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What Is Child Development?

Child development refers to the maturity process that every child goes through until they reach a particular age. During this process precise skills are learned, such as sitting, standing, walking, talking, skipping, running, and motor skills. Each skill level is known as "developmental milestones" and should appear at expected time periods.

There are five main stages of development:

  • Cognitive development refers to the child's ability to learn and to problem solve. This stage includes everything from a newborn baby discovering his toes, to a five year old learning to read.
  • Speech and language development has to do with the child's ability to use and understand language. This stage can be seen as early as several months when your baby says his or her first words, then again when your two year old can name items, all the way up to your five year old using proper word choices.
  • Social and emotional development is how a child interacts with others. This stage also measures how the child controls his or her own behavior, as well as how they handle different situations. First signs of this social and emotional development can be seen as early as the first few weeks when your new baby smiles at you, when a six month old learns to wave "bye bye", all the way through to a six year old knowing how to share and take turns on the playground.
  • Gross motor skill development is the child's ability to use his or her large muscle groups. This can be seen when a baby begins to sit up, when a one year old pulls him or herself up to a standing position, and when a four year old learns to skip.
  • Fine motor skills are the child's ability to use their small muscle groups. This is most noted by assessing their hand and finger dexterity. When the child learns to pick up and hold small objects such as a fork, learns to draw with a marker, or helps you turn the pages of a book at story time, the fine motor skills are developing properly.

Developmental milestones typically occur in a chronological order. Each skill set generally needs to be learned completely before advancing to the next. Before children begin to run they walk, before they walk they crawl, and before they crawl they sit up. Their strength and confidence is built up with each completed stage.

It is important to remember that while each child develops similarly, there is room for variation. Not every child is going to learn to walk at nine months; some may take up to fifteen months. Some children begin talking at twelve months, while others are closer to twenty-four months. Each child needs to be allowed to develop at his or her own pace. However, there does come a point when there may be a need for concern. If your child is past fifteen months old and is still not walking, and does not seem to be interesting in standing, you may want to consult with a pediatrician. There could be an underlying medical condition that should be addressed.

There has been scientific research that has proven there are two main factors that influence development: genetics and environment. While genes cannot be altered, there are a few things you can do to further encourage developmental milestones environmentally. Many people insist they need to purchase expensive toys, DVDs, and educational games to give their children an edge. While there is no real data to prove these items help, what has been shown to help is human contact. Holding, hugging, talking, listening, and sharing are excellent ways to encourage development. Interacting with children by singing, playing basic games, and reading to them has been shown to improve vocabulary, boost confidence, and promote a healthy attitude. Limit the child's amount of "alone time" with the television and do not be afraid to ask for professional help if you feel something is amiss.


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