Child Growth and Development
Understanding a child's growth and development is a vital part of effective parenting. Children transform radically throughout the first years of life, a process that never really stops until reaching the end of adolescence. There are both physical and emotional challenges at every stage. In fact, pediatricians divided child growth and development into four distinct periods:
- Middle childhood
Infancy officially includes the toddler years, up to the 4th birthday. There are numerous developmental milestones seemingly every few months. Between 1 and 3 months, for example, the neck muscles strengthen, allowing the child to hold up his or her head. They will also start to bring objects to their mouth. By six months, the child can sit up, and sleep through the night. They will also begin to speak single syllable words.
Preschool child growth and development is marked by several common milestones including the ability to sing a song, walk backwards, dressing themselves, learn their telephone number, and develops and understanding of the concept of time. The development of social skills is important during this stage.
Middle childhood (the elementary school years) and adolescence are characterized by the complete physical development of the child. However, these years often present emotional challenges, especially the complex demands of puberty. Each stage of child growth and development is important in producing a healthy, balanced individual.
Most experts in child development, especially from Western countries, presume that childhood is composed of a clear path of steps from incompetence toward autonomy. Social roles are expected to be taught from one generation to the next generation of passive and receptive children. However, as the field of child development has progressed, sociocultural factors have been acknowledged as instrumental in not only how a child develops but what abilities and values the child will have as an adult. In addressing the influence of sociocultural context on child development, several key points will be reviewed. First, current fields of thought on the issue will be explained, compared and contrasted. Next, studies assessing differences in development, and factors that may contribute to differences, will be discussed.
The vast body of research on child development has resulted in grand generalizations of the universal child. Sociologists have a different perspective than psychologists regarding child development. Rather than universal and innate, sociologists perceive childhood as socially constructed. Societies and cultures all interpret childhood differently.
For the most part, cultural factors were ignored in research until the 1970's. Vygotsky is credited with the construction of sociocultural and sociohistorical theories of human development. In 1978 he proposed that development is not a passive process but instead is defined by the child's participation in the social and intellectual life of his or her culture. While Piaget theorized that children progress toward rationality in distinct and universal steps, sociologists suggest that no one pathway toward development exists. Instead, a child's development depends on cultural goals.
Since Vygotsky published his work, other similar theorists have maintained that children learn about the world and begin to understand it by communicating with others. This occurs in the context of the cultural processes in a particular time and place. These processes facilitate a process of learning that leads to development. Also, the greater the richness of the activities in which the child engages, the greater the ability to understand and learn. Therefore, child development is not a one-way process. Instead it is a reciprocal partnership between adult and child, or child and child. One key point in Vygotsky's theory is the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This theory suggests that children may be able to perform more competently with assistance until they achieve independent competence. By collaborating with adults and children in a cultural context, internal processes are activated that lead to developmental processes. "Once these processes are internalized, they become part of the child's independent developmental achievement". In response to Vygotsky and others, researchers have re-assessed the value of accepted child development theories in terms of cross-cultural relevance.