Engaging migrant communities in the promotion of the rights of the child


Home 9 Child development and wellbeing 9 5.1 Child development

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By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Describe the different stages of child development
  • Identify the several factors affecting the course of child development

Child development can be defined as the process by which a child changes over time, from conception to an individual becoming a fully functioning adult. The literature defines development as lifelong, multidirectional, and multidimensional. It may be considered as a journey from total dependence to full independence.

Child development refers to the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth that occurs throughout childhood. Whilst these aspects are often considered separately, each influences the others. For example, as the brain develops physically, so intellectual abilities increase. This process allows a child to explore the social world more fully, develop the emotional responses to it and the language needed to describe it, but in turn, this exploration directly impacts on further physical brain development.

Factors that affect the course of child development

Biological aspects, such as genetic inheritance, gender, and hormones

External influences, such as family, society, economics, environment, health, and culture

Other relevant elements, such as child’s nutrition, affluence, parenting styles, education, and interaction with peers

The Phases of Child Development

Children undergo various changes in terms of physical, speech, intellectual and cognitive development gradually until adolescence. Child development covers three broad phases: infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

Developmentalists break this part of the life span into five stages as follows:

Prenatal Development

conception occurs, and development begins. All the major structures of the body are being formed, and the health of the mother is of primary concern.

Infancy and Toddlerhood (0-2 years old)

the first two years of life which are characterised by fast growth and change. A new-born, with a keen sense of hearing but very poor vision, is transformed into a walking, talking toddler within a relatively short period of time. Caregivers are also transformed from those who manage feeding and sleep schedules to constantly moving guides and safety inspectors for a mobile and energetic child.

Early Childhood (3-5 years old)

in pre-school age. The child is busy learning the language, gaining a sense of self and greater independence, and beginning to learn the workings of the physical world. Children may initially have interesting conceptions of size, time, space, and distance.

Middle Childhood (6-11 years old)

much of what children experience at this age is connected to their involvement in the early grades of school. The world becomes a space of learning and testing new academic skills and by assessing one’s abilities and accomplishments by making comparisons between self and others. Schools compare students and make these comparisons public through team sports, test scores, and other forms of recognition. Growth rates slow down, and children can refine their motor skills at this point in life. At this age children begin to learn about social relationships beyond the family through fundamental interactions with friends and fellow students.

Adolescence (12 years to adulthood)

it is considered as a period of dramatic physical change marked by an overall physical growth spurt and sexual maturation, known as puberty. It is also a time of cognitive change as the adolescent begins to think of new possibilities and to consider abstract concepts such as love, fear, and freedom. At this stage, adolescents experience a sense of invincibility.