After reading this article you will learn about the principles and stages of child development.
Principles of Child Development:
Development does not only see behaviour of any individual child at a particular stage, but also looks into the involvement of all people concerned with the development of the child.
It is not only that a child grows and changes his behaviour but it is also necessary how other people around him look at the child’s growing up and reconcile with his behavioural changes at each stage.
The principles listed below govern all aspects of development—physical, sensory-motor, cognitive, mental, behavioural development as well as social- emotional development etc. The following principles will help the adults around the child to perceive him and his behaviour in the process of development, which at times seem inexplicable to the adults surrounding him.
In order to understand this principle, it is first necessary to distinguish between “growth” and “development”. All organisms including the humans increase in size as they grow older. Their responsive behaviours also increase in number as time passes on and life situations vary. This is an index of quantitative change and is called growth.
These quantitative changes accumulate to form a noticeable change of behaviour pattern—a qualitative change from earlier to the present set of behaviour, which is termed development—a noticeable difference in the pattern of the same behaviour will be marked at this stage.
Development progresses qualitatively from simple to complex, from reflexive to habit formation, from unsteady to bold and stable ones. The growth and developmental process starts at the prenatal stage, as and when a single-celled organism at conception grows and develops to a highly complex body structure along with variety of functions. The process by which it takes place is known as development. It continues after the baby is born up to maturational limit.
2. Development Proceeds from General to Specific:
As the child develops, his behaviour becomes more and more intricate and complex leading towards specificity. In the beginning his behaviour remains mass and undifferentiated— a general response to all stimuli. But gradually they get differentiated and specific response is elicited to specific stimulus.
For example, the child at birth expresses only three kinds of behaviour—they lie and rest on the bed, they sleep and they cry when they are hungry.
The baby again cries when he is uncomfortable due to bed-wetting or something else disturbing him. Gradually this crying response becomes time- specific when he is hungry at intervals. His crying responses due to uncomfortable feeling becomes different from the earlier ones due to the presence of an unfamiliar face or remaining alone in the bed and so on, thus indicating this awareness of making different responses to different stimuli.
This happens because development has taken place and the child’s behaviour proceeds from general to specific.
Again, a baby makes general arm movements long before specific responses for reaching objects. These are the examples of behavioural development. Even in terms of physical development, as the cells of the body change their character, Specific kinds of tissues with specific functions are developed — skins, bones, blood etc. Same thing happens during the child’s language development.
3. Development Proceeds Directionally:
“The cephalo-caudal” principle refers to the fact that development (as well as growth) always proceeds directionally from head to foot. We see this principle demonstrated in physical growth simply by comparing the changes that take place in the comparative sizes of different parts of the body.
At birth baby’s heads are large in comparison to the rest of their bodies. As children grow older, the rate of growth increases in the lower extremities of the body. As this occurs, the head gradually begins to look smaller in relation to the rest of the body.
The other direction in which the body develops is known as “proximo-distal” fashion i.e. it proceeds from areas closest to the central nervous system outward to the extremities of the body. Therefore, arm muscles develop before finger muscles.
4. Development Continues throughout Life:
Development is more or less a continuous process with spurts at some stages. The changes that are controlled by the developmental process are orderly and tend to occur in an unvarying sequence. Therefore, the major changes are, more or less, predictable. Everybody can be expected to sit before standing, to stand before walking Havinghurst, (1952) .
Other psychologists tried to present some “developmental tasks” of life according to the chronological sequence. According to Havinghurst, each of the major periods of life involves some of the important physical, cognitive, social and emotional tasks which are to be mastered at the proper and accepted developmental stage of the whole life span.
Since development is continuous, what happens at one stage influences all ensuing stages. People change as a result of maturation and experience. Psychoanalytic theorists have pointed out great importance of the experiences the child receives in the first year of life.
Particular emphasis has been laid on maternal affection he/she gets at that period, the lack or loss of which can be expected to exhibit predictable social problems in later stages of development. It is necessary, therefore, to study the facts of child development in order to understand the behaviour of the adults.
Although the development is continuous and one stage merges gradually to the next one and sometimes are overlapping in character, still development sometimes seem to be discontinuous and saltatory. This happens because development varies from age to age for any given child.
