Child Psychology: Principles of Human Growth and Development
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Growth and development are similar words but different from each other though it is not possible to separate them totally. It is a whole process which includes growth of the body as well as growth of various aspects of child’s personality, e.g., the physical, emotional, social and cognitive development.
Development is a progressive change the child undergoes which increases the physical, social, mental and emotional capacities of the child.
However, there is a set of principles that characterizes the pattern and process of growth and development. These principles or characteristics describe typical development as a predictable and orderly process; that is, we can predict how most children will develop and that they will develop at the same rate and at about the same time as other children. Although there are individual differences in children’s personalities, activity levels, and timing of developmental milestones, such as ages and stages, the principles and characteristics of development are universal patterns.
Principlesof Human Growth and Development
Development proceeds from the head downward: This is called the cephalocaudle principle. This principle describes the direction of growth and development. According to this principle, the child gains control of the head first, then the arms, and then the legs. Infants develop control of the head and face movements within the first two months after birth. In the next few months, they are able to lift themselves up by using their arms. By 6 to 12 months of age, infants start to gain leg control and may be able to crawl, stand, or walk. Coordination of arms always precedes coordination of legs.
Development proceeds from the center of the body outward: This is the principle of proximodistal development that also describes the direction of development. This means that the spinal cord develops before outer parts of the body. The child’s arms develop before the hands and the hands and feet develop before the fingers and toes. Finger and toe muscles (used in fine motor dexterity) are the last to develop in physical development.
Development depends on maturation and learning: Maturation refers to the sequential characteristic of biological growth and development. The biological changes occur in sequential order and give children new abilities. Changes in the brain and nervous system account largely for maturation. These changes in the brain and nervous system help children to improve in thinking (cognitive) and motor (physical) skills. Also, children must mature to a certain point before they can progress to new skills (Readiness). For example, a four-month-old cannot use language because the infant’s brain has not matured enough to allow the child to talk. By two years old, the brain has developed further and with help from others, the child will have the capacity to say and understand words. Also, a child can’t write or draw until he has developed the motor control to hold a pencil or crayon. Maturational patterns are innate, that is, genetically programmed. The child’s environment and the learning that occurs as a result of the child’s experiences largely determine whether the child will reach optimal development. A stimulating environment and varied experiences allow a child to develop to his or her potential.
Development proceeds from the simple (concrete) to the more complex: Children use their cognitive and language skills to reason and solve problems. For example, learning relationships between things (how things are similar), or classification, is an important ability in cognitive development. The cognitive process of learning how an apple and orange are alike begins with the most simplistic or concrete thought of describing the two. Seeing no relationship, a preschool child will describe the objects according to some property of the object, such as color. Such a response would be, “An apple is red (or green) and an orange is orange.” The first level of thinking about how objects are alike is to give a description or functional relationship between the two objects. “An apple and orange are round” and “An apple and orange are alike because you eat them” are typical responses of three, four and five year olds. As children develop further in cognitive skills, they are able to understand a higher and more complex relationship between objects and things; that is, that an apple and orange exist in a class called fruit. The child cognitively is then capable of classification.
Growth and development is a continuous process: As a child develops, he or she adds to the skills already acquired and the new skills become the basis for further achievement and mastery of skills. Most children follow a similar pattern. Also, one stage of development lays the foundation for the next stage of development. For example, in motor development, there is a predictable sequence of developments that occur before walking. The infant lifts and turns the head before he or she can turn over. Infants can move their limbs (arms and legs) before grasping an object. Mastery of climbing stairs involves increasing skills from holding on to walking alone. By the age of four, most children can walk up and down stairs with alternating feet. As in maturation, in order for children to write or draw, they must have developed the manual (hand) control to hold a pencil and crayon.
Growth and development proceed from the general to specific: In motor development, the infant will be able to grasp an object with the whole hand before using only the thumb and forefinger. The infant’s first motor movements are very generalized, undirected, and reflexive, waving arms or kicking before being able to reach or creep toward an object. Growth occurs from large muscle movements to more refined (smaller) muscle movements.
