Psychology: Childhood: Physical and Motor Development in Childhood

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Childhood is a beautiful phase of life for most of us. It is a period associated with play, fantasy, and innocence. It is the crucial phase in life and involves important aspects of growth and development which are critical for the entire life span. The childhood period can be further classified into four sub-stages:

Childhood Stages

Childhood Stages

  • Infancy (birth to 2 years),

  • Early childhood (2 to 6 years),

  • Middle childhood (6 to 11 years), and

  • Adolescence (12 to 19 years).

Physical and Motor Development in Childhood

Physical development continues during early and middle childhood, but the rate is slower than in infancy. There are gender differences in physical growth as girls tend to have a growth spurt earlier than boys during middle childhood. Motor development is usually classified into ‘gross motor’ and ‘fine motor’ categories. Gross motor development refers to control over large muscle groups that enable the child to get around, e.g. crawling, standing and walking. They usually involve the limbs or the whole body. Fine motor development refers to control over smaller muscle movements e.g. grasping, pinching etc. Fine motor skills are necessary to engage in smaller, more precise movements, generally using the hands and fingers. Fine motor skills are different than gross motor skills which require less precision to perform the daily tasks. Gross motor development is rapid during early childhood. During middle childhood, children continue to develop gross and fine motor skills, while there is marked improvement in muscular control and eye-hand coordination.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development refers to the way children learn and process the information. According to Piaget’s cognitive development theory, our thought and reasoning are part of adaptation. The four stages of development are

  • Sensori-motor stage (Birth- 2 years)

  • Pre-operational stage (2-7 years)

  • Concrete operational stage (7-11 years)

  • Formal operational stage (11+ years)

Socio-Emotional and Personality Development

Emotional development in childhood involves the development of self-conscious emotions, and better self-regulation in emotional expression. Social development progresses during childhood from parallel play to cooperative play. In middle childhood, the focus shifts gradually from family to peers and school. Peer acceptance is an important determiner of a child’s self-esteem and adjustment.


Socialization is the process of acquiring behaviors, norms, values and beliefs, which are considered significant in a society. Parenting style influences the socialization process and personality development of the child.

Four main types of parenting styles:

  • Authoritarian style: demanding, controlling, insensitive parenting

  • Permissive style: indulgent, non-demanding parenting

  • Authoritative style: firm, consistent parenting, reasons given for discipline.

  • Neglectful or uninvolved style : disinterested uncaring, low control and communication.

Cultural and social factors influence parenting style and attitudes towards child rearing, and hence the socialization process.

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