- Explain the physical development that occurs from infancy through childhood
- Explain the cognitive development that occurs from infancy through childhood
- Explain the emotional development that occurs from infancy through childhood, including attachment, the development of a self-concept, and parenting styles
In infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood, the body’s physical development is rapid (Figure 1). On average, newborns weigh between 5 and 10 pounds, and a newborn’s weight typically doubles in six months and triples in one year. By 2 years old the weight will have quadrupled, so we can expect that a 2 year old should weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. The average length of a newborn is 19.5 inches, increasing to 29.5 inches by 12 months and 34.4 inches by 2 years old (WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study Group, 2006).
During infancy and childhood, growth does not occur at a steady rate (Carel, Lahlou, Roger, & Chaussain, 2004). Growth slows between 4 and 6 years old: During this time children gain 5–7 pounds and grow about 2–3 inches per year. Once girls reach 8–9 years old, their growth rate outpaces that of boys due to a pubertal growth spurt. This growth spurt continues until around 12 years old, coinciding with the start of the menstrual cycle. By 10 years old, the average girl weighs 88 pounds, and the average boy weighs 85 pounds.
We are born with all of the brain cells that we will ever have—about 100–200 billion neurons (nerve cells) whose function is to store and transmit information (Huttenlocher & Dabholkar, 1997). However, the nervous system continues to grow and develop. Each neural pathway forms thousands of new connections during infancy and toddlerhood. This period of rapid neural growth is called blooming. Neural pathways continue to develop through puberty. The blooming period of neural growth is then followed by a period of pruning, where neural connections are reduced. It is thought that pruning causes the brain to function more efficiently, allowing for mastery of more complex skills (Hutchinson, 2011). Blooming occurs during the first few years of life, and pruning continues through childhood and into adolescence in various areas of the brain.
The size of our brains increases rapidly. For example, the brain of a 2-year-old is 55% of its adult size, and by 6 years old the brain is about 90% of its adult size (Tanner, 1978). During early childhood (ages 3–6), the frontal lobes grow rapidly. Recalling our discussion of the 4 lobes of the brain earlier in this book, the frontal lobes are associated with planning, reasoning, memory, and impulse control. Therefore, by the time children reach school age, they are developmentally capable of controlling their attention and behavior. Through the elementary school years, the frontal, temporal, occipital, and parietal lobes all grow in size. The brain growth spurts experienced in childhood tend to follow Piaget’s sequence of cognitive development, so that significant changes in neural functioning account for cognitive advances (Kolb & Whishaw, 2009; Overman, Bachevalier, Turner, & Peuster, 1992).
Motor development occurs in an orderly sequence as infants move from reflexive reactions (e.g., sucking and rooting) to more advanced motor functioning. For instance, babies first learn to hold their heads up, then to sit with assistance, and then to sit unassisted, followed later by crawling and then walking.
Motor skills refer to our ability to move our bodies and manipulate objects. Fine motor skills focus on the muscles in our fingers, toes, and eyes, and enable coordination of small actions (e.g., grasping a toy, writing with a pencil, and using a spoon). Gross motor skills focus on large muscle groups that control our arms and legs and involve larger movements (e.g., balancing, running, and jumping).
As motor skills develop, there are certain developmental milestones that young children should achieve (Table 1). For each milestone there is an average age, as well as a range of ages in which the milestone should be reached. An example of a developmental milestone is sitting. On average, most babies sit alone at 7 months old. Sitting involves both coordination and muscle strength, and 90% of babies achieve this milestone between 5 and 9 months old. In another example, babies on average are able to hold up their head at 6 weeks old, and 90% of babies achieve this between 3 weeks and 4 months old. If a baby is not holding up his head by 4 months old, he is showing a delay. If the child is displaying delays on several milestones, that is reason for concern, and the parent or caregiver should discuss this with the child’s pediatrician. Some developmental delays can be identified and addressed through early intervention.