There are individual rates of growth and development: Each child is different and the rates at which individual children grow is different. Although the patterns and sequences for growth and development are usually the same for all children, the rates at which individual children reach developmental stages will be different. Understanding this fact of individual differences in rates of development should cause us to be careful about using and relying on age and stage characteristics to describe or label children. There is a range of ages for any developmental task to take place. This dismisses the notion of the “average child”. Some children will walk at ten months while others walk a few months older at eighteen months of age. Some children are more active while others are more passive. This does not mean that the passive child will be less intelligent as an adult. There is no validity to comparing one child’s progress with or against another child. Rates of development also are not uniform within an individual child. For example, a child’s intellectual development may progress faster than his emotional or social development.
The differences between cephalocaudal and proximodistal
Development during the prenatal, infancy and childhood stages of the lifespan establishes a base that will be built upon during youth and adulthood. As explored in chapter 6, the prenatal stage is the fastest period of growth of all lifespan stages and is characterised by the development of body systems that will allow the foetus to survive outside its mother’s uterus after birth. Infancy and childhood are marked by significant developmental milestones such as learning to walk, talk, read, write and interact with others. Understanding the development that occurs during these lifespan stages facilitates analysis of the effects that such development has on the individual, both now and in the future.
Development in humans, although occurring at different times and at different rates, has some similarities for all people. A number of principles govern the development that humans experience and many of these are particularly evident in the infancy and childhood stages.
Growth and motor skill development follow patterns that are observable in all people. The cephalocaudal and proximodistal patterns of development are particularly evident during the prenatal, infant and childhood stages of the lifespan
Cephalocaudal means to develop from head to tail. This happens in the first 2 years of life, primarily, Examples: brain/head development earlier coordination than in arms and legs; head larger relative to rest of body, lower parts of body must do more growing to reach adult size. Arms grow longer than the legs. An infant will gain control over their neck muscles first, which allows them to hold their head steady. Control over their shoulder muscles usually follows, which allows them to roll over. Finally, control over the muscles in their torso allows them to sit. The size of the head of an infant in relation to the rest of the body also illustrates this pattern of development.
The cephalocaudal principle states that development proceeds from top to bottom. According to this principle, a child will gain physical control of their head first. After this, physical control will move downward to the arms and lastly to the legs.
Imagine that you are holding a newborn. You have to carefully support the baby’s head because the baby is not strong enough to support its head by itself. By the time the child is two months old, it develops enough strength to hold its head up on its own and to control its facial movements. Over the next few months, the baby gains control over the use of its arms. The baby can lift itself, and it can reach for objects. Finally, the child learns to control leg movements and to crawl, stand, and walk.
Proximodistal means to develop from the inside out (not internal, but closest to the center) Example brain/spinal cord (central nervous system) and organ systems in trunk develop before arms and legs; motor control of trunk and head before arms and legs. Proximodistal development occurs from the centre or core of the body in an outward direction. An example is the way that the spine develops first in the uterus, followed by the extremities and finally the fingers and toes. In motor development, an infant reaches for a toy by using shoulder and torso rotation in order to move the hand closer to the object. In childhood, the elbow and wrist are responsible for the main movements.
The proximodistal principle also describes the direction of development. This principle states that development proceeds from the center of the body outward.
Think of a fertilized egg. This one tiny cell divides and expands outward to become an embryo. The spinal cord forms first, and development progresses outward to become a fetus. The limbs of the body form before the hands and the feet, and the hands and the feet develop before the fingers and the toes.
An understanding of the principles of development helps us to plan appropriate activities and stimulating and enriching experiences for children, and provides a basis for understanding how to encourage and support young children’s learning.
Peter Hezekiah Lawson (Sir Pee). The CEO of Sir Pee Integrated Services and librarygurus.com. A reputable researcher, ICT Instructor and a publisher of many research works in Education and a passion blogger.