“Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.” – Nelson Mendela
Children make up a considerable percentage of our world’s population today. The United Nations defines children as “people under the age of 18”, and it is estimated that there are over 2.2 billion children worldwide, which amounts to approximately 27% of the whole population. Without a doubt, they are hidden treasures of our society; children of today will become leaders of tomorrow, who will carry on the legacy and success of the past. They are tiny, delicate seeds that require great attention from their surroundings, in order to develop and grow into strong, resilient trees that will bear sweet fruits in the future. Their developments are not just the responsibility of the parents. It is imperative that every community, society and nation contributes to nurturing healthy, intellectual and loving childhoods for all children. Therefore, understanding how children develop over the years is crucial, so that they can be provided with the best possible environment, care and education.
“Children are not things to be moulded, but are people to be unfolded.”
Let us start by understanding what “Child Development” means. It describes the sequence or process of physical, mental and emotional changes that happen inside children from the time of birth to the early stages of adulthood. A few major factors that affect child development include the environment, genetic contributions, events during prenatal life and the child’s learning capacity. In the past, childhood has generally been categorised into 3 stages: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. However, with the emergence of new screening techniques used by specialists, many scholars now discuss this process in terms of five stages: new-born, infant, toddler, pre-school and school age. In addition, child development is explained in terms of the following abilities: cognitive (ability to perceive, react, process store data and decide), social and emotional (ability to experience, express, manage emotions and develop meaningful relationships), language (ability to understand and distinguish speech sounds) and finally, movement or physical (ability to use muscles and body parts for various skills). Since children learn in numerous ways, they may reach the five stages at different paces, and may not necessarily exhibit all abilities at the same time. It is essential to develop personal bonds with children in order to discover their unique personalities and how they grow.
“Welcome to the world!” – new-born (birth to 2 months old)
With new-born babies, every day brings new changes and developments. Some of the significant cognitive exhibitions include automatic responses to external stimuli (such as turning heads to sounds and grabbing fingers) and recognising basic smell, especially the scent of the mother. They may try to look at others and starts to smile to signal the start of social and emotional development. While they are obviously unable to speak, they can coo and produce vowel sounds, as well as cry to indicate their needs. As for their physical abilities, they can gradually lift their heads for longer periods and follow objects with their eyes.
“Messy rooms and food spills everywhere” – infant (2 to 18 months old)
Infants quickly develop a myriad of abilities in the first year of life. They grow rapidly in the cognitive department, from recognizing familiar faces to learning how to use things like spoons and point at body parts. During the first 4 to 6 months, they are able to respond to facial expressions and affection, and gradually become able to engage in simple pretend games and have tantrums when they reach 9 to 12 months old. As for their language abilities, they may add consonant sounds to vowels and communicate with gestures in their early infant years, then progress to say “no” and wave good-bye in the later years. Furthermore, they can start walking by holding onto surfaces and stand on their own. It is interesting to note that their curiosity grows especially during this infant stage, so adults must consider carefully what they are exposed to and how they can encourage them to pursue their thinking in a healthy way.
“Come back here! Sit down!” – toddler (18 months to 2 years old)
By the time children reach their toddler years, stricter discipline and gentle communication are required to make sure they can feel secure and have a good routine. They are able to follow single-step requests like “Please stand up” by the time they are 18 months old, and group similar shapes or colours together. Moreover, they may start to take interest in building blocks as they approach 24 months. At the same time, due to their just-beginning rebellion in terms of social and emotional development, they may also defy directions and refuse to share toys with others. By this time, they can name more objects and ask questions as well as run, jump, throws balls and dance.
“Teaching them how to think, not what to think” – pre-school (3 to 5 years old)
During these pre-school years, children grow more independent and capable. They start to expand on having new friends, experiences and environments. When they are 3 years old, they can solve simple puzzles and at the age of 4, they can play board games and draw stick figures, then proceeding to draw more complex things and count up to ten when they are 5 years old. They develop more emotions, for instance, being able to display empathy for hurt or crying children and learn how to take turns. They are also able to differentiate between fiction and reality, in addition to talking about their likes and dislikes. Moreover, parents may start to notice they can recite nursery rhymes or tell stories, and go to the bathroom alone! They start to overcome fear and attempt to use dangerous objects like scissors, so parental supervisions are extremely vital in such cases.
“Children are likely to live up to what you teach them” – school age (6 to 17 years)
Now comes the final stage where parents will see their babies grow into teenagers and get ready to enter adulthood. They are capable, confident, independent and responsible people who have been shaped to compete in the harsh, demanding world. As kids mature, it is a huge challenge to find a good balance between keeping them safe, enforcing rules, maintaining connections, and allowing them to make some decisions and take responsibilities at the same time. It is common knowledge that children transitioning through the puberty stage may suffer from mood swings and demonstrate extreme rebellion in the household. However, parents, teachers and caregivers must continue to encourage them gently and set a distinctive line between rules and freedom.
In their pre-teenage years, around the age of 6 to 12, they are able to follow almost all instructions and process situations in a systematic manner. They are able to develop better study habits with assistance, and maintain longer focus in class. They may start to experience more emotions they have not felt before, such as jealousy, peer pressure, moodiness and increased want for privacy. On the language side, not only are they able to communicate coherently but they are able to draw logical inferences based on reading and use sarcasm. Moreover, they will start to take greater interest in sports and notice bodily changes as they advance into their teenage years.
When the children have reached the age of 15 to 17, it is safe to say all their cognitive abilities have matured greatly. They are now able to internalize work and study habits, as well as explain their positions and choices. They develop and feel more complex emotions, including increased interest in the opposite gender and the ability to empathize fully. In addition, they should face no problem in speaking, reading, listening or writing fluently. Since both genders become more conscious of their physical appearance at this stage, peers and society may place immense pressure on them which can be detrimental to their health. Therefore, they may crave increased attention and compliments from other people.
As one can see from the child development stages above, it is important that society celebrates each and every milestone achieved by the children. They have a boundless store of energy, capability, zeal and enthusiasm, and have the power to change the destiny of the world. So let us all take care of all the little seeds, regardless of their size, colour, abilities and conditions, and nurture them.
– Nashat Zaman