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Phases of Child Development

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Childcare
Wordcount: 2791 words Published: 30th Oct 2017

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  • Joanne Boyden

Children are individual and unique; however most will follow a similar pattern of development with some variation in reaching of milestones.

Child development can be divided into five different, but very much interlinking areas.

Physical development looks at how children develop physically. This can be split into fine motor skills such as drawing, writing, gross motor skills such as kicking a ball and locomotive skills i.e. walking, running. Between the ages of 0-3 years is a period of rapid physical development. Newborns are governed by reflexes until by the age of three, children are moving, crawling walking and have the fine motor skill to manipulate toys and feed themselves. Between the ages 3-7 years movements are more coordinated, confidence is growing and fine motor skills are more refined e.g. cutting, writing, drawing. Gross motor skills such as running, kicking a ball are more confidently achieved. Between the ages of 7-12 years children often take part in hobbies and interests and this enhances their skills e.g. dance. Fine motor skills are controlled for drawing, playing instruments and sewing. These are influenced by environment and opportunity. Girls at this age can start to show signs of puberty and therefore care should be shown for example when getting change for PE. 12-16 years is a time when children are growing in both height and strength.

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Cognitive development looks as how a child develops intellectually, it covers the basic principles of how children think and learn. This is dependent upon the experiences and opportunities that the child is given from an early age. Between the ages 0-3 children look at the world around them enjoy repetitive activities with the prediction of outcome. Children start from the beginnings of object manipulation to imaginative play and jigsaw completion. 3-7 years children are becoming more skilled at number and writing and learn how to read. 7-11 years children start to develop their own ideas and show preference. They enjoy simple puzzles and problem solving. 12-16 years children have very specific ideas and preference. They need support to feel good about themselves and that they belong.

Communication Development focuses on the way children communicate and covers things such as speech, non verbal communications, reading, and writing. Early experience is vital to the development of communication. Between the ages 0-3 years stimulation is of great importance. Children go from crying to communicate to smiles, babbling and towards the end of 2/3 using words and simple sentences. 3-7 years children ask lots of questions and can talk about past and futures tense with more confidence. By about the age of five communication becomes key to friendship development and children enjoy telling jokes. 7-12 years children are fluent speakers and can think about and discuss ideas in more abstract ways.

Social and emotional development looks at how children develop relationships both with others and themselves. Children need confidence to become independent of adults. Between 0-3 years children form very strong attachments to their primary carer. 3-7 years children play together but need strong guidance and boundaries. 7—12 years is often thought of as ‘the calm before the storm’ and children tend to be quite settled and have strong groups of friends. 12-16 years is an age where confidence and esteem is most fragile. Children bodies are changing and peer pressure is paramount. Children need to be supported and guided in a loving and sensitive way. Good positive role models are key at this age when peer pressure is at its highest.

Moral Development encompasses the decisions made by children and is linked to social and emotional development. The environment a child is in strongly effects how they develop socially and morally. Between the ages of two and three children begin to understand the word No and need constant support to guide them in the right direction. 3-5 years children can follow simple rules and need good consistent boundaries to follow. Praise and reinforcement of behaviour is key. Between 5-7 years children enjoy games with rules. For example a child may start to enjoy football as they can follow rules and kick the ball showing the link between physical and moral development as well and having the social skills to communicate. 7-9 years children enjoy being given some responsibility. At school this may take the form for example of paint monitor. By the ages of 9-11 children begin to become a lot more aware of the feelings of others around them until their teens when children should have a very good understanding of what is right and wrong and also how their behaviours and actions affect other people.

Many theorists have attempted to explain how children develop in particular how they develop cognitively.

One of the most influential is that of Albert Bandura and the Social Learning theory. His theory is based upon the assumption that children learn through modelling the behaviour of others. This covers both positive and negative behaviour. For example if a child sees their parents fighting they will take on this aggressive behaviour thus impacting on their social and emotional development.

Jean Piaget suggested that children develop cognitively by going through a series of set stages. This implies that all children go through the same processes at the same age and develop at the same rate. Piaget states that learning is based upon experience.

Len Vygotsky extended this to state that adults must support and scaffold a child’s learning experience and devised the theory of Zone of proximal development. A child who is not provided with this scaffold and support will not reach their full potential developmentally.

Another very influential theory is that of BF Skinner and Positive reinforcment. This theory states that children will repeat behaviour that is rewarded and cease behaviour that is ignored. This can be seen in schools with the likes of sticker rewards.

Many factors both personal and external can influence a child development.

Personal factors are those which occur through nature or a person’s genetics and include pregnancy and birth problems, health issues and disabilities.

For example a child may be born with a specific genetic disability such as Down’s syndrome. “Downs syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21 in the body’s cells” Around one in every 1000 babies born in the UK will have Down’s syndrome. www.downs-syndrome.org.uk . Down’s syndrome affects all areas of development including physical, social and cognitive.

