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Jul 11, 2019 in Psychology

Child Development

The ‘I’ Statement

Like any other parent, I longed to understand the different stages of my child’s development, and how I would support her positively. Immediately she was about two years of age, I started seeking information about enrolling her into a nursery school. I wanted to know the right age to enroll her into nursery, and what to expect from my child in this stage of development. I was anxious about the information on the links between nursery education and how to secure a good primary school for my child. More importantly, I was concerned with my child’s handling of her homework, and how to deal with the bullying issues. 

Being my first child, I kept on asking other parents how they managed the behaviors of their children at early ages. I specifically looked for practical tips on how to manage some of the irrigating behaviors that my child had developed while in the nursery school. She became more aggressive, threw objects at her intimidators, and had frequent swings in her attitudes. Due to her antisocial behavior, I persistently sought advice on how to discipline my child, how to confidently support her in her range of emotions, and handling of her temper tantrums. I had to be patient with my daughter as she outgrew her temper. In addition to behavior and education, I was concerned with the health issues affecting my child. Some of the health issues that I grappled with included nappy rushes, teething and accidents. I spent more time visiting pediatricians to ensure that my daughter was always in good health. 

As a parent, I learnt that children use imitation so as to learn about the social world. At her young stage, my daughter was quite egocentric; she assume that everybody shared her way of viewing things. She was often unable to take another person’s point of view. My child was unable to take even my point of view. No matter how hard I tried to persuade her, she could not keep it in mind and coordinate it on her own. I think she was not selfish, but barely captive of her view point. For my child, like most children between ages two and four, had simple pragmatic functions of language, which are more important than the meaning of a sentence. I observed that my child, and other children speaking different languages could play for several minutes without noticing the language difference.  The interactions between these children often emphasize the similarity of pragmatic rules between languages while meanings of words are got from the tone of the voice and other nonverbal cues.

Regarding physical, cognitive, psychological, and social milestones, I had an experience with my two-year-old toddler, who always tried to be close to me. After reading the Skinner’s book on child development, I found out the cause to be genetic susceptibility. My husband is generally more sensitive, and the child might have taken the character from him or maybe I was too protective. To help her get out of this problem, I had to reassure her with calm and confident expression to bring the anxiety down. It was important for me as a parent to note that heredity and environment contributed much to our children’s characters. Her characteristics such as height and eye color are largely determined genetically. 

 
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Theories of Child Development

Child development is the growth that occurs in children. It begins with infancy and continues through adulthood. Studying child development helps in understanding what children can do at various ages. For instance, we learn that infants explore using their sense; it is therefore prudent to keep infant’s toys clean and safe. Studying child development helps us realize that children are not alike. They differ in the way they respond to affection, play, people, and objects in their environment. Healthy brain develops from positive stimuli that are factors in brain development. Interestingly, this stimulus begins at birth; therefore, it is necessary for children to have loving caregivers. 

Though there are many child development theories, the research on children development is ongoing. Cognitive and behaviorist theories are among the major theories that study child development. According to the behaviorist theory, child development is based on environmental factors. This theory presented by Skinner states that person’s behavior can be shaped by punishing the behavior that is not desired and rewarding the behavior that is desired. The diversity that children develop in their behavior is a result of different punishments and rewards that they experience as they grow. In accordance with this theory, any negative development issue in a child is considered to have originated exclusively in the environment in which they live. Parents and educators often use this theory to instill good behavior while they eliminate destructive and negative behaviors.

Cognitive theory, on the other hand, bases child development on how they think at different levels, from simple to complex cognitive abilities. Children develop through the interaction with the people and the world around them. Therefore, children experience discrepancies in the way the world actually is; they often reorganize their previous discoveries into the new meaning and understanding. Cognitive theory is divided into four parts or stages of development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. Children till the age of two years are at the stage of sensorimotor development; at this stage, the main feature is object permanence. In preoperational stage where the children are between the ages of two and seven years, the key feature is egocentrism. Concrete operational and formal operational levels are reached by the children between seven and eleven years, and eleven years and older respectively. The key feature at the concrete operational level of development is conservation. Piaget, the psychologist who developed cognitive theory, believed that all children experience cognitive development in the abovementioned sequence. However, he noted that some children may have a difficulty in reaching all the stages, and that not all children will get through each stage at the same age.  The orders of these stages of development are universal, no matter in what type of environment the child is raised. The idea of the cognitive theory is to allow children to learn by doing something. Furthermore, children need to be active in understanding the world around them while doing explorations. 

