During the prenatal period there are many biological factors that can affect the child's development. There are many environmental factors that can damage the fetus and interfere with a healthy development. In the early years, development focuses on fast and constant changes involving physical growth. Good nutrition becomes a key component in this area of development and we also find many motor milestones that the individual will need to achieve. Cognitive and social development will also play a fundamental role in this period and theorists like Piaget have suggested certain stages in regards to these areas.
There are several areas of development that will affect the child's overall growth and progress. We will notice that there are specific ages defined for a specific milestone to be reached. However, we must understand that every child is different and may acquire different developmental successes in different times compared to other children.
The motor, sensory and perceptual skills of infants are developed as they are exposed to a wide range of experiences, with plenty of opportunity to explore and understand the world around them. Providing them with physical play where they can be laying flat on tummies or back will help them develop stronger muscles and more coordination. Sensory stimulation through touch, taste, hearing, seeing and smelling will be key in their development. Helping the infant explore and stimulate his senses will create the beginning of understanding of the world around him. Perception is gained through the sensory information the infant receives. Stimulation and a rich caring environment will help provide the necessary background and support for the infant's motor, sensory and perceptual development.
Cognitive development in the new born infant can be observed as the child becomes aware of physical sensation. He will explore with mouth, hands, and feet and begin to understand cause and effect and will begin to problem solve around the 7th month. One important fact to remember is that children are thinkers and they will learn by exploring and trying to understand the world around them.
In the middle childhood we may find that there are many physical and neurophysiologic changes that include refining motor and perceptual skills. They are beginning to improve coordination, control, manipulation and movement. Their fine motor skills are getting much more refined and we may observe them tying their shoes, lacing and threading, writing and drawing (San Ramon, R.G.2010). All of these tremendous changes constantly occurring generate specific milestones which are a product of growth in sensory -motor, memory, skeletal and muscular maturation. Of course neurological development is supported by the environmental stimulus that they are exposed to. We will also notice that during this time period children are very active exploring their environment and learning how to control their bodies in order to achieve success in certain games, sports or skills. We must provide them with many opportunities to practice and master all of the skills and abilities that they are know learning. The more enriching and challenging the environment the greater the chances for learning and improving (Zembar,M.J, Blume,L.B.(2009).
At this stage in life they make tremendous leaps on how they store, process and use information from their environment. Cognitive development theory originates on the principle that mental processes become more sophisticated and complex through progressive and sequential changes. The theory is based on the idea that individuals cognition develops as he reaches certain levels of competence in several cognitive skills. As the person gains cognitive abilities they are integrated into a general cognitive ability (Fogiel,1999). Piaget was trained in biology and philosophy and was very interested in understanding how humans come to know what they know. Piaget believes that before there can be learning there has to be development. Another important premise that he held strong to was the assumption that we move through several stages as we slowly acquire different abilities. In childhood children find that peer relationships are of great importance to them. Play is crucial to their development of social emotional development. It is key for them to build a sense of self and moral values. As they engage in play they begin to explore different ways for problem solving, viewing other perspectives, they may take emotional or social risks (Child Development 2010).
Piaget's assumption in regards to cognitive development was that children do not reason or think like adults. He emphasized individualistic development as a way for learning during early, middle, and late childhood. Piaget proposed a constructivist theory of cognitive development that suggested that all individuals pass through an orderly and predictable series of changes.
There are four stages of development according to Piaget:
Sensorimotor: From birth and the first 24 months. The infant learns relationship between their actions and the external world acquire concept of cause and effect.
Preoperational: 18 or 24 months - 7yrs. growth of symbolic activities. Begin to form mental images of objects and events symbolic play (Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. 2003).
Concrete operations : 7 -11 yrs. Begin to understand seriation, relational terms, and reversibility.
Formal operations: 12 - adulthood. Their logical thinking process begins to transit from concrete to more abstract.
A child that has been provided with a stimulating and supportive environment will be able to develop to the best of his abilities. Having a strong socio-emotional development will impact all areas of development because it is our inner drive, self concept and self esteem that will provide us with the energy and desire to learn and grow. When we provide children with a solid socio-emotional foundation then we allow for them to gain strong relationship skills such as being able to express and regulate their emotions, take risks to explore new situations and environments and be able to build healthy relationships with those around them.
There are many studies that suggest that family structure does affect a child's cognitive and emotional development. There have been some correlations between parent's education and children's IQ. The same holds true for the birth order and the size of the family they belong to stating that it can impact academic performance. However, there is one important factor that we must place special attention to which is based on how safe and secure the child feels with their immediate family. Having a family that provides an environment of warmth, consistency, maturity and good communication will definitely provide a solid foundation for his or her development.
We must also look at another factor that may influence the child's development and it has to do with parenting styles. There is evidence that certain parenting styles may not be as supportive of a child's cognitive and social emotional development. I believe that one that best provides the necessary grounds for growth is the authoritative parenting style as it is high in nurturance, maturity demands, control, and communication. While the worst scenario would be the non involved parenting style which is low in control, maturity demands, nurturance and communication (Fogiel, M. 1996).
Diana Baumrind studied preschool aged children and discovered that there were four important dimensions of parenting: disciplinary strategies, warmth and nurturance, communication styles, and expectations of maturity and control (Cherry,K. 2005). From these dimensions she suggested that there were four parenting styles that we could observe and that would influence child development.
1. Authoritarian Parenting: These are based on strict rules established by parents whom children should obey. Parents do not give explanations of these rules. The parents have high demands but are not responsive to the child.
2. Authoritative Parenting: These parents establish rules that children should follow but their style is more democratic as they are more responsive and willing to listen to questions. The parents are more nurturing and forgiving. They are assertive but not intrusive. They want children to be socially responsible and assertive.
3. Permissive Parenting: These parents are very indulgent and have few demands for their children. They hardly reprimand because they has very low expectations of maturity and self control. They are very nurturing and communicative as they act more as a friend than a parent.
4. Uninvolved Parenting: These parents have few demands low responsiveness and communication since they are very detached from their child although they supply their basic needs. Sometimes these parents tend to neglect their children.
When analyzing these parenting styles there are some interesting conclusion in regards to how they affect children.
â€¢ Authoritarian parents foster obedient children that are low in self esteem and happiness.
â€¢ Authoritative parents foster children who are happy and successful.
â€¢ Permissive parenting foster children who are low in self regulation and happiness.
â€¢ Uninvolved parenting fosters children with lack of self esteem and self control.
The different parenting styles do happen to influence a child's development and many times we must look into the reasons that parents behave the way they do. It is a complex scenario since many factors come into play that may produce significant differences such as family size, socio economic status, culture, religion and educational level.
The childhood years are important to build the foundation because they will pretty much set the stage for the individual to prolong the development of important life skills. Those who learn better are usually those who have a secure family system and a very encouraging environment. An environment where they are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them without judgment. An environment where they feel free to explore and create. In the life and the development of an individual we will find that there are several factors that will be of great influence to their progress. However, environmental factors such as lack of stimulation, nourishment, encouraging families may be some of the factors that will play a basic role in developing confident individuals with strong cognitive and socio emotional skills.