Human Lifespan Development

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You never stop growing. Whether you're wondering how your toddler will eventually become a teen or you're thinking about how the changes that you'll go through in the next few decades, understanding human lifespan development can help you to get a grip on growth. While there are predictable stages of development, outside influences such as community and culture affect almost every aspect of these changes.

A parent influences the child's development by providing cultural cues and praise.
(Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images)

The first year of life bring remarkable changes in all areas. Your baby will go from a helpless newborn who relies on reflexes to an independence-seeking toddler. By 3 months old, your baby may have reached movement milestones such as raising her head while she’s lying on her stomach, opening and closing her hands and grasping toys, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org website. She can also use her hands and eyes in coordination and track moving objects. Social and emotional development is still immature at this time, but your baby is showing off her first social smiles.

Fast-forward to the end of the first year and you’ll see how she’s grown by leaps and bounds. By 7 months, she’s learned to roll over from front to back and back to front, sit without support and respond to other people’s expressions and emotions. At 1 year it’s likely she can crawl, cruise or even walk, notes the AAP. Your baby can also use a pincer grasp to grip her toys or a spoon, respond to simple words such as “no” and may say “mama” or "dada.”

Between 1 and 2 years, your child is a toddler. Your tot can now walk and run on his own, according to the national early care organization Zero to Three. He’s refining his eye-hand coordination, and begins scribbling with a crayon between 15 and 18 months.

Your toddler understands much of what you’re saying, and can speak up to 200 words by 23 months, notes the PBS Parents’ website. He can problem-solve through experimentation, repetition and exploration. While he is starting to understand that he has feelings, he won’t control them well.

Ages 3 through 5 mark a stage when your child is going from babyish to big kid. She’s refining her motor skills and can run, jump, hop and walk up and down stairs. She can draw a picture, use safety scissors and even ride a tricycle.

Your preschooler is developing her own personality and is beginning to make her own decisions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her social skills are growing and she is making friends, playing with other kids who share similar interests and showing signs of empathy when a friend is sad or hurt.

Middle childhood brings on rapid social, emotional and physical changes. Your child is growing into a grade-schooler and is showing more interest in his friends. He may ditch opposite sex friends in favor of those that are the same gender. During the later elementary school years your child may come up against peer pressure and begin to have romantic feelings for a special classmate.

As school becomes more challenging, your child’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills will grow. His thinking is more logical and organized than before, and he has an increased attention span.

Teenagers are moving towards adulthood in almost every way. From your teen’s almost-adult body to her ever-increasing sense of independence, she’s getting ready to leave the nest. Even though your teen may like she has a new personality every day, exploring different identities is completely normal for this stage. During the teen years your child is also expanding her intellectual abilities and gaining the ability to express herself through her speech and actions, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

You’re an adult, but that doesn’t mean you’re done developing. Even though you’re keenly aware of the changes that aging has on your body, the process also includes psychological ones too. Erik Erikson’s theory of lifespan development includes three adult stages: young, middle and late adulthood.

Between 20 and 40 years, adults are forming close, lasting relationships. This may mean a struggle between intimacy and social isolation. In middle adulthood, 40- to 60-year-olds are challenging themselves to achieve goals and maintain productivity. Late adulthood is a reflective stage, in which older adults feel pride, self-approving or possibly despair.

Even though there are generally accepted milestones when it comes to development, nature isn’t the only influence on your child. The environment can change or shape brain development through experiences and stressors. This is known as plasticity, according to Charles A. Nelson of the Institute of Child Development and Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.

Your family, the community and society all shape how your child develops. This means that a child in one culture may develop somewhat differently than a child in another. For example, some cultures value independence at an early age. That may mean that the children act more adult-like at a younger age.

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