For some, it is not very smooth and gradual. Sudden spurts in development appear from time to time, especially during the first two years of life and at puberty. A sudden noticeable change appears at some stage which is entirely different from the previous stage.
Taking the first step for walking is such a change, which is an amazing and very satisfying sight for the mother. The rate of development also varies from child to child. Any two children born at the same time can be expected to differ somewhat as to their height, weight or levels of sensory and motor development and so on.
This means that each child is unique and tends to grow and develop as per his/her own rate and characteristics. The rate of development is also asynchronous, it varies as to different types of development, e.g. emotional, social or language and concept development.
There is relationship between different aspects of development, for example: there is a marked correlation between the rates of physical and mental development. Thus we can surmise that the developmental stages emerged logically from the principles outlined in previous section. According to these principles, the child develops in a systematic and orderly fashion.
The concept of the developmental stage becomes most useful when it is used to describe not just one behaviour, but rather an interrelated and unifying set of behaviours associated with a given age level.
Inhelder calls this set of behaviours “a structural whole as opposed to any isolated pieces of behaviour”. This view led the psychologists to explore broader aspects of behaviour at various stages of development and generalize the sorts of behaviour expected of children at various age levels. Consequently, some categorical stages could be labelled, as childhood, adolescence etc. along the developmental continuum.
The hypothetical divisions are based on the descriptions of the sequences of changes in behaviours at those levels. It is again to be, considered that though development is a life-long process, but viewed ability-wise, each development —physical, mental, sensory-motor language, emotional or social etc. which can be measured quantitatively—ceases as the child reaches certain age level e.g. at the onset of adulthood.
The post-natal stages after birth are broadly divided as infancy through childhood, preadolescence, adolesecence to adulthood which provide descriptions and sequential changes at each stage so named. For example, the term “adolescence” brings to mind a particular description and sequence of behaviours different from those of earlier stages at different age levels.
Description of developmental stages are based on the “average” person’s bahaviour—that is, behaviour expected of most people at any given age. Eventually, these behaviours become age related, i.e. behaviour of the particular age group. Their behaviours designate them as belonging to a particular age group known as e.g. “adolescence”.
Thus infancy, childhood, adolescence etc. are considered as periods of life i.e. developmental stages. They serve as a kind of concise summation of what is happening to the individuals at that point in their development. Kenistone described a developmental stage between adolescence and adulthood, which he called “Stage of Youth”.
Youth, he believes, “is characterized by behaviour associated with tensions between self and society, pervasive ambivalance alternating estrangement and omnipotentiality”.
The developmental stages are, in fact, not simply description of age-related behaviour but according to Piaget the stages of development describing certain sequence of behaviour—the behaviours that gradually and predictably change in some specific order.
To summarise, we can state that development is unified and cumulative. The child’s physiological maturing interacts with his experience. Thus, development has been equated with readiness.
Apart from age-related behaviour, maturity can also be rated in statistical terms, comparing an individual child’s behaviour with the “norm” for his grade as the child enters school. Maturity gradually changes its concept from age- related to achievement-related behaviour.
This broadens the concept of maturity and refers to the extent to which the children have mastered not only educational skills and knowledge of subject matter but also general competence, social competence, control of emotional behaviour, physical coordination and so on.
The achievement-related maturational concept helps us to understand such facts as “early maturer”, “physically advanced children for their age”, “late maturer”, “immature children” and “exceptional and bright children” etc.
The extent to which the child exceeds or lags behind the developmental norms for his age tells us great deal about his behaviour. Norms refer not only to physical development but also to social and emotional development as well.
It may further be mentioned that the term maturity conveys two notions from the behavioural point of view:
(a) Behaviour that is appropriate to the age of the individual concerned, and
(b) Refers to the behavioural standards and expectations of adults. The maturity level, judged from these two aspects, involves an individual child’s readiness to engage in “prosocial behaviours” like sharing, helping, cooperating, exchange of ideas and so on.
Much depends on the kind of behaviour they see in adults. Adult models are very important in the development of child’s pro-social behaviour and equally important is the role of ‘role playing’, ‘discussion’ and ‘formal training’.