Child development: stages and characteristics. (2023)

How do you feel about the immortal nature versus nurture debate? When examining child development, it's important to remember that it takes both!

Early childhood development is based on a series of processes that occur in a child's early years. These are also influenced by factors such as social environment and education.

  • What is child development?
  • What are the stages of childhood development?
  • What are the main characteristics of child development?
  • What is social and emotional development like in early childhood?

Understand child development

Child development is a really interesting and important area of ​​psychological study. Examining child development helps us identify important physical, cognitive, and social developmental milestones that children should achieve. If a child is not reaching these developmental milestones, it may help us to find medical or environmental interventions (e.g., parenting).

There are three main areas that psychologists can focus on when studying child developmental psychology:

  1. Physically

  2. Cognitive

  3. Sofficially

body developmentlook at the maturation. Maturation is the child's growth process that is based on his biology and does not focus on external influences.cognitive development focuses on how a child's brain develops mental activities such as thinking, speaking and remembering.Social developmentExamines how a child's relationships and environmental factors affect their growth and emotional health.

stages of child development

Most people recognize the three main stages of growth in childhood development: early childhood, early childhood, and adolescence. Each stage represents different elements of developmental milestones that children must achieve. These developmental milestones are physical, cognitive, and social.

Child development: stages and characteristics. (1)a childLearnClimbing, pexel. com.

levels of body development

We know that the physical focus of child development is based on the idea ofmaturation. Maturation is when psychologists view brain and body growth as a natural biological sequence. Although the study of a child's physical growth can be left to pediatricians, understanding this process is important for psychologists when it comes to studying the maturation of a child's brain. It's a big part of early childhood developmental milestones.

The main stages of the physical development of the child in psychology are:

  • brain development

  • engine development

  • brain maturation

stages of cognitive development

swiss psychologistJean Piagetis known to identify four stages of a child's cognitive development; they are presented in his Theory of Cognitive Development. These four stages are:

  1. sensory motor skills

  2. preoperative

  3. concrete operation

  4. formally operational

levels of Social development

A child's social development is often viewed through the lens ofAttachment.

Attachmentit is the emotional bond between the child and the caregiver. It is considered one of the most important aspects of childhood social development.

Observing a child's attachment style is a good way to assess early childhood social development. It can also have a big impact on the interactions and bonds we form later in life. We'll look at attachments and parenting styles in a little more detail later.

In addition to the attachmentthe german american psychologistErik Erikson identified eight stages ofpsychosocial development, four of them in childhood.

  1. Phase of trust x distrust

  2. autonomy stage versus shame and doubt

  3. Initiative vs. Guilt phase

  4. Industry vs. Inferiority stage

Characteristics of the stages of child development

Now that we know what they are, let's take a closer look at these steps.

body development

The stages of a child's physical development are:

brain maturation

Brain maturation is a process that continues from the prenatal stage through adulthood. Brain maturation in infancy is what transforms a newborn from instinctual babies who carry only unconscious impressions into early childhood individuals who create and store conscious memories.

early childhood brain development

When you're born, you already have nearly all the brain cells you'll ever have - our brains aren't quite sure what to do with them yet. After birth, our brains go through a wild growth phase (much like our bodies do) in our early years. Neural networks begin to grow to help your brain tell your body how to eat, walk, sit, stand, and so on.

Children's brains increase in size rapidly during early childhood. They require a lot of energy to develop the parts of the brain that lead to the physical and cognitive changes that will develop over the next few years.

motor development inearly childhood

Humans develop motor skills in the same order. While the exact age at which skills develop can vary from person to person, motor skills complement and develop as the neurons in our brains connect. It's easy to see how brain development is directly linked to motor skill development.

Research says that children around the world develop motor skills in the same order. They first roll over, then sit, crawl, stand, and finally walk. While the exact age of these starting skills may be somewhat influenced by culture, parents, and other environmental factors, the order remains the same. It's impossible to get a baby to walk before it can stand, and our evolutionary sequencing is aware of this.

cognitive development

Jean PiagetChild cognitive development theory dictates that children follow these stages.

sensory motor skills

According to Piaget, babies from 0 to 2 years old are in thesensorimotor stageof early childhood development. This means that your understanding of the world is based on sensory information - seeing,To hear, playing, etc. Babies at this stage focus only on the present moment. This is due to the lack of object permanence.

object permanenceit is the awareness that something continues to exist even if it cannot be perceived at that moment.

As babies grow, they begin to build memories of objects and people, even when they're not in space. This is the beginning of object permanence.


