Child Development

Babies Till 5

The other night, my 8-year old asked if his 2-year old brother was still a baby. (8 is always asking questions that help him categorize). I told him that brother would be a baby until he was five. 8 was surprised and 2 promptly said, “Not!,” indicating that he was NOT a baby.

It is a strange notion in our culture; to consider 3 and 4-year-olds as babies. I was first introduced to the idea of “Babies Till 5,” by Crystal Lutton, who based it on her study of ancient Hebrew culture. I have kept this idea in mind and I find that it lowers my expectations and subsequently my stress. I am able to be more patient than I might be otherwise. “Babies Till 5” does not mean that you coddle your toddler or preschooler. We set limits and boundaries as appropriate.

American culture has high expectations for children. Once they can walk and talk, usually around 1 or 2, they are pushed to give up “babyish” things. We tell them that they are “too big” for their paci, or lovey. “Too big” to cry, have a tantrum or hit. We expect them to sit still for long periods of time, eat all of their food, and to be instantly obedient.

Here’s the thing. None of that is based on actual development. Instead, it’s what our parents passed down to us and what their parents passed down to them. But really, for a very long time in the world, children were barely recognized as separate, individual people. By and large, they were simply expected to be tiny adults, molded by their parents.

We are in an unprecedented modern era of emotional health and freedom. We can now recognize that children come with their own ideas and plans. And we have space to really consider the child’s perspective.

From ages 0-5, babies are learning how to be. They are learning what and who is safe, how to accomplish their goals, how to communicate, and what feelings feel like. They go from being completely and utterly helpless to beginning to hold their own. It is amazing to see how much baby humans change and grow in 5 short years. It makes us think that they know more than they actually do. We think they are ready from more than what they are. But at age 5…

  • Their vision is just starting to get to 20/20 and there are muscles that won’t strengthen until about 7 or 8.
  • They still have most of their baby teeth.
  • Most can’t tie their shoes, ride a bike, count money, or tell time.
  • A small number are beginning to “catch yawns.”
  • It was only 1 year ago that their imagination really expanded.
  • It was only 2 years ago that they begin talking in full sentences.
  • It was only 3 years ago that they started using “Adult English” words.


Keep these things in mind when you think your 2, 3, or 4-year-olds are “too old” or “too big” to do ABC or to need XYZ. After all, they’re still babies!

SN: If you have a child who is gifted or twice exceptional (gifted with special needs), it may be even harder to remember that socially and emotionally, they are very much still babies. Check out this article on asynchronous development for more info.


Need help figuring out if your baby is too old for something? Download this handy printable.

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