An Overview Of Childhood Development
Childhood development describes the changes that occur in children as they grow older. The changes can occur in a variety of areas including how they think, speak, move, and interact with others. As children grow older, their parents or caregivers can take steps to help support their healthy development.
In this article, we’ll cover the key aspects of childhood development, a few prominent theories about childhood development, and how to find additional parenting support through therapy.
Key Aspects Of Childhood Development
Since parents and caregivers can play a significant role in the growth and development of their children, understanding some of the key areas of development may help you determine how to support your child in their growth. It is worth noting that all of these areas are connected, and there are also many external and internal factors that can impact a child's development.
We’ll explore these aspects further below:
1. Physical Development
Physical development involves the maturation of a child's height, weight, strength, and motor skills. Patterns and speed of physical growth can vary depending on the child, but in most cases, growth steadily progresses between birth and before puberty; through puberty, physical growth and maturation often increase considerably. Motor skills can be separated into large motor skills such as sitting, standing, and walking, and fine motor skills such as using hand muscles to grasp, eat, and draw. Other examples of motor skills include crawling, running, swimming, and moving other parts of the body such as feet, fingers, and toes.
There are several factors that can influence a child's physical and motor development. Genetics and diet are two of the main elements that impact physical growth, and nutrition can also heavily impact motor growth and development. Physical growth and the maturation of various bones, limbs, and muscles can also impact the development of various motor skills.
2. Intellectual And Cognitive Development
The development of intellectual and cognitive capabilities involves memory, learning, understanding, and problem-solving abilities. Like other forms of development, intellectual and cognitive skills often grow gradually. In many cases, the ability to distinguish live objects from inanimate ones begins during infancy. As infants grow into young children, their intellectual and cognitive skills develop, allowing for more extensive memories and increased speed of internalizing information and learning.
Many factors can play a role in the maturation of cognitive and intellectual development. Parental interactions, food, exercise, everyday experiences, and amounts of received love and care can all greatly affect these aspects of growth.
3. Social And Emotional Development
Social and emotional growth pertains to the development of various feelings, emotions, and relationships. This area of growth involves how children process their own emotions and learn to connect and cooperate with others.
Environment, experience, and parenting styles can impact the emotional and social development of children. For instance, young children who spend quality time with the adults in their lives may be more able to develop positive social skills than their isolated counterparts. Children who can safely and lovingly bond with their parents and siblings may develop in different ways emotionally from children who grow up in environments of isolation, stress, and turmoil.
4. Language Development
Language development entails the ability to communicate with other people through writing, sounds, and signs. These language development skills can involve pronunciation, speech comprehension, word formation, and the ability to communicate with others through speech, sign language, and/or body language. Parents and caregivers can contribute to the language development of their children in many ways, including by reading to them.
Prominent Theories Regarding Childhood Development
There are a variety of theories regarding childhood development. Examining some of the more prominent theories may offer useful insight into how some aspects of a child’s experience can affect their growth. Below, we’ll summarize three of these theories:
Sigmund Freud’s Theory Of Psychosexual Development
Sigmund Freud's theory suggests that subconscious desires and childhood experiences impact one's conduct and personality. Freud's theory also asserts that children who fail to develop in one area may develop a correlated fascination in their later life. Finally, this theory also suggests that an individual's personality is largely developed by the time they reach five years of age.
Erik Erikson’s Theory Of Psychosocial Development
Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development involves eight stages that a person is believed to pass through in their life. While this theory has some commonalities with Freud's theory, there are also notable contrasts. For instance, this theory suggests that various experiences and interactions with others are the main contributors to childhood development. It also asserts that at various stages of growth, children and adults face certain crises which can become significant life milestones.
Jean Piaget’s Theory Of Cognitive Development
The Piaget Cognitive Development Theory presents and explains various perceived stages of a child's intellectual maturation. The four stages include the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.
- The sensorimotor stage occurs between birth and age two, and in this time, infants are restricted to their limited motor skills and sensory consciousness.
- The preoperational stage is where infants become children who are beginning to understand language, yet have not developed enough to consider other people and comprehend certain information.
- The concrete operational stage occurs between seven and eleven years of age. During this period, children's mental skills develop enough for them to practice logical thinking. However, young people of the ages above are still believed to struggle with understanding hypotheticals and similar situations.
- The formal operational stage is where children are around twelve years of age and beyond and can understand abstract notions, while gradually learning how to think logically and plan systemically.
Help Through Online Therapy
Supporting a child throughout their development can be confusing at times, and while understanding some of the key aspects of development and some of the prominent theories can be helpful, some parents may want to find additional support through therapy.
There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of online therapy for a variety of concerns, including parenting concerns. For instance, one research study examined the effectiveness of an online therapy program for parents. It found that the online program had “positive effects” on parents’ psychological flexibility and emotion control, while also helping to improve parents’ mood and coping skills.
Often, being a parent can involve having a very busy schedule that leaves little room for something like therapy. But, with online therapy through BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist according to your schedule and from wherever is most convenient—even from the convenience of your own home.
What are the 5 types of early childhood development?
The five types of early childhood development likely refer to the five domains of developmental milestones a child is expected to achieve as they grow and mature. The five domains are described below:
- Gross Motor Skills refer to a child’s ability to make large, whole-body movements like standing upright and taking their first step.