The Stages of Language Development from Infancy to School Age

Children acquire their first language in early childhood. Infants prefer the human voice and attune to it preferably among other sounds. Interestingly, they prefer high-pitched sound characteristic of a female voice. These preferences are observable at birth. However, some researchers argue that babies who were read to while in the womb by their mothers were more familiar with their mother’s voices and could pick it among other female voices. At infancy, the babies are aware of the sounds in their environment. They listen to the voices of those close to them and cry or startle if there is an unfamiliar noise. They awake to loud noise and become still and keen to in response to unique sounds. Astoundingly, babies learn to turn when spoken to and smile when they hear familiar voices. They brighten up to laughter sounds and quieten to crying sounds; they also stop their activities and attend closely to familiar voices. At three months, babies respond to comforting sounds whether voices are familiar or not. Between four to six months, babies respond to the word “no”. They also respond to changes in tones of sounds other than speech alone. At this stage, they are fascinated by toys that make sounds and enjoy rhythm and music. Between seventh and twelfth month, the timeframe is fun and exciting, as the baby can now listen when addressed and look in the face when called by their names. It is in this period that the baby can babble reduplicated syllables like “dadada”, “mamama”, or “nanana”. At this stage, they will also recognize objects like “key”, “car”, and “daddy”.

The baby starts making his or her first word between nine and fifteenth months. At this stage, the baby starts making sounds that are close to how adults sound. Baby use sounds at this stage to seek attention; they use the first words communicatively well and specifically to the situation. At this stage, babies can understand orders and follow step-by-step direction, laugh appropriately, and ask for help using gestures and sounds. At around eighteen to twenty four months of age, toddlers understand that there are words for everything. They usually first learn general nouns and may overgeneralize words such all animals - “dogs”. Some toddlers learn words for social interactions like greetings and expressions more readily than others. At this level, children usually have twenty to fifty intelligible words and can make a three-word sentence and enjoy challenging words like helicopter (Hoff, 2013).

At preschool years, children’s vocabulary is almost exploding; they have words for almost everything. Their sentences are longer, and they are able to talk about things that happened far from home. On most occasions, they talk about friends, outings, and exciting experiences they had.  Their speech is usually fluent, clear, and can be understood by other people. In fact, they become more confident with words and sometimes say what parents wish they did not say. They are easy to listen to because they speak clearly (Hoff, 2013). This is the stage when children construct long logical sentences. They can tell long stories, including imaginative ones, and often stick to the topic using good grammar. They are able to communicate with their fellow children and can at times tell creative, fantastic, imaginative stories to strangers when you are out together.

Major Physical, Psychological, Cognitive, and Social Milestones in Infancy, Early Childhood, School Age, and Early Adolescence

There are several milestones that children face as they continuously undergo the four stages: infancy, early childhood, school age, and early adolescence.  During the early days after birth, the child shows some movements that gradually develop into the direction and function as the child grows. By four months, the baby is able to balance his or her head properly and can roll from his back to the stomach. Children develop a good sense of hearing and can follow a sound with their eyes and relate it to their own language. At around the age of ten months, the infant teeth emerge, and they can hold the bottle and feed themselves.  By the age of three, the child’s height doubles, and the increase in weight is four times the birth weight. At this period, the baby develops skills such as standing alone, walking, sitting, and attempts holding a feeding spoon to the mouth. Children can also be seen attempting to help in dressing and undressing themselves.  From the age of five, physical development is rapid; the motor skills are greatly developed during this stage.  The child may no longer require the daytime naps at this level of development; the child will scribble in attempt to color or write. During the school age, the growth of the child is gradual but not as fast as during the early years. The child develops permanent teeth at this age and will develop the hygienic skills such bathing, tying shoelaces, and brushing teeth without help. The rate of development accelerates with the transition into puberty and, finally, to adolescence. Additionally, this is the period where there is a rapid change in appearance in both females and males, resulting to sexual and skeletal maturation.

Though psychological development may slightly differ from cognitive development, the two go along.  The reason is that psychological development is an improvement of mental abilities while cognitive development is how one successfully put the capabilities into use. At infant stage, the baby learns to separate from the environment. Babies use skills of sense such as tasting, seeing, and touching to help them learn more about their surroundings; this stage is called the sensorimotor stage.  The greatest development expected during the childhood stage is a pre-operational stage; this is the development of language skills in social and cognitive growth. The acquaintance with the environment and the use of language to interact with peers speed up the development process.  However, children at this stage are not yet learnt how to interpret information and, therefore, are unable to see the opponent’s point of view; it is a characteristic known as egocentrism. A child at this stage will expect others to freely share with them but at the same time refuse to share with friends.  Children at school age stage can have logical thinking and are able to understand action reversibility. At adolescence, the child can think logically and can reason to find solutions and create ideas. This stage is very important, as it marks the transition between childhood and adulthood.

