5 Basic Areas of Childhood Development

The first few years of a child’s life are crucial to their development. They learn about their environment, themselves and the people around them. Developmental scientists like Piaget believed that children grow in patterns or developmental stages which govern their capabilities and limitations in all areas of growth.

Research now supports the more holistic understanding of development like that thought up by psychologist Vygotsky: that all areas of development interact and supportively grow together, which are additionally influenced by nurture.

This is why parents need to have a basic understanding of childhood development so they can create the type of nurturing interactions and environment that supports growth in all areas of development for their unique child.

A child’s development is organized into five basic areas: motor, language, social, cognitive and emotional.

Developmental starts rapidly from the moment of birth. How your baby grows is the result of a complex process that takes place over the baby’s first few years of life. The capacity of the brain to develop during this period is tremendous and is evident in big and small ways.

Most observable to new parents are the motor milestones. Language development is much celebrated, perhaps because they are usually the most anticipated by parents. Cognitively, your baby is building connections and a better understanding of their world every moment. And the subtle development of social and emotional areas are ready to make a showcase during the toddler years!

Motor Development: The child's physical growth

Motor development is the process by which a child’s motor skills, like their ability to walk, talk, sit, and eat, are gradually enhanced. The brain has a special area that is responsible for programming the muscles so that they “do what they’re supposed to do.”

During this period, a baby’s motor development is influenced by their environment, but also their own motivation in developing their motor skills. While having equipment (i.e. toys, chairs, furniture), giving ample time for baby to move (not buckled or wrapped), and the person (i.e. parents, caretakers, other children) can affect the speed and strength of physical growth of a baby, it is ultimately the internal motivation to move that drives motor development!

Language Development: The way children communicate their thoughts, wants, needs, and more

Children begin to communicate immediately after birth, but the start of expressive language is coming in the latter half of the first year of a baby’s life. However, a child’s understanding of language comes much earlier than them being able to share with you their wants, needs, and more. Nonetheless, during the first few years of life, a child’s language development is rapidly developing even if communication is one-sided.

The development of language usage is highly influenced by many factors, including the exchange of quality and quantity of communication with their caregivers, the culture of the child’s home, and the child’s own drive to communicate. For example, one child may be more expressive than the other simply because their temperament is that they have more preferences or sensitivities than another child who may be more mellow and easy-going.

Social Development: Interactions with other people and surroundings.

Children’s social interactions are an important part of their development. They learn about others, form friendships, and develop social skills by interacting with others – mainly from their primary caregivers. Like language, social skills are also influenced by a child’s family culture and habits, as well as the needs of the child (e.g. ability to communicate, express emotions, use language). This is a great example of how development in one area can promote development in another area of the child’s growth!

Cognitive Development: Development of mental abilities like memory, problem solving, planning, & more.

Cognitive development is the process by which your mini scientist begins to act on their environment to obtain new information about themselves, others, and how the world works in general! Often, this begins as curious accidents which prompt extensive trial and error type of learning.

During this period, a baby’s cognitive abilities increase through all the research they are doing, but also because they are increasingly in control of their environment and themselves. Yes, as their motor skills develop, it unlocks new opportunities to conduct further research that was not within their capabilities before.

For example, a baby who learns to grasp can now drop a toy, resulting in the parent repeatedly picking it back up; a toddler may learn to open and close doors, hence making it possible to explore new environments that they couldn’t access before, etc.

Emotional Development: how your child perceives and manages their feelings and emotions.

Emotional development is the process by which a child’s internal emotional life is shaped. It is the interplay between the child’s brain and emotions, and the ways in which they interacts with the environment. Just as our physical bodies adapt to different climates, environments, and diets, the emotional development of a child is shaped by experiences in early life.

These experiences, while important, aren’t the only factor that affects emotional development. For example, research into traumatic experiences in early life does not always create lasting emotional changes in the long term. Parenting style, and how parents themselves model perception and management of emotions, is critical to healthy emotional development.

Know Development to Boost Development

Each day, your child will grow and develop in ways that amazes you and in ways you might not notice until much later. Becoming aware of the five areas of development will help you better identify where they are at developmentally. It gives you important clues into their inner world: what they want, what they think, what motivates them, what excites them, what worries them, and more.

These clues also create opportunities for attunement that help you meet your baby’s needs and form a secure attachment between you and your child. Lastly, you can use these clues to stay on step with your baby’s development and nurture their growth with the right environment and interactions that expands their innate interest to learn about themselves, you, and the world around you both.

Want to know simple ways to boost your baby's development?

To learn more on how to foster development, make sure to register for our Fostering Development Webinar here!   

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