The development of a child is influenced by many factors including genetics, temperament, experiences, health, nutrition, culture, family, home and community. These factors influence every aspect of a child across a range of areas including emotional, physical, behavioural, social and cognitive development. A child’s developmental pathway is unique and although it generally progresses in a sequential and predictable way there are many variations in regard to what is considered normal development.
Stage 1: Birth to One year
At this stage the infant is striving to develop an attachment to their primary care giver. This is established by the carer consistently providing nurturance and responding to the infants’ cries. Given a secure environment and carer, the infant is allowed to adopt the concept of basic trust. This is created by routine and consistency organised by the carer; they learn to trust that their carer will return when out of sight. This translates into the general sense of trust in other adults and the notion that the world is a safe place.
Stage 2: One to Three years
As the infant becomes a toddler; they learn the simple skills of language and refine their motor skills, beginning with crawling and then walking. This stage is characterised by independence from the carer. The toddler learns that they control their behaviour; they learn impulse control, independence and self-restraint. They master toileting while motor and language skills help the toddler learn autonomy and move through to the next stage.
Stage 3: Three to Six years
As the toddler becomes a child; they often begin kindergarten and then pre–school. They will ask lots of questions, become more independent, begin to explore different adult roles through play, identify themselves with their significant carers and begin to develop social connections to include extended family and peers. During this stage the child is able to label feelings however needs help to manage these feelings through structure, routine and limits. Through mastery of skills in previous developmental stages the child has become egocentric; in contrast they also begin to realise that some of their behaviour is socially more acceptable than others.
Stage 4: Six to Twelve years
The child enters their social prime. They develop a sense of personal satisfaction and competence by learning new skills and how to get along with peers. They also begin to seek and receive recognition from others for becoming productive members of society (usually associated with schooling). Newly acquired skills include more sophisticated fine and gross motor skills, a capacity to resolve conflict, development of empathy and responsibility, conflict resolution skills, the understanding of more abstract concepts including: the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, understand time and space, and the development of an appreciation for real life danger.
Stage 5: Twelve to Eighteen years
As adolescence begins, puberty takes over and the child prepares for early adulthood. This stage is generally marked by experimentation and the development of self-identity. The adolescent returns to the egocentric phase and embark on their quest to find out how they fit into the world, what their role will be in society and what their identity will be and relationships with peers become very important. Probably the most concerning experimentation evident during this stage (as perceived by the carer) is risk taking through drug and alcohol experimentation and sexual exploration. Adolescents desire more independence and conflict with carers can become more frequent. Adolescents engage in logical more adult-like thinking and their capacity to solve problems becomes more complex.