Your baby is born and every day something new and exciting happens. Not just seemingly major events, like rolling over or taking that first brave step, but other tiny things that may not seem like milestones. Smiling, cooing, even crawling out of the crib – these seemingly random acts all fall into a timeline that marries up with the stages of your child’s development.
During your routine or regularly scheduled visits with your pediatrician, you might be asked many of these questions: has your child rolled over? Does she like to be hugged? Does she coo back or giggle when she sees a silly face? These questions are not part of a polite conversation (although your pediatrician really does love to talk about your child). In fact, your answers are painting a picture of where your child is with regard to the stages of her development. So what are the stages of child development and why are they so important to track?
For months your child refuses to speak. All her tiny classmates in daycare are talking up a storm and your child just sits there and listens. You wonder if there is a problem. But then one day your child observes something that merits a dissertation. And you can’t get over that she hasn’t stopped talking since.
Learning to speak is considered a milestone in child development. Just because your child started speaking later than her pals doesn’t mean there is a problem if she does start speaking within the prescribed developmental stage. There are other milestones, too. Rolling over, maintaining eye contact, potty training, etc.
Professionals involved in child development have analyzed, organized and categorized these standard milestones into a progress chart that parents, pediatricians, researchers, psychologists, and educators use to monitor a child’s development.
Although each milestone has an age range, it is important to remember that children are unique and the actual age can vary. So long as your child achieves these milestones within the prescribed range, there should be no cause for concern.
Areas of Development
Normal development refers to learning and mastering skills in four categories – physical, emotional, mental and social. Although separately categorized, they are all linked, and occur simultaneously at each stage:
- Physical includes broad motor skills such as include rolling over, standing, walking, running, and sitting; as well as being able to maintain balance, change positions, etc. Physical also includes using fingers and hands to clutch, eat, draw, dress, play, write, etc.
- Emotional skills include how she reacts to events and occurrences around her. Does she giggle and laugh at the silliest things, or is she distant? As she matures, does she learn to deal with events, or does she get frustrated and angry?
- Mental, or cognitive skills include thinking, learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering. Much of this will be revealed in academic settings, such as preschool and beyond.
- Social skills have to do with personal interactions, developing and maintaining relationships with family, friends, and teachers; cooperating, and being sensitive while responding to others. Does she withdraw at parties? Does she enjoy large gatherings or being around a small group of friends, and how does she navigate and interpret the social world around her?
Stages of Development
Developmental milestones cover a range of behaviors and transformations in a child’s faculties and personalities. Social norms and institutions, customs, and laws also influence these stages.
There are three broad stages of development: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. They are defined by the primary tasks of development in each stage.
Early Childhood (Birth to Eight Years)
Growth and development are most obvious during the first year, when a helpless newborn dramatically transforms into a moving, “talking, walking” whirlwind with a mind of her own. During this first year, parents likely will be marking development through development of obvious skills.
- In the first year, expect some socio-emotional development, when attachment formation becomes critical, especially with caregivers. Life functioning, personality, and relationships are shaped by the quality or lack of emotional attachment formed early in life.
- By 3 years a child doubles her height and quadruples her weight. She has mastered sitting, walking, toilet training, using a spoon, scribbling, and sufficient hand-eye coordination for play. She should be able to speak and understand between 300 and 1,000 words.
- Between 3-5 years – the preschool years – a child is growing rapidly and beginning to develop gross- and fine-motor skills. Physical growth slows and body proportions and motor skills become more refined. By five, her vocabulary will have grown to about 1,500 words, and she should be speaking in sentences of 5-7 words.
These early physical childhood skills are accompanied by social and emotional development, where your child will look to her parents and caregivers, as well as the environment around her, for approval and response.
Middle Childhood (Eight to Twelve Years)
By eight, your child should be are able to understand some basic abstract concepts, including time and money. Her cognitive skills, personality, motivation, and interpersonal relationships will undergo refinement. You will be amazed watching her social circle grow and become more complex – with both children and those senior to her. The primary developmental task of middle childhood is integration – development within the individual and the social context. Physical development is less dramatic than in early childhood or adolescence. Until puberty, growth is fairly constant.
Adolescence (Twelve to Eighteen Years)
Adolescence is a time of diverse, confusing, even frightening changes due to significant physical, emotional and cognitive growth, new situations, responsibilities, and people. Frequent mood swings, depression, and other psychological disorders are common. Though usually attributed to hormones, your child will react to the challenges and struggles; expect fluctuating or inconsistent behaviors that will even out with time and maturity.
During adolescence, expect your teen to experience accelerated periods of growth (while they are eating you out of house and home). Height can increase up to 4 inches and weight 8-10 pounds per year, although for some “late bloomers” a huge increase in height and weight can happen within a year – especially with boys.
Adolescence is an important period for cognitive development, marking a transition in ways of thinking and reasoning about problems and ideas. Your teen will gain the ability to solve more abstract and hypothetical problems, but it is also a significant step toward independence and emotional development. Adolescents often rely on their peers, rather than family, for direction and emotional support.
For you and your child, the journey from birth to independence is an adventure, with expect no two days alike. That’s a process and each child is unique. Remember, you can’t set your child’s development by a clock; these stages are but a guide to help you and your pediatrician look for trends and concerns.
If you are looking for excellent, compassionate, comprehensive pediatric care for your child from birth to young adulthood, our full circle of care is for you – through every stage of your child’s development. Please contact your preferred CHC location in either Newburyport (978) 388-9880) or Haverhill (978) 373-6557), or request a consultation online.