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What are the developmental red flags for 5 year-olds?

Zariah Kale

Zariah Kale

Zariah is a writer, history nerd, amateur chef and mum of three. When she is not negotiating screen time with one of her two tweens, or falling asleep during movies, you'll find her scouring vintage shops for one-of-a-kind pieces or apologising to friends for the "late reply" over text.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read

The first five years of a child’s life seem full of so many changes. It’s only when you look back at the pictures, that you truly realise how much they have changed in just the past year!


Every day, they get taller, run faster, and learn something new. They tick off milestones and outgrow their clothes, and as parents, we pride ourselves on watching them grow and rooting for their success.

But in today’s competitive world, it’s easy to start comparing our child to peers and classmates.

When you see other 5-year-olds riding their two-wheel bikes while your kid refuses to let go of their training wheels, you start to wonder if your kid is lagging.

When kids your child’s age read full sentences, you get frustrated as yours struggles to recognise the easiest sight words.

And then you begin to worry about their future. After all, we only want our kids to excel, and if not, then at least be on par with other 5-year-olds.

But how do we know what’s a developmental red flag for a child and what is simply a skill they have yet to acquire?

Is throwing a fit after a long day at school that may have involved your child feeling left out a red flag? Or is it a regular reaction by an overwhelmed child who just feels lonely, or is simply tired?

Is your child just clumsy, or do they still have the hand-eye coordination of a 3-year-old? Can they not hear you, or are they intentionally ignoring you?

Here’s how you can tell:

Understand the term “red flags in child development”


As parents, we need to understand that each child is unique. And their journey and the pace with which they learn, grow, and develop will vary from other kids’. Even children in the same family might develop skills at their own pace.

Your daughter may start walking right around her first birthday, while your son may decide to take his sweet time and wait till he turns 15 months old.

And that is okay.

However, problems occur in a child’s development when progress does not happen at all or takes too long.

For example, the CDC recommends getting in touch with a healthcare specialist if your child isn’t walking at the age of 18 months. Other red flags in an infant’s journey may include abnormal hand movements, an inability to respond to any voice or loud sound, a lack of head movement, flat facial expressions, etc.

The purpose of identifying these “red flags” is to help parents and caretakers intervene and take corrective action. Early diagnosis and intervention can help health specialists identify the condition that may be the reason for the delay in a child’s development.

For example, speech and language delays in children may be due to an ear infection, a learning disability, or a developmental disorder like cerebral palsy.


Know the red flags for development at 5 years old


Five years is a tricky age. This is the part where your child becomes independent, and you can see their personality—and sass—just shine through.

They might love to hold a pencil and sit and colour for hours, or they may be so full of energy that they find it difficult to stay in one spot or even focus on a simple task. Would the lack of attention be a delay?

Well, delays can be classified into four broad categories:

speech and language delays,
motor skill delays,
cognitive delays, and
social and emotional delays.

Each category has certain developmental milestones, like how a 5-year-old child must be able to clearly express themselves, understand what others are saying, and respond accordingly. When it comes to learning and writing skills, a 5-year-old must be able to recognise numbers, letters and have some basic writing skills.

If a 5-year-old has difficulty socialising with kids his age or communicating with his caretakers, experts may consider it a developmental red flag. Similarly, learning difficulties and/or a lack of fine motor skills like running, jumping, or holding a pencil are also red flags that may require the attention of a specialist.

In many cases, early academic difficulties may be a risk factor for later academic and behavioural problems.

But before you freak out, you need to understand that delays are common, particularly, speech and language delays affect up to 3%–20% of children worldwide. Similarly, about 1 in 6 kids in the US has some kind of developmental disability.

In many cases, the developmental delays may be hard to recognise. A child may simply be a little clumsy, or he may suffer vision problems that make it challenging for him to pour a glass of water.

Other developmental red flags may be more obvious and require urgent attention. Behaviours such as aggression, whining, being impulsive, or throwing temper tantrums may actually be predictors of bigger mental health problems.

It is important to read the Red Flags Early Identification Guide and approach the problem with an open mind. If you are concerned, it is always a good idea to talk to your child’s healthcare provider.


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Removing the stigma associated with developmental delays 


For decades, teachers and parents reprimanded students who were unable to excel in class as dumb and lazy. They thought the child, who was struggling, was just stupid or lacked the motivation to work.

Years of research on ADHD and learning disabilities, however, would go on to prove the real reason for their behaviour. Fortunately, children today do not have to continue to suffer alone and can get the help they need thanks to the increased awareness amongst teachers and parents alike about the symptoms of developmental delays in children.

When should I be concerned about my 5-year-old’s behaviour?


Fortunately, most delays aren’t serious. Recognising the delay and then encouraging your child to gently work towards overcoming it can help most children.

Remember, early intervention can help children receive the help they need.

For example, when it comes to speech and language delays, intervention from speech and language therapists can help children learn how to communicate while also teaching parents how to help their child.

Developmental delays are just delays


It is easy to freak out and worry about your child’s future.

My advice to parents is to do themselves and their children a huge favour and reach out to connect with parents in the same boat as them. Grab a cup of coffee to rant or simply compare notes to find the best way forward or get help on a bad day.

Developmental delays can not take away success from your child, and there are many who have proved it time and again.

Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer who broke records, was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 9. Tom Cruise, suffered from severe dyslexia. Need more names? Agatha Christie, Mozart, and even Isaac Newton fall under this umbrella.

If anything, this delay is just a little setback in your child’s path to success. With early intervention and treatment, your child can overcome any challenge.


Related Articles

How do I know if my child has a developmental delay?
How to spot 5 common developmental delays in preschoolers
4 ways music can help delayed speech and language development in children

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