Children’s development can be effected during their time in the womb, for example if the mother smokes or drinks. One of the big problems is that of Foetal Alcohol syndrome (FAS) “foetal Alcohol syndrome is the leading known cause of intellectual disability” www.drinkaware.co.uk

Children with FAS are born with many distinctive features for example small and narrow eyes a smooth area between the nose and the lips as well as hearing and ear problems, weakened immune system and a variety of other issues. Thus a child with FAS may suffer both physically and cognitively. “The WHO quotes a 2005 US study which estimates that one in every 1000 children are born with FAS” www.drinkaware.co.uk. Similar to FAS is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder which is thought to affect one in every 100 babies. Rather like autistic spectrum this is an umbrella term to cover babies who are born with some of the symptoms of FAS and symptoms vary from child to child.

Another condition that effects a Childs development is Coeliac Disease. “Coleiac Disease is a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten”. www.coeliac.org.uk Symptoms include failure to thrive, diarrhoea muscle wasting, mood and emotional distress. A child suffering from Colieac Disease may need time off school and may have to miss out on a variety of school experiences such as PE dependent upon the severity thus impacting on their physical and social and emotional development.

“Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited blood disorder that occurs when protein call haemoglobin is defective” www.childrenshospital.org. Children suffering may need to dress up warmly and avoid extremes in temperatures. They may need to stay in at playtime and dinner thus missing out in social experience and may have to be given other activities during PE again effecting their physical and social development. As with many of the disorders the child may miss school due to illness.

“Turners Syndrome (TS) is a medical disorder that affects about one in every 2500 girls.” www.kidshealth.org They are usually short in height although this can be treated with hormones, TS effects the girls sexually development and if untreated they would not go through the changes associated with puberty. This would have a detrimental effect on the child both physically and socially and emotionally as they compare their self to others. They can also suffer learning difficulties with maths and activities such as map reading and visual organisation.

Another health concern is glue ear. Glue ear effects a child’s hearing and therefore if untreated can have a significant effect on a child’s speech and language development. Approx 1 in 5 children up to the age of two will suffer from some degree of glue ear www.nhs.uk and this is a significant time developmentally for speech and language acquisition.

There are also many external factors that can effect a child’s development. For example a child’s financial situation will effect where they live, their diet etc. They may not be given the same opportunities for play though clubs etc and as mentioned before this support their physical, social and moral development. Diet is key to development. A poor diet has been linked to problems such as ADHD. Lack of vitamins and minerals has been linked to many disorders for example lack of iron can lead to anaemia which would leave the child tired and lethargic and even short of breath. Lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy which was thought to be unheard of in developed countries. However it is becoming more prevalent with a diet lacking fresh fruit and vegetables. All has an impact on the child’s physical development.

A big influence on many areas of a child’s development is stress. Stress will hold a child back in all areas. In today’s society a child is under many stressful situations one of the big ones being parental divorce and separation.

One area that is coming to light more that effects a child development is that of a child becoming a child carer. It is estimated that in 2011, 175000 children under the age of 18 will be classed as a child carer. www.banardos.com Looking after someone at a young age will affect many areas of development including social as the child has less time to build friendships.

The choices a child makes themselves can affect their development. Children are under great peer pressure to conform and this may push them into negative habits such as alcohol and drugs. The role models around the child have a significant impact both positively and negatively.

There are many reasons why children’s development may not follow the expected pattern.

Social influences may effect a child’s development. As mentioned earlier life experiences such as divorce and parental difficulties can cause significant stress to the child which then impacts their development. The family set up can be stressful for example if the child is a carer. Often parents are poor in areas and this can result in the child being poor. If a parent struggles to read they will struggle to support their child’s literacy skills thus impacting on their communication development. The kind of experiences given at home can impact significantly on development. Parents may not play and converse with their child in a supportive way. They may not attend clubs/ social situations outside the home. The area a child is brought up in can influence their development. The influences around them may be poor. If a child is brought up in a home surrounded by drugs and alcohol, they may chose to do this also. Life experience is critical to many areas of development in particular cognitive. If a child is not given valuable positive experiences their development may be delayed.

Physical problems can effect development as mentioned above, for example glue ear can affect speech and language, tuners syndrome can effect physical development.

A child needs to have their very basic needs met for example food, warmth safety before they can begin to develop appropriately.

Culture plays an important part in a child’s development. For example parents in western cultures are advised to lay children on their backs to prevent SIDS. However this can sometimes delay their crawling and rolling over. In some cultures for example among travellers gender plays an important role as an education is not seen as important for females as they are encouraged to become home makers. Children who move to new counties can suffer from a delay in development due to their language barrier; however they do tend to catch up with appropriate support.

If delays are suspected early intervention is key to the child’s well being and planning for the future. Without intervention a child can become frustrated and have significantly reduced self esteem and confidence.

Children have a health check at around two years to review their development. This reviews how a child is developing physical skills as well as communication and cogntive skills. Any areas for concern can be highlighted. For example a child may need speech and language support at this stage. The earlier an intervention is made the more chance that child has of reaching their full developmental potential. Early years settings are crucial at highlighting any areas for concern and putting support into place as needed. Looking at the example of Turners syndrome if support is not put in place be it emotional and medical the child may suffer severe lack of confidence in their physical appearance. A child with speech and language issues that is not supported very early will miss out on those vital early years of acquisition and may never catch up. Interventions and support take the form of many types dependent upon the type of delay and severity of the delay.


Burnham Louise, (2008), The Teaching Assistants Handbook, Essex, Heinemann.

Beith Kate (2008), Children’s care learning and Development, Essex, Heinemann.










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