|2||Kicks a ball; walks up and down stairs||Plays alongside other children; copies adults||Points to objects when named; puts 2–4 words together in a sentence||Sorts shapes and colors; follows 2-step instructions|
|3||Climbs and runs; pedals tricycle||Takes turns; expresses many emotions; dresses self||Names familiar things; uses pronouns||Plays make believe; works toys with parts (levers, handles)|
|4||Catches balls; uses scissors||Prefers social play to solo play; knows likes and interests||Knows songs and rhymes by memory||Names colors and numbers; begins writing letters|
|5||Hops and swings; uses fork and spoon||Distinguishes real from pretend; likes to please friends||Speaks clearly; uses full sentences||Counts to 10 or higher; prints some letters and copies basic shapes|
In addition to rapid physical growth, young children also exhibit significant development of their cognitive abilities. Piaget thought that children’s ability to understand objects—such as learning that a rattle makes a noise when shaken—was a cognitive skill that develops slowly as a child matures and interacts with the environment. Today, developmental psychologists think Piaget was incorrect. Researchers have found that even very young children understand objects and how they work long before they have experience with those objects (Baillargeon, 1987; Baillargeon, Li, Gertner, & Wu, 2011). For example, children as young as 3 months old demonstrated knowledge of the properties of objects that they had only viewed and did not have prior experience with them. In one study, 3-month-old infants were shown a truck rolling down a track and behind a screen. The box, which appeared solid but was actually hollow, was placed next to the track. The truck rolled past the box as would be expected. Then the box was placed on the track to block the path of the truck. When the truck was rolled down the track this time, it continued unimpeded. The infants spent significantly more time looking at this impossible event (Figure 2). Baillargeon (1987) concluded that they knew solid objects cannot pass through each other. Baillargeon’s findings suggest that very young children have an understanding of objects and how they work, which Piaget (1954) would have said is beyond their cognitive abilities due to their limited experiences in the world.
Just as there are physical milestones that we expect children to reach, there are also cognitive milestones. It is helpful to be aware of these milestones as children gain new abilities to think, problem solve, and communicate. For example, infants shake their head “no” around 6–9 months, and they respond to verbal requests to do things like “wave bye-bye” or “blow a kiss” around 9–12 months. Remember Piaget’s ideas about object permanence? We can expect children to grasp the concept that objects continue to exist even when they are not in sight by around 8 months old. Because toddlers (i.e., 12–24 months old) have mastered object permanence, they enjoy games like hide and seek, and they realize that when someone leaves the room they will come back (Loop, 2013). Toddlers also point to pictures in books and look in appropriate places when you ask them to find objects.
Preschool-age children (i.e., 3–5 years old) also make steady progress in cognitive development. Not only can they count, name colors, and tell you their name and age, but they can also make some decisions on their own, such as choosing an outfit to wear. Preschool-age children understand basic time concepts and sequencing (e.g., before and after), and they can predict what will happen next in a story. They also begin to enjoy the use of humor in stories. Because they can think symbolically, they enjoy pretend play and inventing elaborate characters and scenarios. One of the most common examples of their cognitive growth is their blossoming curiosity. Preschool-age children love to ask “Why?”
An important cognitive change occurs in children this age. Recall that Piaget described 2–3 year olds as egocentric, meaning that they do not have an awareness of others’ points of view. Between 3 and 5 years old, children come to understand that people have thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that are different from their own. This is known as theory-of-mind (TOM). Children can use this skill to tease others, persuade their parents to purchase a candy bar, or understand why a sibling might be angry. When children develop TOM, they can recognize that others have false beliefs (Dennett, 1987; Callaghan et al., 2005).
False-belief tasks are useful in determining a child’s acquisition of theory-of-mind (TOM). Take a look at this video clip showing a false-belief task involving a box of crayons.
Cognitive skills continue to expand in middle and late childhood (6–11 years old). Thought processes become more logical and organized when dealing with concrete information (Figure 3). Children at this age understand concepts such as the past, present, and future, giving them the ability to plan and work toward goals. Additionally, they can process complex ideas such as addition and subtraction and cause-and-effect relationships. However, children’s attention spans tend to be very limited until they are around 11 years old. After that point, it begins to improve through adulthood.
One well-researched aspect of cognitive development is language acquisition. As mentioned earlier, the order in which children learn language structures is consistent across children and cultures (Hatch, 1983). You’ve also learned that some psychological researchers have proposed that children possess a biological predisposition for language acquisition.
Starting before birth, babies begin to develop language and communication skills. At birth, babies apparently recognize their mother’s voice and can discriminate between the language(s) spoken by their mothers and foreign languages, and they show preferences for faces that are moving in synchrony with audible language (Blossom & Morgan, 2006; Pickens, 1994; Spelke & Cortelyou, 1981).
Children communicate information through gesturing long before they speak, and there is some evidence that gesture usage predicts subsequent language development (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005). In terms of producing spoken language, babies begin to coo almost immediately. Cooing is a one-syllable combination of a consonant and a vowel sound (e.g., coo or ba). Interestingly, babies replicate sounds from their own languages. A baby whose parents speak French will coo in a different tone than a baby whose parents speak Spanish or Urdu. After cooing, the baby starts to babble. Babbling begins with repeating a syllable, such as ma-ma, da-da, or ba-ba. When a baby is about 12 months old, we expect her to say her first word for meaning, and to start combining words for meaning at about 18 months.
