“Child Development”

(Key Texts – Luke 2:52; Proverbs 22:6)


  • No man or woman has ever watched the complete and daily development of a single child from its birth to its third year.
  • Previous studies of children concentrated on “Child Psychology” (e.g. Speech, Emotions and Play Interests).  The focus should rather be on “Child Development”, i.e. Pattern of the Child’s Development as opposed to just certain aspects of development.
  • Child Psychology has one objective, namely: To study the different areas of Child Behavior.  On the other hand, Child Development has six objectives, namely:
  1. To find out what are the characteristic age changes in appearance, behavior, interests and goals from one developmental period to another.
  2. To find out when these changes occur.
  3. To find out under what conditions these changes occur.
  4. To find out how these changes influence the child’s behavior.
  5. To find out whether or not these changes can be predicted.
  6. To find out whether these changes are individual or characteristic of all children.


Principles of Development

  • There are ten fundamental Principles of Development:
  1. Development involves Change, i.e. quantitative (physical growth) and qualitative (progressive and orderly changes).
  2. Early Development is more critical than Later Development.  Therefore, Preschool Years (0 years to 6 years) are the most important.
  3. Development comes from the interaction of Maturation (readiness to learn) and Learning (practice and training).
  4. Developmental Pattern is predictable (both Prenatal and Postnatal).  Development spreads from Head to Foot (cephalocaudal sequence) and from Central Axis of Body to Far Extremities (Proximodistal Direction).
  5. The Developmental Pattern has common characteristics.  Development is continuous from Conception to Death … however the speed of development varies from individual to individual, and the development does not occur at an even pace nor is it uniform.
  6. There are individual differences in development.  Children do not reach the same point of development at the same age.
  7. There are periods in the developmental pattern.  For example, Prenatal Period (conception to birth); Infancy (birth to 14 days); Babyhood (2 weeks to 2 years); Early Childhood (2 years to 6 years); Late Childhood (6 years to 13 years); Puberty (11 years to 16 years).
  8. There are social expectations, i.e. Developmental Tasks, for every developmental period.  For example, Learning to walk and talk (birth to 6 years); Developing reading, writing & calculating skills (6 years to 12 years).
  9. Every area of development has potential hazards which may slow/stop forward movement or even cause regression.
  10. Happiness varies at different periods in development.  Babyhood is one of the happiest periods in the life span, and Puberty is usually the most unhappy.


Physical Development

  • Proportionally greater Growth and Development occur during the Prenatal Period than at any other time in the entire life span of a child.  The hereditary endowment is also fixed at this time.
  • There are many potential hazards to normal development during the Prenatal Period, such as Fallopian Tubal Pregnancy, Miscarriages, Premature Birth, Maternal Nutrition, Maternal Stress, Parental Age (ideal is between 21 years and 29 years for females) and Uterine Crowding (Multiple Births).
  • Infancy is devoted to making adjustments to Postnatal Life.  During this Neonatal Period (2 weeks), development comes to a temporary standstill or even regresses (e.g. loss of weight).
  • There are four major adjustments every infant must make:
  1. Temperature Changes (from 37 to 20 Degrees Celsius)
  2. Breathing (from Placenta to Inhaling / Exhaling)
  3. Taking Nourishment
  4. Elimination of Waste
  • Adjustment to Postnatal Life can be very difficult.  It is usually characterized by Loss of Weight, Disorganisation of Behaviour or even Mortality.
  • One of the serious hazards that can affect a child later in life is Brain Damage suffered during the birth process.  During the normal birth, the brain damage is usually caused by increased pressure on the fetal head when birth is long and difficult.  During caesarean section, the brain damage is usually caused by oxygen deprivation when the infant has difficulty in establishing respiration.  The effects of Brain Damage can be short term or long term (e.g. Speech Defects or Learning Difficulties).


  • Growth in all parts of the body is continuous and concurrent.  For example, a child’s brain does not stop growing while the bones, muscles and lungs are growing.
  • Ossification, i.e. hardening of the bones, is mainly postnatal.  The soft spots of the cranium (fontanels) are closed in nearly all babies by the age of 2 years.  During this period, the bones can easily be deformed (e.g. flattened head if babies spend most of their sleep-time on their backs).
  • Growth and Development of the Brain affects all aspects of the child’s development.  The cerebellum (lower brain) is responsible for postural control and body balance; whilst the cerebrum (upper brain – including frontal lobes) controls the mental functions.  Rapid Growth in both these areas of the brain will affect the degree of helplessness a child will experience and their intellectual capacity.
  • Physical Hazards in Child Development have Psychological Effects.  The most common of these hazards are: Illness, Physical Defects, Malnutrition, Accidents, Deviant Body Build and Ugliness.
  • Motor Skills (control over bodily movements) are learned by Trial-and –Error (poorest method), Imitation and Teaching (best method).
  • During the first year and a half of postnatal life, babies use four Pre-speech Forms of Communication, namely:
  1. Crying
  2. Babbling
  3. Gestures
  4. Emotional Expressions
  • Of these four forms, Babbling is the most important in Speech Development.
  • Deprivation of Affection can have a damaging effect on children’s physical development.


Social Development

  • During the preschool years, the family is the most important Socializing Agency (Seat of Learning for Social Skills).  From 7 years onwards, the influence of the Peer Group is usually greater than either teacher influence or family influence.
  • Anti-Social Behaviour (e.g. Discrimination or Prejudice) is not hereditary … it is a product of Social Learning.  Most Prejudices come from imitating the attitudes and behavior of parents, teachers, peers, neighbours and mass media.
  • There are three main classifications of companions in childhood, namely: Associates, Playmates and Friends.
  • Above all other kinds of companions, Friends exert the greatest influence on the socialization of children.
  • The use children make of their abilities determines whether they will be Leaders or Followers.
  • For most children, the problem of loneliness caused by a lack of social ties is serious.
  • Play, Active and Passive (Amusements), is an important tool for socializing of a child.
  • Even though exploratory play is annoying to parents and destructive of cherished possessions, it helps children gain knowledge about things in the environment.


Mental Development

  • Children possess varying degrees of intelligence, i.e. Mental Abilities.
  • Age for Age, Bright Children show more creativity than those who are less bright.
  • Understanding parallels mental growth.  In other words, when mental growth is rapid (as in a bright child), understanding will be above the norm for the child’s age.
  • Regardless of how far short of adult standards their achievements fall, children must always be encouraged; and not criticized or ridiculed.

Spiritual Development

  • Immoral Behaviour fails to conform to expected behavior patterns due to disapproval with the set standards.  Unmoral Behaviour is due to ignorance rather than intentional violation of set standards.
  • True Morality must be carried out voluntarily.  It comes with the transition from external to internal authority, and is regulated from within (Jeremiah 31:33).




  • Growth and Development are inseparable.  The former is quantitative whilst the latter is qualitative.
  • Parents must always do their best to create opportunities and an environment which ensures that Development is progressive, i.e. proceeds in a forward direction (Luke 2:52; Proverbs 22:6).



Presented by:   A. Ndlebe                                                                                            Date: 21 July 2012