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Developmental biology defines development as the increase in complexity (Lindon & Brodie, 2016). Child development entails the biological, psychological and emotional changes that occur from infancy to the end of adolescence following a predictable pattern but unique in every child and whose end result is a general increase from dependency to autonomy (Barnes, 1995). It consists of both typical and atypical forms (Hobert, 2009), and it’s an interplay between genetic factors and environmental factors. The developmental changes are age-related, continuous, and qualitative and interrelated for effective functioning (Aldgate, 2006, pp. 20-21). A number of theories have been devised to explain the model adopted, patterns and characteristics. Over the years, these theories have been revised to identify the limitations and address the experimental or methodological questions that arise after assessing and testing the theory.

          Physical development is categorised into two; gross motor skills, which are described as general body movements and fine motor skills which comprise hand-eye coordination (Anon., n.d.) and reflexes. Physical development begins with simple movements such as raising the head while lying down at infancy to sitting, standing, crawling, walking then running while maintaining their balance (Hobert, 2009). The child also progresses from clumsy to firm grips on objects and the ability to put together puzzles (Early Education, 2012). These milestones are achieved on repeated and regular activity and with confidence instilled from the caregivers (Sharma & Cockeril, 2014). Physical development as all other milestones is nature and nurture based. The nervous system controls the psychomotor skills. Theorists have focused on other areas of development and have not put together a theory that is purely based on physical development. However, Gesell’s maturational theory even though broadband attempts to discuss development in the physical spectrum. In his theory, Gesell believed that the maturation of the neural tube determines the physical developments and that external environmental factors are secondary with no direct influence (Pickren, et al., 2012, p. 12). This theory has attracted a number of controversies where other theories such as the dynamic systems theory point out a strong influence by the external environmental factors such as a nutrition and opportunities to walk around freely. Increase in weight at the stage when walking reflexes kick in, puts a strain on the muscles such that the reflex fades away (Bee & Boyd, 2013, p. 85). In the UK, for example, even though the gene for height has had few changes, nutrition has influenced consequent generations such that children are taller than parents (Aldgate, 2006). Opportunities to freely walk around especially influence children with disabilities that impair motor functioning e.g. cerebral palsy. These children may achieve their milestones later than their counterparts similarly suggesting an interdependence of nature and nurture.

          Cognitive development involves information processing, problem-solving, decision making and literacy skills. These activities range from copying facial expression and following objects with the eyes to recognizing emotions attached to phrases to establishing daily routines and sense of individuality to understanding they are part of the greater world and trying to understand how it works (Donaldson, 2006). Jean Piaget developed the developmental stage theory which classifies cognitive development into six categories from infancy to the end of adolescence. Piaget's theory follows the nature/nurture psychological pattern where nature/biology sets the biological timetable of the stages while nurture follows two concepts; assimilation (acquiring information) and accommodation (construction and usage of the information acquired) (Lindon & Brodie, 2016). Developmental dyslexia is a classic example of interrelated developmental aspects (Caravolas, 2012). Theorists have suggested that even though dyslexia is a cognitive development deficit it could be influenced by biological developmental aspects such auditory and visual deficits and sensorimotor developmental deficits influenced by a mildly dysfunctional cerebellum (Ramus, et al., 2003), (Nicolson, et al., 2001 ).  Even though Piaget's work had been lauded, certain shortfalls have been found in it, for example, development does not have clear-cut stages rather it is a continuous process (Clarke, 2000), and subjects were solitary learners yet in reality thoughts and decisions are strongly influenced by the sociocultural environmental factor. Lev Vygotsky, a Russian theorist, identified the latter shortfall and described learning as a sociocultural affair. He used the concept of the zone of proximal development to explain what a child could achieve on their own and what they can achieve with a little support (Lindon & Brodie, 2016, pp. 41-42).


is any conscious experience characterized by intense mental activity and a certain degree of pleasure or displeasure (Goleman, 2004). Children learn various emotions throughout the developmental stages ranging from fear, shame, guilt, pride and embarrassment (Early Education, 2012). Bowlby's theory suggests that nature brings children into the world pre-sensitized to form attachments that will enable them to survive. The attachment is both between the infant and the caregiver where the child expresses a need for emotional tending by crying or smiling while the caregiver's reaction is responsiveness (Deigh, 2012). The child forms one attachment which forms the model future relationships. This theory also follows the nature and nurture pattern. Nature influences by a pre-programmed need for attachment while nurture is from the caregiver’s response which results to the child either feeling loved and secure, unloved and rejected or angry and confused (Laura, 2012).  Limitations in Bowlby’s theory include a) poor definition of deprivation and privation b) generalization of “maternal deprivation". Whereas privation is the lack of a bond, deprivation is the loss or damage of the attachment which is not as influential on development as the deprivation at a critical period (Gerhardt, 2015). Bowlby christened his theory "maternal deprivation" which differs from the intended concept of damage, loss or lack of attachment (McLeod, 2007).

          Even though developmental milestones are naturally or genetically pre-determined, environmental factors also heavily influence the outcome. These milestones are continuous, regular and interrelated with one dynamic influencing the outcome of the other. All dynamics have to be considered for effective functioning. The milestones follow a predictable pathway that is determined by theories that have been tested through research and arising questions covered through modifications. Therefore, child development is now treated as an independent discipline and children better understood not merely as “little adults” but as autonomous individuals with different needs and wants (Schaffer, 2004).


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August 14, 2023

Child Development

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