At about 2 years old, a toddler uses between 50 and 200 words; by 3 years old they have a vocabulary of up to 1,000 words and can speak in sentences. During the early childhood years, children’s vocabulary increases at a rapid pace. This is sometimes referred to as the “vocabulary spurt” and has been claimed to involve an expansion in vocabulary at a rate of 10–20 new words per week. Recent research may indicate that while some children experience these spurts, it is far from universal (as discussed in Ganger & Brent, 2004). It has been estimated that, 5 year olds understand about 6,000 words, speak 2,000 words, and can define words and question their meanings. They can rhyme and name the days of the week. Seven year olds speak fluently and use slang and clichés (Stork & Widdowson, 1974).
What accounts for such dramatic language learning by children? Behaviorist B. F. Skinner thought that we learn language in response to reinforcement or feedback, such as through parental approval or through being understood. For example, when a two-year-old child asks for juice, he might say, “me juice,” to which his mother might respond by giving him a cup of apple juice. Noam Chomsky (1957) criticized Skinner’s theory and proposed that we are all born with an innate capacity to learn language. Chomsky called this mechanism a language acquisition device (LAD). Who is correct? Both Chomsky and Skinner are right. Remember that we are a product of both nature and nurture. Researchers now believe that language acquisition is partially inborn and partially learned through our interactions with our linguistic environment (Gleitman & Newport, 1995; Stork & Widdowson, 1974).
Everyday Connection: The Importance of Play and Recess
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2007), unstructured play is an integral part of a child’s development. It builds creativity, problem solving skills, and social relationships. Play also allows children to develop a theory-of-mind as they imaginatively take on the perspective of others.
Outdoor play allows children the opportunity to directly experience and sense the world around them. While doing so, they may collect objects that they come across and develop lifelong interests and hobbies. They also benefit from increased exercise, and engaging in outdoor play can actually increase how much they enjoy physical activity. This helps support the development of a healthy heart and brain. Unfortunately, research suggests that today’s children are engaging in less and less outdoor play (Clements, 2004). Perhaps, it is no surprise to learn that lowered levels of physical activity in conjunction with easy access to calorie-dense foods with little nutritional value are contributing to alarming levels of childhood obesity (Karnik & Kanekar, 2012).
Despite the adverse consequences associated with reduced play, some children are over scheduled and have little free time to engage in unstructured play. In addition, some schools have taken away recess time for children in a push for students to do better on standardized tests, and many schools commonly use loss of recess as a form of punishment. Do you agree with these practices? Why or why not?
Psychosocial development occurs as children form relationships, interact with others, and understand and manage their feelings. In social and emotional development, forming healthy attachments is very important and is the major social milestone of infancy. Attachment is a long-standing connection or bond with others. Developmental psychologists are interested in how infants reach this milestone. They ask such questions as: How do parent and infant attachment bonds form? How does neglect affect these bonds? What accounts for children’s attachment differences?
Researchers Harry Harlow, John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth conducted studies designed to answer these questions. In the 1950s, Harlow conducted a series of experiments on monkeys. He separated newborn monkeys from their mothers. Each monkey was presented with two surrogate mothers. One surrogate monkey was made out of wire mesh, and she could dispense milk. The other monkey was softer and made from cloth: This monkey did not dispense milk. Research shows that the monkeys preferred the soft, cuddly cloth monkey, even though she did not provide any nourishment. The baby monkeys spent their time clinging to the cloth monkey and only went to the wire monkey when they needed to be feed. Prior to this study, the medical and scientific communities generally thought that babies become attached to the people who provide their nourishment. However, Harlow (1958) concluded that there was more to the mother-child bond than nourishment. Feelings of comfort and security are the critical components to maternal-infant bonding, which leads to healthy psychosocial development.
Link to Learning
Harlow’s studies of monkeys were performed before modern ethics guidelines were in place, and today his experiments are widely considered to be unethical and even cruel. Watch this video to see actual footage of Harlow’s monkey studies.
Building on the work of Harlow and others, John Bowlby developed the concept of attachment theory. He defined attachment as the affectional bond or tie that an infant forms with the mother (Bowlby, 1969). An infant must form this bond with a primary caregiver in order to have normal social and emotional development. In addition, Bowlby proposed that this attachment bond is very powerful and continues throughout life. He used the concept of secure base to define a healthy attachment between parent and child (1988). A secure base is a parental presence that gives the child a sense of safety as he explores his surroundings. Bowlby said that two things are needed for a healthy attachment: The caregiver must be responsive to the child’s physical, social, and emotional needs; and the caregiver and child must engage in mutually enjoyable interactions (Bowlby, 1969) (Figure 4).
