or chocolate, it is less harmful for their teeth if they eat them all at once and after a meal, than if they eat a little every hour or so.

Avoid giving baby juices or sugar-sweetened drinks at bedtime or in a bottle, and keep drinking times short. Only milk or water should be given as a drink during the night, unless your baby is still feeding in the night.

Try to avoid giving drinks containing artificial sweeteners such as saccharin or aspartame. If you do, dilute with at least 10 parts water to 1 part concentrate.

Ask your pharmacist and doctor for sugar-free medicine for your child.

Looking for sugars on the label

The following are sugars that can cause dental decay sucrose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, hydrolysed starch.

Invert sugar or syrup, honey, raw sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, muscavado and concentrated fruit juices all contain sugars.

Fruit juices contain sugars, which can cause decay too. Always dilute these.

Maltodextrin is not a sugar, but may cause decay.

Taking your child to the dentist

You can take your child to be registered with a dentist under the NHS as soon as your child has been born, even before any teeth come through. In addition to monitoring your child’s dental growth and development, dentists can give you information about tooth development, the need for fluoride, how to help your child maintain proper oral hygiene, diet and nutrition, and how to prevent oral injuries. NHS dental treatment for children is free.

Take your child with you when you go to the dentist, so that going to the dentist becomes a normal event. Try to emphasise that a dental visit is a positive experience and explain that visiting the dentist helps maintain good oral health. If you can create a positive attitude your child will be more inclined to see a dentist regularly throughout life.

If you need to find a dentist, you can ask at your local clinic or contact your local health authority.


Fluoride is a natural element found in our diet, mostly in fish and tea, which can help prevent tooth decay. It is also present in many water supplies, but usually at a level too low to be beneficial.

In areas with little or no fluoride in the water, some children may benefit by taking fluoride drops (for babies) or tablets as dietary supplements. They should not be used in areas with fluoride naturally present or artificially added to the water, as an excessive fluoride intake is undesirable. Therefore advice from your dentist is essential before giving them. Fluoride in toothpaste is very effective for babies use a tiny smear and for children only use a small pea-sized amount on the brush.

Thumb sucking

The sucking reflex is normal in babies, however, a thumb or finger sucking habit in older children can cause problems. The growth of the mouth and jaw, and position of teeth, may be affected if it continues after permanent teeth have come through, between the age of four and seven. Front teeth that point outwards and an open bite may result from habitual thumb or finger sucking. This can cause problems in adulthood that include premature tooth wear, increased dental decay and discomfort on biting.