- Fine Motor Skills refer to skills a child needs to coordinate precise movements, like writing or manipulating small objects.
- Language Skills refer to language utilization skills like speaking and reading.
- Cognitive Skills refer to the ability to do things like count, problem-solve, and engage in imaginative play.
- Socio-emotional Skills refer to skills of socialization and behavior regulation.
What is the early childhood stage of child development?
The early childhood stage of development begins at birth and continues to age eight. A child’s brain growth during those years is extensive, and children are highly response to change during this period. Supporting that brain development requires a stimulating environment, adequate nutrients, and attentive caregivers.
Early child development is typically measured through developmental checkpoints, which are skills or abilities a child should demonstrate by the time they reach a certain age. Failing to meet a developmental milestone may indicate that the child does not have proper support in that area or that a developmental problem may be present. A child’s doctor is usually the first person to speak to if a caregiver is concerned about their development.
Why is early childhood development important?
The brain development that occurs in a child’s early years forms the foundation of brain development that will occur later in life. Brains are built from the “bottom up,” starting with more basic cognitive functions that combine to form high-level thinking abilities. A child’s brain first develops the neural pathways that allow them to see and hear, the bulk of which is usually accomplished within the first year. Shortly after sensory pathways begin developing, they are joined by language pathways, which also see their quickest advancement during the first year of life.
As the child grows, their brain development affords them greater control over their body, better awareness of those around them, better emotional regulation, and critical reasoning abilities. However, every higher-order function is built on a foundation of low-level developmental abilities, such as being able to understand language and coordinate body movement. The bulk of these foundational skills are formed during the early childhood period, and appropriate development during that time allows the child to develop stronger skills as they mature.
What is the most important stage of child development?
Generally speaking, the earliest stages of child development are most important. The early childhood period starts at birth and continues through age eight, representing the most significant period of brain development a child will go through. However, of those years, it is possible that the first year of life is the most important, at least in terms of development.
The first 12 months of a child’s life represent a period of extreme brain development that begins to slow once the child is two years old. During the first year, children develop neural pathways essential for interacting with the world around them, such as those needed for vision, hearing, and language acquisition.
What are the factors affecting early childhood development?
The primary factors relating to early childhood development include biological needs, caregiver attention, early childhood education, and environmental risks or protective elements. Children are biological entities; before proper development can occur, it is essential that they have access to food, medical attention, and shelter. Child malnutrition, especially, can have an adverse impact on brain development and will hinder physical development considerably.
Caregiver actions are also critical during the early childhood phase. A child’s caregivers serve as educators, models of behavior, and a source of security from which a child can explore the world around them. If caregivers are distant or absent, a child loses opportunities to create vital neural pathways based on caregiver interaction. Similarly, access to early childhood educational resources can significantly boost child development, although it is not considered a replacement for proper caregiving.
Environmental risk factors can also affect a child’s development. For example, before lead was removed from paint used in children’s toys, many children experienced health problems and cognitive delays due to ingesting lead. Environmental risk factors can also be psychological; children raised in high-stress or high-conflict households are more likely to experience developmental delays than those raised in calm and supportive environments.
What are the 4 stages of development in children?
The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget developed a four-stage model of child development. Piaget’s overview of child development is widely accepted and likely represents the developmental course of most children. His four stages are outlined below:
- Sensorimotor Stage. Before the age of two, children learn to master their senses and perceive their environment. They begin to get control over their bodies and start to develop critical features of thought, like memory.
- Preoperational Stage. From ages two to seven, children begin to use symbolic thought and language. They develop the ability to engage in imaginative play but still struggle to understand how others might think differently from them.
- Concrete Operational Stage. From ages seven to eleven, children gain the ability to use logical operations when solving problems and begin to master inductive reasoning. They may not understand the nuance of many concepts, but they can grasp the general idea.
- Formal Operational Stage. Adolescence, or age 12 and older, represents the last stage of Piaget’s developmental model. During this age, teens gain the ability to use abstractive reasoning, hypothesize theories, and comprehend intangible concepts like love or justice.
What is the most important thing in early childhood education?
One of the most important things in early childhood education is to meet the child at their developmental level. Children experience rapid brain development during the first five years of life, which allows them to acquire basic skills like language usage. They also develop at their own pace and will likely not reach milestones at exactly the same time as their peers. Attempting to educate a child in a manner inconsistent with their developmental stage will not be successful; they still need to develop the necessary neural pathways to understand what is being communicated.
How does the environment affect early childhood development?
Environmental factors can have a significant effect on early childhood development. Toxins and pollutants can significantly delay or inhibit a child’s development and may lead to stunted growth, lower body weight, and lower IQ. Lead, for instance, is a known toxin that has been responsible for cognitive deficits in thousands of children before its effects were recognized.
Adverse environmental factors are not only biological. Children raised in high-stress homes or in living environments with high conflict experience less growth and take longer to reach some developmental checkpoints compared to children raised in peaceful homes. Similarly, environments that are excessively noisy or crowded may also have a developmental impact.
What is the definition of childhood?
Childhood is commonly defined as the period that begins after infancy (typically about two years of age) and continues to the onset of puberty. Puberty typically begins between 10 and 12 years old and signals the start of adolescence. Childhood is also commonly split into three sections: early childhood, from age two to 6, middle childhood, from age seven to ten, and late childhood, which is defined as the 2-year period before the onset of puberty.
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