The Ages and Stages of Child Development

Child development, Pixabay

Each child develops uniquely, and the use of norms helps to understand these patterns of development while recognizing the great difference between individuals. Despite many developmental theories, the accepted developmental perspective includes the following points:

  • Emotional, physical, mental, and social functioning young children are different from the functioning of older children and adults and include certain stages, stages, and milestones in development;
  • There are numerous progressive transformations in the physical, mental, cognitive and socio-emotional abilities of children from the earliest age to school age. These changes are manifested through the acquisition of new skills and abilities, through how the child establishes relationships, communicates, learns or plays;
  • Childhood is a life-time when children are the most depend on safe and responsive relationships with other people (adults, siblings, peers). These relationships are necessary not only to ensure their survival but also emotional security, social integration and the development of cognitive and cultural competences;
  • The development of young children is particularly sensitive to the negative effects of the wound malnutrition, neglect, irresponsible parenting, inappropriate treatment and broken relationships;
  • In cases where the basic needs are not met, the consequences are often felt throughout childhood as well as into adulthood;
  • Early development also depends on the individual capacities and needs of the young child, gender, ethnic and cultural background, as well as the economic, social and cultural circumstances in which he or she lives.


Infants and Toddlers


Newborn: rough, random, uncoordinated, reflexive movement

3 mo: head at 90 degree angle, uses arms to prop; visually track through midline

5 mo: purposeful grasp; roll over; head lag disappears; reaches for
objects; transfer objects from hand to hand; plays with feet; exercises body by stretching, moving; touch genitals, rock on stomach for pleasure

7 mo: sits in “tripod”; push head and torso up off the floor; support
weight on legs; “raking” with hands

9 mo: gets to and from sitting; crawls, pulls to standing; stooping and
recovering; fingerthumb opposition; eyehand coordination, but no hand preference

12 mo: walking

15 mo: more complex motor skills

2 yrs: learns to climb up stairs first, then down


Sensori-motor: physically explores environment to learn about it;
repeats movements to master them, which also stimulates brain cell development

4-5 mo: coos, curious and interested in environment

6 mo: babbles and imitates sounds

9 mo: discriminates between parents and others; trial and error
problem solving

12 mo: beginning of symbolic thinking; points to pictures in
books in response to verbal cue; object permanence; some may use single words; receptive language
more advanced than expressive language

15 mo: learns through imitating complex behaviors; knows
objects are used for specific purposes

2 yrs: 2 word phrases; uses more complex toys and understands
sequence of putting toys, puzzles together


Attachment: baby settles when parent comforts; toddler seeks comfort from parent, safe-base

5 mo: responsive to social stimuli; facial expressions of emotion

9 mo: socially interactive; plays games (i.e., pattycake) with caretakers

11 mo: stranger anxiety; separation
anxiety; solitary play

2 yr: imitation, parallel and symbolic, play


Birth-1 yr: learns fundamental trust in self, caretakers, environment

1-3 yr: mastery of body and rudimentary mastery of
environment (can get other’s to take care of him)

12-18 mo: “terrible twos” may begin; willful, stubborn, tantrums

18-36 mo: feel pride when they are “good” and
embarrassment when they are “bad”

18-36 mo: Can recognize distress in others – beginning of empathy

18-36 mo: are emotionally attached to toys or objects for security

Possible effects of maltreatment

Chronic malnutrition: growth retardation, brain damage, possibly mental retardation

Head injury and shaking: skull fracture, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, paralysis, coma, death, blindness, deafness

Internal organ injuries

Chronic illness from medical neglect

Delays in gross and fine motor skills, poor muscle tone

Language and speech delays; may not use language to communicate

Insecure or disorganized attachment: overly clingy, lack of discrimination of significant people, can’t use parent as
source of comfort

Passive, withdrawn, apathetic, unresponsive to others

“Frozen watchfulness”, fearful, anxious, depressed

Feel they are “bad”

Immature play – cannot be involved in reciprocal, interactive play




Physically active

Rule of Three: 3 yrs, 3 ft, 33 lbs.

Weight gain: 4-5 lbs per year

Growth: 3-4 inches per year

Physically active, can’t sit still for long

Clumsy throwing balls

Refines complex skills: hopping,
jumping, climbing, running, ride “big
wheels” and tricycles

Improving fine motor skills and
eye-hand coordination: cut with scissors, draw shapes 3– 3 ½ yr: most toilet trained


Ego-centric, illogical, magical thinking

Explosion of vocabulary; learning syntax, grammar; understood by 75% of people by age 3

Poor understanding of time, value, sequence of events

Vivid imaginations; some difficulty separating fantasy from reality

Accurate memory, but more suggestible than older children

Primitive drawing, can’t represent themselves in drawing till age 4

Don’t realize others have different perspective

Leave out important facts

May misinterpret visual cues of

Receptive language better than expressive till age 4



 Cooperative, imaginative, may
involve fantasy and imaginary friends, takes turns in games

 Develops gross and fine motor
skills; social skills; experiment with
social roles; reduces fears
Wants to please adults.