While Bowlby thought attachment was an all-or-nothing process, Mary Ainsworth’s (1970) research showed otherwise. Ainsworth wanted to know if children differ in the ways they bond, and if so, why. To find the answers, she used the Strange Situation procedure to study attachment between mothers and their infants (1970). In the Strange Situation, the mother (or primary caregiver) and the infant (age 12-18 months) are placed in a room together. There are toys in the room, and the caregiver and child spend some time alone in the room. After the child has had time to explore her surroundings, a stranger enters the room. The mother then leaves her baby with the stranger. After a few minutes, she returns to comfort her child.
Based on how the infants/toddlers responded to the separation and reunion, Ainsworth identified three types of parent-child attachments: secure, avoidant, and resistant (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970). A fourth style, known as disorganized attachment, was later described (Main & Solomon, 1990). The most common type of attachment—also considered the healthiest—is called secure attachment (Figure 5). In this type of attachment, the toddler prefers his parent over a stranger. The attachment figure is used as a secure base to explore the environment and is sought out in times of stress. Securely attached children were distressed when their caregivers left the room in the Strange Situation experiment, but when their caregivers returned, the securely attached children were happy to see them. Securely attached children have caregivers who are sensitive and responsive to their needs.
With avoidant attachment (sometimes called insecure or anxious-avoidant), the child is unresponsive to the parent, does not use the parent as a secure base, and does not care if the parent leaves. The toddler reacts to the parent the same way she reacts to a stranger. When the parent does return, the child is slow to show a positive reaction. Ainsworth theorized that these children were most likely to have a caregiver who was insensitive and inattentive to their needs (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978).
In cases of resistant attachment (also called ambivalent or anxious-ambivalent/resistant), children tend to show clingy behavior, but then they reject the attachment figure’s attempts to interact with them (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970). These children do not explore the toys in the room, as they are too fearful. During separation in the Strange Situation, they became extremely disturbed and angry with the parent. When the parent returns, the children are difficult to comfort. Resistant attachment is the result of the caregivers’ inconsistent level of response to their child.
Finally, children with disorganized attachment behaved oddly in the Strange Situation. They freeze, run around the room in an erratic manner, or try to run away when the caregiver returns (Main & Solomon, 1990). This type of attachment is seen most often in kids who have been abused. Research has shown that abuse disrupts a child’s ability to regulate their emotions.
While Ainsworth’s research has found support in subsequent studies, it has also met criticism. Some researchers have pointed out that a child’s temperament may have a strong influence on attachment (Gervai, 2009; Harris, 2009), and others have noted that attachment varies from culture to culture, a factor not accounted for in Ainsworth’s research (Rothbaum, Weisz, Pott, Miyake, & Morelli, 2000; van Ijzendoorn & Sagi-Schwartz, 2008).
Watch this video to view a clip of the Strange Situation. Try to identify which type of attachment baby Lisa exhibits.
Just as attachment is the main psychosocial milestone of infancy, the primary psychosocial milestone of childhood is the development of a positive sense of self. How does self-awareness develop? Infants don’t have a self-concept, which is an understanding of who they are. If you place a baby in front of a mirror, she will reach out to touch her image, thinking it is another baby. However, by about 18 months a toddler will recognize that the person in the mirror is herself. How do we know this? In a well-known experiment, a researcher placed a red dot of paint on children’s noses before putting them in front of a mirror (Amsterdam, 1972). Commonly known as the mirror test, this behavior is demonstrated by humans and a few other species and is considered evidence of self-recognition (Archer, 1992). At 18 months old they would touch their own noses when they saw the paint, surprised to see a spot on their faces. By 24–36 months old children can name and/or point to themselves in pictures, clearly indicating self-recognition.
Children from 2–4 years old display a great increase in social behavior once they have established a self-concept. They enjoy playing with other children, but they have difficulty sharing their possessions. Also, through play children explore and come to understand their gender roles and can label themselves as a girl or boy (Chick, Heilman-Houser, & Hunter, 2002). By 4 years old, children can cooperate with other children, share when asked, and separate from parents with little anxiety. Children at this age also exhibit autonomy, initiate tasks, and carry out plans. Success in these areas contributes to a positive sense of self. Once children reach 6 years old, they can identify themselves in terms of group memberships: “I’m a first grader!” School-age children compare themselves to their peers and discover that they are competent in some areas and less so in others (recall Erikson’s task of industry versus inferiority). At this age, children recognize their own personality traits as well as some other traits they would like to have. For example, 10-year-old Layla says, “I’m kind of shy. I wish I could be more talkative like my friend Alexa.”
