Understanding Child Development
The speedy physical and psychological changes that children undergo from birth through adolescence often leave parents and caregivers wondering how best to engage and help them. The process of child development includes everything from sensory awareness and fine motor skills to language and socialization. The progress of development is strongly influenced by a child's genetic makeup, environment, and cognitive skills.
Parents and medical professionals frequently use developmental milestones, such as when a child learns to speak or read, to track that child’s growth relative to their peers. These milestones can in some cases help identify any learning disabilities or behavioral problems a child may have, so that they can be addressed early, but it is important to note that these benchmarks may have no bearing on a child's ultimate capabilities.
Ages and Stages of Childhood
Children have varying physical and emotional needs, depending on their age, personality, and developmental stage. Decades of research in developmental psychology, pediatrics, and neuroscience have converged on the fact that the first five years are especially critical to a child's outcome.
As a child matures, they go through phases during which they explore their environment, learn verbal and reasoning skills, socialize with others, and, eventually, assert independence from their family. Research explores how parents and caregivers can manage a child's expectations, and their own, and nurture the best qualities in children.
Over the past several decades, the age of puberty has been dropping, putting an increasingly early end to childhood. Both genetic and environmental factors influence the onset of puberty, and observers believe that pubertal timing may to some degree represent an assessment of childhood and that the acceleration of puberty may be a measure of the stresses a child has experienced.