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Early Childhood Intervention
Recognizing developmental red flags


Parents of young children are concerned about their child’s development, but many parents aren’t sure what or when to expect particular developmental skills. As an early childhood educator, you are in a unique position to help parents understand their child’s development.

Because you care for several children, you know that each child develops a little differently. But what if a child is 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.


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 doesn’t smile when you smile, doesn’t look at you when you talk to her, or doesn’t like to be held, this could indicate a developmental concern. If a toddler doesn’t seem interested in other children, doesn’t come to an adult for help, or doesn’t notice if there is a new caregiver, this is a developmental red flag.


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 can’t bend his arms and legs, he may need special therapy services to help him use his body effectively.

An infant who is too weak or floppy may also have trouble learning to use her body to explore. If an older infant or toddler doesn’t seem interested in reaching for toys, or easily gives up trying to get a toy, he may need some help in learning to explore. Starting at about 5 months, children should be moving from place to place, first by rolling, then by scooting, crawling, and finally, walking and running by about 2 years.


Even newborns begin learning the rules of communication. They learn that if they cry, someone will feed them, change them, or comfort them. If a baby doesn’t make noises when distressed, or if a toddler is not able to point and use at least a few words to indicate what she wants, 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 doesn’t calm down within a few minutes when you try to soothe him, there may be some developmental problems.


Referring a child to ECI
If a child you care for shows any of these red flags, the child and family may qualify for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services to help you and the parents find ways to help the child learn new skills. Talk to the parents about your observations and refer them to ECI for an evaluation to see if services are needed. To make a referral and locate an ECI program in your area, call the DARS Inquiries Line at 1-800-628-5115 or visit

Here are two resources you can visit to learn more about ECI and developmental milestones:
Texas ECI Family to Family Video,
ECI Developmental Milestones,