I’m a parenting psychologist – what your child’s weaknesses says a lot them, it’s why parents MUST take note of it


SINCE the pandemic many babies have struggled to learn facial expressions due to mask wearing, according to new research. 

A study by the education watchdog Ofsted showed how children also have little stamina for handwriting and struggle to use devices that are not touchscreen. 

Since the pandemic children haven't been able to read facial expressions

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Since the pandemic children haven’t been able to read facial expressionsCredit: Getty
Leading child psychologist Dr Alison McClymont explains a child's development

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Leading child psychologist Dr Alison McClymont explains a child’s developmentCredit: Not known, clear with picture desk

Here, Yasmin Harisha speaks to leading child psychologist Dr Alison McClymont who explains what your child should be able to do at each key stage and what parents can do to help them get there. 

She says: “Just because your child meets a milestone later than peers or earlier than peers this does not necessarily have any bearing on their adult ability in these areas.

“Just because your child meets a milestone later than peers or earlier than peers this does not necessarily suggest any kind of learning or cognitive disability, or ‘genius’ quality.

“Children are no different to adults – we all have strengths and challenges, and I have yet to meet an adult who performs at the top end of every scale in life.”

By 6 months your child should….

  • Be expressing curiosity about the world around them 
  • Pass objects from one hand to the other 
  • Roll front to back and MAYBE sit without support
  • Convey basic emotional states such as happiness or displeasure via sounds and facial expressions
  • Recognise who is a known person

Here’s what you should try

Facial mirroring exercises – otherwise known as ‘making silly faces’ to convey exaggerated states of emotion such as happiness or surprise.

Talking, singing, reading, anything in fact that involves communication with your baby using words- whilst it may seem that nothing is getting absorbed, all that data is going in their powerful little inner computer to come out later as spoken language.

Tummy time with a mirror- get those tummy muscles stronger and at the same time boost social emotional connections but letting the baby see their own face and how it can convey different expressions! Remember to place toys slightly out of reach so the baby has to reach for them and get creative in gross-motor skill development.

Rolling or passing objects back and forward and playing with toys that require manual dexterity- all of this is going to help with later pen holding, dressing and feeding themselves!

By one year your child should….

  • Be attempting to communicate using verbal sounds – even if they are not clearly ‘words’
  • Responding correctly to simple requests
  • Drink from a cup
  • Copy movements and gestures
  • Becoming more versatile in conveying emotions such as exhibiting shyness with strangers, crying when parents leave or showing specific interest for certain people or toys.
  • Pull up to stand, get into a sitting position without support, moving about (even if not fully walking.

Here’s what you should try

Read and sing to your child to help with language development.

Repeat words back to your child as they say them eg “yes that’s right that’s a ‘car’.”

Encourage as much independent movement as possible to develop gross motor skills- playing on the grass, going to soft play.

Allow for some independent learning- let them try to “feed” themselves.

Encourage as much interaction with other similar age children as possible – at this age they may not play together but they will very likely show some interest in the other child. 

All of this is incredible foundational learning.

By two years old you should…

  • Be walking independently
  • Be using simple sentences such as “I get car” “Mummy get ball”
  • Can point to familiar people and objects
  • Begins to engage in imaginative play
  • Shows interest in playing with other children
  • Have a few tantrums

Here’s what you should try

Cute little baby boy making his first steps, walking to his mother in a white sunny living room

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Cute little baby boy making his first steps, walking to his mother in a white sunny living roomCredit: Getty

If your child is not walking independently, reach out to your GP to get a health check.

Imaginative play with small objects or figures is great at this age for language development and social/emotional development.

Arrange playdates! This is such an important social and emotional learning age, the basics of playing are built between now and 3 such as taking turns, sharing objects, and understanding emotion in another.

If your child is struggling with speech at this age- do not worry, keep talking and singing to them. 

Speech “delay” contrary to popular belief is not diagnosed until three. 

But children who read three books a day are shown to be exposed to 10k more words by reception than those who are not.

As long as your child is ATTEMPTING to communicate using words or sounds….its ok at this age. 

By four years old your child should…

  • Be speaking in sentences that are clearly understood by strangers
  • Correctly naming colours and maybe some letters and numbers
  • Using the bathroom by themselves and basic dressing functions
  • Playing with (ie in cooperation with not simply alongside) other children
  • Hold a crayon and can “mark make”
  • Move independently and with agility
By the age of four years old your child should be able to hold a crayon and "mark make"

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By the age of four years old your child should be able to hold a crayon and “mark make”Credit: Getty

Here’s what you should try

This is an age when some children can begin to recognise letters and want to read, if this is your child, encourage them by keeping reading with them and feed their curiosity for letters or numbers through simple games that involve counting or matching objects.

Imaginative play is crucial at this age, it helps with children who are struggling to share with other children, as well as developing confidence in shy children, and empathy skills in dominant children. 

What a book can teach, the imagination can. ALL children should be engaging in imaginative play learning at this age.

Encourage all forms of artistic expression – child doesn’t like drawing? 

No problem, get cooking, child doesn’t like colouring in? 

No problem – get model making.

Anything that involves hand to eye coordination and creative expression is crucial for pen holding development and developing focused attention for when they start school. 

By the end of Reception your child should

  • Be able to count to 20
  • Hold a pencil
  • Communicating confidently and accurately in full sentences
  • Be able to dress themselves
  • Follow rules of expected behaviour and demonstrate a desire to form positive attachments with other children
  • Basic understanding of a quantity ie 5 objects vs 6 objects
  • Recognise most phonics sounds and write some of them
  • Understand a story, retell it and develop their own

Here’s what you should try

By reception your child should be able to dress themselves

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By reception your child should be able to dress themselvesCredit: Getty

Now we get into the territory of ‘individual difference’ at this stage – we start to see that some children will find certain aspects of academic learning easier than others – this is OK.

Dr Alison, who often posts advice on her Instagram @alisonmcclymontinsta, says: “If your child is not fluently reading by the end of reception- no problem, that is not expected. But keep reading, keep practising phonics. 

“Children have different personalities, and some individual differences are showing up pretty obviously by this age in this space too.

“If you have a child that is struggling with confidence in group situations or a child who is struggling to listen to others point of view – this is a good age to use books, tv shows, games and any other form of media available to you to model ‘better behaviours’. 

“Nothing however is a better teacher than you as the parent modelling calm, appropriate emotional control, demonstrating self confidence and encouraging an attitude of ‘lets try.’

“Autism Spectrum Disorder will begin to be more clear at this stage, and is commonly diagnosed around this time. 

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“If you are at all concerned about this- go and speak to your GP and ask for a referral. 

“Possible signs would include: poor or no eye contact, a limited interest in social interaction, repetitive movement particularly as a ‘soothing mechanism’, marked distress when ‘routine’ is broken, and limited or repetitive, monotone speech.”





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