Moral and social development at the infant stage mostly depends on the interaction of the child with the handlers and the attachment they have. However, the development of the toddler through the observation and interactions helps them learn how to form interactions later in life (Taylor et al., 2015). The development during the school age is called integration. The reason is that this is the stage where a child learns the important social interactions and emotional skills that are shaped mostly by his or her relationship with family and peers.  At about the age of thirteen to fourteen years (adolescence), children have now learnt who they are; some of them may become rebellious due to self-doubt.  At this stage, the child anticipates achievement and most often seeks leadership or someone to inspire them. Successful adolescence will make the child develop his or her own set of ideas. As time moves, the child learns that the decision to do good or bad is not just for fear of punishment but also affects his or her interaction with other people.

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Environmental and Hereditary Influences that Affect Child Development and Growth. The Influences of the Family and Society

The human development has begun at conception; the question how nature and nurture influence the human behavior and development has been debated for a long time. What should be understood is that both nature and nurture (environmental factors and genes) play a major role in human development (Taylor et al., 2015). The environmental influence on a child’s development can be divided into two main categories: environmental agents and maternal characteristics. Maternal characteristics combine nutrition of the mother, maternal habits, diseases passed from the mother, and any other stressful situation the mother is undergoing. These setbacks are mostly experienced at the vital stage of development and may result in poor physical development and slow growth. Environmental factors that can affect a child’s growth include exposure to drugs and diseases; exposure to radiation and chemicals could even result to physical and psychological defects of the infant. Hereditary factors are transferred from parents to children through chromosomes, these shapes an individual character in relation to their parents.

However, the general effect that the genetics and  environment have on child development after birth  often relate to one another; the environment can act as s suppressor or an enhancer of hereditary diseases. Most of the time, the family, and mostly the parents, influence the child’s development by passing traits in the form of genes. As the child matures, parents can constantly encourage the development of the trait through providing tools and encouraging participation in competitions since childhood (Hoff, 2013). The type of culture or society can also have an effect on the development of the child because some behaviors may be considered a priority. For example, a child can be brought up in a society where school is not important. Therefore, sending the child to school will not be a priority to the parents, and, hence, the child’s education will be stunted. The environment in terms of culture, society, and family can also influence the physical and emotional development of the baby depending on the provided atmosphere. The interaction between the environment and genes can cause defects in children due to exposure to harmful stimuli in the environment.  This occurs when the mother is exposed to harmful radiation when pregnant. The outcome will be a child with deformities that were not seen previously in any of the family lineages. Nature can only help in the growth of a child who inherited some special talents.  Hence, it can be concluded that nature uses genetics to help in development and can impact negatively or positively on the traits of a child. 

There is considerable evidence that a child that is well-nurtured and brought up in a good stable social environment often grows up into a responsible adult. Children brought up in an environment characterized by residential stability perform better in school and become successful in life. As they grow to become parents, they will strive to bring up their children as good as they were brought up. At the end, there will be a society of disciplined well-behaved people. On the other hand, children brought up in a harsh, violent, and non-loving environment will most likely drop out of school and start criminal activities. They are also likely to be involved in risky behaviors and are more likely to use drugs and banned substances. As they grow up into adults, most of them will experience low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. This will weigh down their families and society because they will require treatment, counseling, and mental health facilities paid for by the society. The research done in Australia proved that children raised in a hostile environment turn hostile to society when they grow up. If many children are brought up in a hostile environment, then we will have more violence in families and society at large.    

Conclusion

The paper described the stages of child development, including mental, social, physical, and emotional development. It is important to remember that each child will develop at his or her own pace. Some developmental channels may develop faster than the rest; for example, a child may develop faster physically than mentally. Most of the time, given the right stimuli and nurturing, all channels will catch up in the end. These stages of development are just average and should never be treated as rules but rather as a general guide.  

When children are at infancy stage, they are in the process of changing from the complete dependency on their parents or caregivers to the learning how to stand on their own, walk, babble, talk, and play with others. Then, they realize who they are. When they enter early childhood, they improve their motor skills, as they move more smoothly. They also grow socially and mentally, as they interact more with other children. At middle childhood, children continue to improve and grow physically and mentally as they attend school. At early adolescence, children go through puberty as their bodies mature with capability to reproduce. Teens at this stage often assert their personal identity. Most children at late adolescence and young adults will start their independent life by finding jobs and creating their own families.      

All child development theories make important contributions to how we understand the way children develop and learn. It is good to understand there is no particular theory that addresses all the aspects of how a child develops. For this reason, it is of great importance to gain the important insight from all these theories to understand that children are impacted by nurture and nature. Society, parents, educators, and handlers of children should be intentional in understanding the way children develop and behave.  This insight will assist adults in knowing how to mold children’s development in the best possible way. 

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