Children from 2 to 6 years old are in thepreoperativestage of child development. Opreoperative phaseThat's when the child begins to use language and images to identify things. Although a child at this age can begin to identify things, concepts, and tasks, Piaget suggests that he or she is too young to take a concept and transform it.

A popular example from Piaget's preoperative period is a child and the "two" glasses of milk. He watches milk being poured from a wide, short glass into a tall, thin glass, and identifies the taller glass as "more milk" because it looks fuller. It means a lack of ability to mentally reverse actions or concepts.

concrete operation

A 7- to 12-year-old child is in thespecifically operationalstage of child development. At this stage, children begin to reason logically and draw conclusions about specific events, as well as mentally invert equations and results.

formally operational

From the age of 12, a child isformally operationalstage of child development. Perceptions pass from the concrete and experience to the abstract. This means that the child develops the ability to process hypothetical situations and begins to develop more abstract thinking skills.

Social development

Erick Erickson's theory of the psychosocial stages of a child's social development includes the following:

Phase of trust x distrust

According to Erikson, this phase of a child's development is all about babies.Learntrust their caregivers to meet their needs. Any sense of confidence we may develop as babies and early childhood can influence our sense of confidence later in life, even into adulthood.

autonomy stage versus shame and doubt

According to Erikson, this phase of childhood development is all about early childhood. Young children explore autonomy for the first time. This will be the case when you hear children start saying "NO!" The struggle at this stage is for children to learn to control their meltdowns, which can also affect how this early childhood stage relates to autonomy and emotional outbursts later in life.

Initiative vs. Guilt phase

According to Erikson, this is the "why?" stage of a child's development. Children will begin to question and intrigue the world around them. Allowing a child to learn, explore, and ask questions can also lay a healthy foundation for their future early childhood self to seek answers.

Industry vs. Inferiority stage

According to Erikson, this phase is often the beginning of a "formal" education. A child is evaluated based on performance and production. A child at this stage wants to feel that he is progressing in a similar way to other children and may feel inferior to another child if he is falling behind. This feeling of inferiority can haunt children later in life, so it's an important part of child development.

Child development: stages and characteristics. (2)The child watches

Social and emotional development in early childhood

As mentioned earlier, attachment and our relationships with our caregivers can greatly influence our early childhood social and emotional development. Mary Ainsworth, a psychological researcher, examined attachment through her Strange Situation study, in which she observed infants' reactions when placed in a new, unfamiliar environment. Ainsworth developed three categories of ties based on the results.

secure attachment

If babies feel comfortable while their parents are around, they will show signs of distress when their parents leave and return to their parents when they return.

avoidant attachment

When babies challenge their parents, they explore new areas and don't go to their parents when they return.

anxious/ambivalent attachment

When infants are ambivalent towards parents or show extreme distress when parents are absent but do not return to parents or seek comfort when parents return.

parenting styles

The way parents and caregivers interact with babies and children can affect their bonding. It is important for parents to develop their own parenting skills as they learn how to help their child reach developmental milestones. There are three basic parenting styles.


This style is based on a strict set of standards with corresponding penalties. This style focuses on seeking obedience rather than encouraging arguments or nuanced behavior. This style is often combined with stronger or more severe punishment for a child.


The style is based on a lack of clear rules, no rules or constantly changing rules. This is also often associated with a lack of meaningful discipline for a child.


This style is based on consistent rules or guidelines that are appropriate to the child's developmental level and well explained. Rules are discussed, as well as punishment, and are consistent for the child.

In short, what makes us who we are is a combination of natureEnurture. A child's physical, cognitive and social development is influenced by gene sequencing and environmental influences.

Child development - Main conclusions

  • The study of child development helps us to identify important physical, cognitive and social milestones that children must achieve. When they fail to meet these milestones, it can help guide us to where medical or environmental interventions can be made.
  • Brain maturation is a process that continues from the prenatal stage through adulthood. Brain maturation in infancy causes babies to transition from instinctual babies who only carry unconscious impressions to individuals who create and store conscious memories.

  • While the exact age of development may vary from person to person, motor skills complement and develop as the neurons in our brains connect.

  • Secure attachment – ​​when babies are comfortable while their parents are around, show signs of distress when their parents leave, and return to their parents when they return.
  • Avoidant Attachment – ​​when babies resist their parents, explore new territories, and don't go to their parents when they return.
  • Anxious/ambivalent attachment – ​​when infants are ambivalent towards parents or show extreme distress when parents are away, but do not return to parents when they return.
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