Typical Child Development

Child development represents changes in a child that occur over time. Changes follow an orderly pattern that moves toward greater complexity and enhances survival. As children grow, they show variations in development ranging from language, physical, cognitive and social/emotional development. Many parents and therapists have asked why the variation in development. This will be explained in the later part of this article.

Domains of child development

Child development is comprised of four major domains. A child does not necessarily achieve all the four domains at the same time. A child can achieve developmental milestones on physical development and social domains and yet he is underdeveloped on cognitive domain. The four basic domains covered in this article are:

  • Social/Emotional development: These are changes in the way we connect with other individuals, express and understand emotions. The core features include the ability of a child to identify and understand their own feelings, to accurately read and comprehend emotional state of others.
  • Physical development: This refers to the biological changes that occur in the body and brain, including changes in size, strength, sensory and motor activities, fine and motor skills.
  • Intellectual/cognitive development: These are changes in the way we think, understand and reason about the world.
  • Communication development: Children understand words before they start learning how to speak. In other words, comprehension (receptive) precedes production (expressive) of language. The different aspects of language include all of the following; phonology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics.

Why the variation in developmental domains?

The brain matures long before birth and continues to mature throughout life. It is worth noting that different parts of the brain mature at different times and rates. These parts do not mature at the same rate in each individual including a twin of the same age. This variation in brain maturation explains differences in domains of development in children and students of the same age, same class and same family.  This also explains why children of the same age reach puberty at different times and achieve emotional maturity at different times as well. Child and adolescent clinical psychologists refer to this as physiology of child development.

For instance:

  • Prefrontal cortex: Responsible for socio-emotional development.
  • Frontal lobes (primary motor and premotor cortex), parietal lobes etc: Responsible for physical (motor) development.
  • The limbic system (etc): Responsible for cognitive development
  • Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area, primary motor cortex, posterior temporal gyrus (etc): Responsible for language and communication development.

It can be seen above that different parts of the brain are responsible for differences in domains of development. This explains the reason a child could achieve milestones on physical development and social domains and yet is underdeveloped on the cognitive domain.

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