Development of conscience:
prohibitions; feels
guilty when
simplistic idea of
“good and bad”

Curious about his and other’s bodies, may masturbate

No sense of privacy

Primitive, stereotypic understanding of gender roles


Self-esteem based on what others tell him or her

Increasing ability to control emotions; less emotional outbursts

Increased frustration tolerance

Better delay gratification

Rudimentary sense of self

Understands concepts of right and wrong

Self-esteem reflects opinions of significant others


Self-directed in many activities

Possible effects of maltreatment

Poor muscle tone, motor coordination

Poor pronunciation, incomplete sentences

Cognitive delays; inability to concentrate

Cannot play cooperatively; lack curiosity, absent imaginative and fantasy play

Social immaturity: unable to share or negotiate with peers; overly bossy, aggressive, competitive

Attachment problems: overly clingy, superficial attachments, show little distress or over-react when separated from caregiver

Underweight from malnourishment; small stature

Excessively fearful, anxious, night terrors

Reminders of traumatic experience may trigger severe anxiety, aggression, preoccupation

Lack impulse control, little ability to delay gratification

Exaggerated response (tantrums, aggression) to even mild stressors

Poor self esteem, confidence; absence of initiative

Blame self for abuse, placement

Physical injuries; sickly, untreated illnesses

Eneuresis, encopresis, self stimulating behavior – rocking, head-banging

School Aged


Slow, steady growth:
3 -4 inches per year

Use physical activities
to develop gross
and fine motor skills

Motor & perceptual
motor skills better

10-12 yr: puberty
begins for some


Use language as a communication tool

Perspective taking:
5-8 yr: can recognize others’ perspectives, can’t assume the role of the other
8–10 yr: recognize difference between behavior and intent;
age 10-11 yr: can accurately
recognize and consider
others’ viewpoints

Concrete operations:
Accurate perception of events; rational, logical thought; concrete
thinking; reflect upon self and attributes; understands concepts of space, time, dimension

Can remember events from months, or years earlier

More effective coping skills

Understands how his behavior affects others


Friendships are situation specific

Understands concepts of right and wrong

Rules relied upon to guide behavior and play, and provide child with structure and security

5-6 yr: believe rules can
be changed

7-8 yrs: strict adherence
to rules

9-10 yrs: rules can be

Begin understanding social roles; regards them as inflexible; can
adapt behavior to fit different situations; practices social roles

Takes on more responsibilities at

Less fantasy play, more team sports, board games

Morality: avoid punishment; self
interested exchanges


Self esteem based on ability to perform and produce

Alternative strategies for dealing with frustration and expressing emotions

Sensitive to other’s opinions about themselves

6-9 yr: have questions about pregnancy, intercourse,
sexual swearing, look for nude pictures in books,

10-12 yr: games with peeing, sexual activity (e.g., strip
poker, truth/dare, boy-girl relationships, flirting, some
kissing, stroking/rubbing, re-enacting intercourse
with clothes on)

Possible effects of maltreatment

Poor social/academic adjustment in school: preoccupied, easily frustrated, emotional outbursts, difficulty concentrating, can be overly reliant on teachers; academic challenges are threatening, cause anxiety

Little impulse control, immediate gratification, inadequate coping skills, anxiety, easily frustrated, may feel out of control

Extremes of emotions, emotional numbing; older children may “self-medicate” to avoid negative emotions

Act out frustration, anger, anxiety with hitting, fighting, lying, stealing, breaking objects, verbal outbursts, swearing

Extreme reaction to perceived danger (i.e., “fight, flight, freeze” response)

May be mistrustful of adults, or overly solicitous, manipulative

May speak in unrealistically glowing terms about his parents

Difficulties in peer relationships; feel inadequate around peers; over-controlling

Unable to initiate, participate in, or complete activities, give up quickly

Attachment problems: may not be able to trust, tests commitment of foster and adoptive parent with negative behaviors

Role reversal to please parents, and take care of parent and younger siblings

Emotional disturbances: depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, attachment problems, conduct disorders


“The Field Guide to Child Welfare Volume III: Child Development and Child Welfare”
By Judith S. Rycus, Ph.D., and Ronald C. Hughes, Ph.D Child Welfare League of America Press 1998