Watching a child grow from an infant to a toddler and then watching them go to school and gradually turn into a teenager is always a delight with new experiences at every stage of their life. It’s easy to monitor their physical growth but the same cannot be said about their emotional and mental development. This is why it’s so important for parents to understand the factors that play a role in causing developmental delays.
As we watch our babies give their first smile or turn over for the first time or raise their head, we rarely realise what a huge development milestone they have achieved with each new activity. We take these things for granted but the fact is that all children have a different developmental schedule due to some underlying factors. Child development is all about the physical, social and cognitive growth of a child that starts when they are born and continues through early adulthood. Every child is unique with a different development and learning process but there are a few factors that influence development of a child in early childhood. These include some obvious and some not so obvious factors and the influence of heredity and environment on child development is determined by biology, environment, relationships and many other factors that shape children. These factors have an influence on the physical health, identity, personality and overall development of the child.
Difference Between Growth and Development
The words ‘growth’ and ‘development’ are not synonyms when talking about childhood.
‘Growth’ refers to the physical changes that take place in a child from conception to adulthood. This refers to things like their height, aweight, head circumference, skeletal maturity, limb proportions and the replacement of milk teeth with permanent teeth.
‘Development’ on the other hand, refers to the increase of their cognitive and psychomotor abilities. Paediatricians and counsellors use developmental milestones to monitor a child’s progress in these areas. Some of these developmental milestones are rolling over by 6 months, crawling by 9 months, understanding basic instructions by 12 months, walking by themselves by 18 months etc. Sometimes, children who don’t meet these milestones may require timely intervention from a specialist.
Factors that Influence Development of a Child
- Socio-Economic Factors
- Nutrition and Health
- Environmental Factors
Genes are inherited from parents and have a considerable impact on the physical growth of a child. Genes decide about 80 percent of a child’s adult height, head circumference and childhood intelligence. Genes determine a child’s physical appearance, eye and hair colour, nose shape, skin tone, height and body build. They also determine aptitude, intelligence, abilities and attitudes to an extent. They also play a huge role in a child’s physical and mental health as some children are born with genetic disorders like Down syndrome and spina bifida which greatly disrupts a child’s growth and development. Some kids have great potential and are more naturally gifted at certain things. Not every child learns things at the same pace which is again determined by their genes.
The influence of parents on child development and growth is vital. Parenting styles determine the formation of their behaviour, personalities and cognitive processes. Parents spend the most time with their children and influence the way they think, act and behave. Their physical, social and emotional development depend on the opportunities they are given and strong family support can make a great difference.
Positive and responsive parenting practices lay the foundation in children and enhance their development processes. Providing comfort to a crying child, showing them love and affection, engaging with them and stimulating them give a great boost to their development. Parents who have a routine for their child makes them more conscious of leading a regulated life later on. Authoritative parents with clear rules often have confident and independent children while children who have uninvolved parents may have trouble with their emotions and developing healthy relationships.
Level of education and family income contribute greatly to a child’s physical and mental growth. Statistics show that children growing up in a better socio-economy grow taller than kids from a poorer socio-economic family. They are more likely to engage in sports and physical activity which boosts their health and social relationships. Socio-economic also affects mental wellbeing. Studies show a link between child psychopathology and low socio-economic status. Children from poorer homes are more likely to experience housing instability and other traumas which can result in more mental disorders than children from richer families.
Some health attributes are genetic but some diseases and disabilities may be a result of the environment. Good quality healthcare, medicines, vaccinations, diet and access to clean water, air and environment have a significant effect on child development.
The influence of community on child development cannot be ignored. Cognitive stimulation, climate, diet, stress, living conditions, peer group, infections and pollution affect developing children. Statistics of 2022 show that air pollution affects the neurodevelopment of children which later affects their academic performance. Children who have been bullied show poor cognitive development, get lower grades and have more behavioural issues. The influence of school on child development is also pivotal.
Girls and boys have a different pace of physical and emotional development which is more evident when puberty hits. Physically there is not much difference between boys and girls with regard to height and weight until late elementary school. As far as cognitive, maturity and social skills are concerned, studies show that these develop earlier in girls.
Gender expectations and social norms also play a role in a child’s development. Often, without realising, we may parent our children according to our own perceived notion of gender roles. This greatly influences their thoughts, behaviour and actions. This preconceived notion of gender roles may result in exposing our children to different opportunities. We may play more roughly with our sons than our daughters which will develop their gross motor skills at an earlier age. While a child who draws regularly or threads beads will develop different cognitive and fine motor skills.
Role of Counsellors in Children’s Growth and Development
Children who do not meet one or more developmental milestones on schedule are said to have a developmental disability. Meeting a counsellor or other professional help in this situation. Counsellors can help with behavioural problems like ADHD, regulate impulsive behaviour and stay on track at school. Counsellors can also facilitate healthy social and mental development through interpersonal psychotherapy which teaches them to tackle relationship conflict and cognitive behavioural therapy to alter negative thought patterns. Family counselling is very helpful in parents supporting their children and learning strategies to handle mental conditions.
Though there are certain developmental milestones that are considered the norm, we have to remember that no two children are the same and so some of their developmental milestones may be slower or faster than others. Though there are a few factors like heredity and environment that play a role in this, we still find same sex siblings with different personalities, abilities and interests. For more information on the major influences of child development, you can touch base with EuroKids for the latest updates.