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Early Childhood Intervention
Developmental red flags


Parents of young children are concerned about their children’s development, but many parents are not sure what to expect. As a child care provider, you are in a unique position to help parents understand their child’s development. Because of your training and experience, you know that each child develops a little differently.

But what if a child appears to be more than a little behind in a developmental skill? When should you be concerned and what can you do to help? Here are some common indicators, or red flags, that a baby or toddler may have a developmental delay.

Socializing. The human brain is hard-wired to connect with other people. For infants, this means their parents and other caregivers. For toddlers, this includes not just adults, but also other children. If a baby does not smile when you smile, does not look at you when you talk to the child, or does not like to be held, this could indicate a developmental concern. If a toddler does not seem interested in other children, does not come to an adult for help, or does not notice there is a new caregiver, this is a developmental red flag.

Exploring. Exploring the environment with hands, mouth, and—for older infants and toddlers through mobility—is important for learning. To explore, babies and toddlers must have both the ability and motivation. If a baby is stiff and cannot bend arms and legs, the child may need special therapy services to help use the body effectively. An infant who is too weak or floppy may also have trouble learning to use the body to explore.

If an older infant or toddler does not seem interested in reaching for toys, or easily gives up trying to get a toy, the child may need some help in learning to explore. By 5 months old, children should be moving from place to place by rolling. This is followed over the next several months by scooting, crawling, and finally walking and running.

Communicating. Even tiny babies begin learning the rules of communication. They learn that if they cry, someone will feed them, change them, or comfort them. If a baby does not make noises when distressed, or if a toddler is not able to point and use at least a few words to indicate what is wanted, these are developmental concerns.

Managing emotions. Babies and toddlers don’t usually manage their emotions well, but some extreme emotional responses may be red flags. If a child seems unhappy most of the time, has tantrums that last more than 20 minutes, or does not calm down within a few minutes of your efforts at soothing, there may be some developmental problems.


Referring a child for help
If you suspect a child in your program is showing developmental red flags, a referral to ECI may be appropriate. Upon receiving parental consent, ECI can assist the child, family, and child care providers with the knowledge and skills to help support the child and family.

ECI works with families with children birth to 36 months old with developmental delays or disabilities. To learn more about ECI, visit the ECI website at You can also download a free developmental milestone tracker to follow a child’s development.

To find a local ECI program in your area, visit the ECI program search page at or call the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Ombudsman at 877-787-8999.