7 Key Areas of Childhood Development
Child development is one of the hottest topics we, as parents, want to learn more about as soon as our kids are born. In this series, we will look at a child’s emotional, cognitive, physical, and motor growth, language and communication, and behavioral development.
With a good understanding of cognitive or intellectual development, we are looking at how our kids learn, solve problems, and retain memory. With the understanding and knowledge of the different ways our children learn to think, reason, and understand the concepts around them; we, as the parents, may be better able to help raise confident and capable children through the stages of child development. Here are some of the critical areas to take note of.
Spatial awareness progresses during childhood and this is an important child development topic to understand. It looks at how a child learns things from different perspectives. The exploration of physical and spatial aspects of the environment helps our babies interpret what they are experiencing. In preschoolers, spatial awareness helps them appreciate personal space and the proximity of others to them. In school-aged children, spatial awareness helps the child with the understanding of abstract concepts in mathematics, especially in patterns, shapes, and sequences. Parents who get on the floor and play with their babies and children are helping their children develop spatial awareness. We tend to “just know” that it’s right to talk about under/over, beside, in front of/behind with our children when we are playing with them. These games and songs/books like “Going on a Bear Hunt” are fun ways that parents use their understanding of this aspect of cognitive child development and ultimately find comfort in knowing what developmental expectations to have for their kids.
It is amazing how much our kids can problem solve on their own when we let them. A part of normal child development is their ability to solve problems by varied means. From birth our children begin to learn the cognitive skills of problem-solving, which includes perceiving the problem, gaining an understanding of the problem, remembering the problem and key information, and decision making. All of these actions can be encouraged by parents throughout a child’s life to promote a healthy sense of independence as they grow up. This is why it’s key to allow children time and space for independent play without interference by adults. When children are playing with others, resist the temptation to solve problems for the children. Supervise, sure. But only get involved when necessary. When involved, rather than try to fix something, distract the children from the issue. This will allow the children to come back to it when they are ready or just let it go.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Children learn from what they see us do on a daily basis. In their infancy, babies learn through the imitation of facial movements and making noises. Often, we make the mistake of assuming that child development through imitation stops once our kids are older at preschooler and school-aged stages. Often this assumption causes us to stop being mindful of the things we say and do around our children. Parents are a child’s most influential model of how to behave which means our kids are highly observant of how we treat others. If we have the rule to be kind to others, we need to make sure that we are modeling that behavior. Actions truly speak louder than words. One way for parents to guard against hypocrisy is to practice awareness. No one can do this all at once. Rather pick one area where awareness would be helpful. For example, the car. Notice if you sneak a peek at your phone when operating a motor vehicle (yes, even at stoplights). If we don’t want our children to be distracted drivers, we must model that. Do we yell at drivers when they cut us off or do we practice patience and forgiveness? When we practice awareness, it’s important to avoid the temptation to judge ourselves. Just notice. If we don’t like a behavior, then we can take the steps to make a change.
Our children’s capacity to remember allows them to be aware of potential dangers in unfamiliar people and objects, learn the language, and participate in social settings with standard rules of interaction that they come to remember. This cognitive skill prepares our kids to enter a world full of information and routines. It is an integral part of child development as memory fosters growth, especially in our language and communication skills. Peek-a-boo, memory cards, engaging with and talking often with our children as well as reading stories are just a few of the ways parents assist in developing memory in their children.
Kids love the game of categorizing shapes and colors – it is one of the many earlier games to introduce to toddlers to encourage their cognitive development in classification. The ability to perform classification is useful for school-aged children in school. They will learn how to sort, connect, and group items according to their attributes; helping them understand and appreciate concepts of science in school. This stage of child development can help our kids learn to identify the properties of classifications, relate them to one another, and finally, using the information to solve problems. Giving toddlers access to a cabinet in the kitchen with the storage containers is one very simple way to keep active toddlers occupied while preparing dinner and give them classification practice. Notice what they are doing. Ask them to find the smallest container. Then the largest. In this way, you can do what you need to do while keeping your toddler occupied and allowing them to develop an essential skill.
Make-believe play allows our kids to better understand their roles in the family, in a school setting, and in the real world one day. Helping our children engage in this fantasy play will help them with their communication and social skills. Research has shown that pretend play has a significant role in a child's development of acceptance of others’ feelings and emotions. Kids learn empathy through imaginative play where they interact in environments where other children are present. There, they can learn to cooperate, negotiate, and collaborate, which can be incredibly valuable for us, as parents. Create a drawer or basket dedicated to items for make-believe play. Remember to dress up sometimes, too. As Mr. Rogers taught us, it’s fun to switch roles with your child and allow them to explore the world through make-believe.
Understanding of Personal Care Habits
A large part of child development is in recognizing and taking ownership of personal care activities as a part of daily life. As parents, we present our children with the opportunities to learn and participate in routines that are significant in enhancing skills in problem-solving, memory, and following examples. Model proper personal care, teach the skills as they are developmentally ready, and resist the urge to do these things for them. The point is that our children develop life-long habits that will serve them well. Through these skills, our kids will then be able to thrive and become independent to take care of themselves.