Development of a positive self-concept is important to healthy development. Children with a positive self-concept tend to be more confident, do better in school, act more independently, and are more willing to try new activities (Maccoby, 1980; Ferrer & Fugate, 2003). Formation of a positive self-concept begins in Erikson’s toddlerhood stage, when children establish autonomy and become confident in their abilities. Development of self-concept continues in elementary school, when children compare themselves to others. When the comparison is favorable, children feel a sense of competence and are motivated to work harder and accomplish more. Self-concept is re-evaluated in Erikson’s adolescence stage, as teens form an identity. They internalize the messages they have received regarding their strengths and weaknesses, keeping some messages and rejecting others. Adolescents who have achieved identity formation are capable of contributing positively to society (Erikson, 1968).
What can parents do to nurture a healthy self-concept? Diana Baumrind (1971, 1991) thinks parenting style may be a factor. The way we parent is an important factor in a child’s socioemotional growth. Baumrind developed and refined a theory describing four parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved. With the authoritative style, the parent gives reasonable demands and consistent limits, expresses warmth and affection, and listens to the child’s point of view. Parents set rules and explain the reasons behind them. They are also flexible and willing to make exceptions to the rules in certain cases—for example, temporarily relaxing bedtime rules to allow for a nighttime swim during a family vacation. Of the four parenting styles, the authoritative style is the one that is most encouraged in modern American society. American children raised by authoritative parents tend to have high self-esteem and social skills. However, effective parenting styles vary as a function of culture and, as Small (1999) points out, the authoritative style is not necessarily preferred or appropriate in all cultures.
In authoritarian style, the parent places high value on conformity and obedience. The parents are often strict, tightly monitor their children, and express little warmth. In contrast to the authoritative style, authoritarian parents probably would not relax bedtime rules during a vacation because they consider the rules to be set, and they expect obedience. This style can create anxious, withdrawn, and unhappy kids. However, it is important to point out that authoritarian parenting is as beneficial as the authoritative style in some ethnic groups (Russell, Crockett, & Chao, 2010). For instance, first-generation Chinese American children raised by authoritarian parents did just as well in school as their peers who were raised by authoritative parents (Russell et al., 2010).
For parents who employ the permissive style of parenting, the kids run the show and anything goes. Permissive parents make few demands and rarely use punishment. They tend to be very nurturing and loving, and may play the role of friend rather than parent. In terms of our example of vacation bedtimes, permissive parents might not have bedtime rules at all—instead they allow the child to choose his bedtime whether on vacation or not. Not surprisingly, children raised by permissive parents tend to lack self-discipline, and the permissive parenting style is negatively associated with grades (Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987). The permissive style may also contribute to other risky behaviors such as alcohol abuse (Bahr & Hoffman, 2010), risky sexual behavior especially among female children (Donenberg, Wilson, Emerson, & Bryant, 2002), and increased display of disruptive behaviors by male children (Parent et al., 2011). However, there are some positive outcomes associated with children raised by permissive parents. They tend to have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and report lower levels of depression (Darling, 1999).
With the uninvolved style of parenting, the parents are indifferent, uninvolved, and sometimes referred to as neglectful. They don’t respond to the child’s needs and make relatively few demands. This could be because of severe depression or substance abuse, or other factors such as the parents’ extreme focus on work. These parents may provide for the child’s basic needs, but little else. The children raised in this parenting style are usually emotionally withdrawn, fearful, anxious, perform poorly in school, and are at an increased risk of substance abuse (Darling, 1999).
As you can see, parenting styles influence childhood adjustment, but could a child’s temperament likewise influence parenting? Temperament refers to innate traits that influence how one thinks, behaves, and reacts with the environment. Children with easy temperaments demonstrate positive emotions, adapt well to change, and are capable of regulating their emotions. Conversely, children with difficult temperaments demonstrate negative emotions and have difficulty adapting to change and regulating their emotions. Difficult children are much more likely to challenge parents, teachers, and other caregivers (Thomas, 1984). Therefore, it’s possible that easy children (i.e., social, adaptable, and easy to soothe) tend to elicit warm and responsive parenting, while demanding, irritable, withdrawn children evoke irritation in their parents or cause their parents to withdraw (Sanson & Rothbart, 1995).
Watch this optional lecture on child development from MIT’s John Gabrieli for an interesting overview of key physical, social, and emotional developmental stages of childhood.
Think It Over
Which parenting style describes how you were raised? Provide an example or two to support your answer.