Physiological Development in Early Childhood


There is a rough schedule of milestones for physiological development, though each child develops at a different pace. Maturing more slowly than average in an area is not necessarily a cause for concern. Stress from expectations, disorganization and fatigue can slow development. Poor nutrition also slows growth and learning and increases behavioral problems.

Physical Development

  • Gross motor skills include range and quality of motion, while fine motor skills include eye-hand coordination and the ability to plan and carry out new movements. Children hone senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, as well as senses of movement and position in space.

    Average 1-year-olds can grasp small objects and walk while holding on to furniture. At age 2, they can help dress themselves and build small towers of blocks. A 3-year-old can ride a tricycle and use safety scissors. Four-year-olds may have an attention span of 10 minutes per activity. By age 5, children can color within the lines and by 6 tie their own shoelaces. Growing between 2 to 3 inches in height per year is average for young children.

Social and Emotional Development

  • Prominent child psychologist Erik Erikson saw development as the interaction between genetic, psychological and cultural influences. According to Erikson, between infancy and 18 months, a child learns to either trust or mistrust the world. The next stage proceeds until age 3 as children learn courage and self-control, leading to either autonomy or shame. By age 5, children learn either to take initiative or else experience guilt if frustrated with themselves.

Communication Skills

  • Infants can imitate sounds, look at someone who is speaking and respond differently to the language spoken in their homes. By their second year, most children can follow directions and say at least a few words including possessives like "mine." Three-year-olds use more complex grammar and can repeat songs and simple rhymes. By age 4, the average child becomes interested in "how" and "why" questions.

Thinking Skills

  • Children are interested in exploring their environments. Infants begin to anticipate events and recognize faces. Experimenting to understand how objects work is common by age 1, such as pushing things over to see if they will fall. By age 2, children can organize things into categories based on size or color. An understanding of past and present may not develop until age 4; counting and word play may not be possible before age 5. Brain development is not complete until adolescence, so it is important to keep in mind that children cannot use adult reasoning.

Helping Children Develop

  • Encouraging children to explore their interests helps them develop. Having too many rules about how to play restricts development, though safety is a must. Supporting the use of words to express feelings teaches children appropriate responses when they are frustrated. When parents misrepresent their own feelings, it can be confusing.

    Ask children what they think before immediately answering their questions, and respect their ideas and opinions even if they seem "wrong." Being held, hugged and rocked reassures children. Relaxation time with music or dancing also helps them deal with life's stresses. Remember that each child is unique and that development is a learning experience for parents as well.


  • Photo Credit "7/365 little hulla boy" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: rachie lea (Rachel Hofton) under the Creative Commons Attribution license. "school friends" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: woodleywonderworks (woodley wonderworks) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.
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