The 6 stages of childhood (physical and mental development)

Childhood is the stage of life that goes from birth to youth. However, in this phase there are also different moments that mark the rhythms of the child’s development, both physically and psychologically.

This is why it is possible distinguish between different stages of childhood. This is a classification that psychologists and healthcare professionals in general take very seriously in understanding how humans think, feel, and act in their first few years of life.

The stages of childhood

Below, we’ll take a quick look at these stages of childhood and the physical and mental changes that occur in transitioning from one to the other.

However, it should be remembered that the boundaries between these phases are blurred and do not always happen in the same way; every boy and every girl is a world. In any case, at all these stages of childhood a development is appreciated which ranges from processing information about the senses and those of the present, to understanding abstract concepts that transcend the here and now. Unless a genetic or medical condition is present, this development will occur naturally if the breeding environment is right.

On the other hand, this classification assumes that the children follow a process of academic training in schools; although this is not always the case, the evolution of the nervous system of boys and girls occurs in the same way in all societies and cultures.

1. Intrauterine period

Although childhood is considered to begin at birth, it is sometimes assumed that it can begin earlier, especially in case of premature birth. This phase includes the early and late fetal period and involves processes of rapid formation and improvement of the senses.

It should be borne in mind that, although at this stage, he is totally dependent on others, the main learning is already taking place, especially through the ear. however, these are subject to a very simple and basic type of memorization. For example, at this stage, areas of the brain that deal with the basis of autobiographical memory have not yet been developed.

This stage of life is characterized by the fact that neither the biological structures of the organism have matured, nor that the child has had the opportunity to learn from immersion in a socially and sensory stimulating environment. .

2. Neonatal period

This phase of childhood begins at birth and ends approximately at the end of the first month. During the neonatal period, babies learn the main regularities of the world around them and the most direct communication with other human beings is established, although is not yet able to understand the concept of “I” and “you” because the language is not yet mastered.

Moreover, from the first days, babies show an amazing ease in distinguishing phonemes and, in fact, are able to distinguish different languages ​​based on their sound. It is a skill that is lost in the first months of life.

When it comes to physical changes, at this stage of childhood the growth of the whole body except the head begins to occur. Outraged, at this stage, we are very vulnerable, And sudden death is much more common in this time frame.

3. Post-neonatal or infantile period

This is still one of the first stages of childhood, but in this case, unlike the previous stage, the physical and psychological changes are easier to notice, as there are more qualitative behavior changes. .

In the infantile stage sufficient musculature begins to develop stand up and, in addition, around 6 months we begin to utter babbling and false words. In addition, you learn to coordinate the parts of the body so that it is easy to move at the same time with precision (development of fine motor skills).

Of course, breastfeeding is a very important part in this phase of growth, as it provides both nourishment and a channel of communication with the mother that helps to strengthen emotional bonds.

4. Early childhood period

Early childhood is from the first to the third year, and this roughly coincides with the stage at which boys and girls attend preschool. Here you start to control the use of the language itself, although at first it is a telegraph language with loose words and later you gain the ability to formulate simple sentences with inaccuracies such as generalization (call a dog “cat”, for example).

On the other hand, at this point you start to take control of the sphincters and show a strong willingness to explore and find out things; according to Jean Piaget, this curiosity was precisely the driving force behind learning.

Moreover, at this point the thought is fundamentally egocentric in the sense that it is very difficult to imagine what other people think or believe. This does not mean that boys and girls want to hurt others, but that their attention is focused on concepts that refer to oneself, as these are the easiest to understand and associate with sensory experiences.

With regard to physical changes, the size of the environment and of the limbs continues to grow, and the size difference between the head and the rest of the body narrows, although this development is slower than in previous stages.

5. Preschool period

The preschool period varies from 3 to 6 years. This is the stage of childhood in which the capacity for theory of mind is acquired, that is, the ability to attribute to others unique intentions, beliefs, and motivations (which are different of ours). This new ability greatly enriches social relationships, although it also allows lying to be more useful and effective as a resource.

Here too his ability to think in abstract terms develops furtherPartly because of the myelination of their brains and partly because they usually start to deal with large communities that are not just father and mother.

On the one hand, myelination leads to the connection of more parts of the brain with each other, which makes it possible to create more abstract concepts from the combination of ideas of all kinds and, on the other hand, brain enrichment. The type of interactions a child undergoes teaches their cognitive abilities to develop in more complex tasks.

At this point we start to make deals, to negotiate and to try to give a concrete picture. In the end, you often start trying to adapt your own behavior to gender roles, And cases of gender dysphoria appear frequently throughout this stage.

    6. School term

    The school period is the last stage of childhood and the one that gives way to adolescence. It ranges from 6 to 12 years old and at this stage the ability to think in abstract and mathematical terms develops a lot, although it does not reach its maximum. This is due to the fact that myelination of the brain takes its course (And it won’t slow down until the third decade of life). The frontal lobes begin to be better connected to other parts of the brain, which facilitates better control of executive functions such as attention management and decision making by following consistent strategies.

    In addition, at the school stage the image that is given begins to become even more important, And it’s about winning the friendship of those who are considered important.

    The social circle outside the family begins to be one of the factors that shape the identity of children, which makes family norms begin to be violated frequently and be aware of it. This is part of what makes them at this stage of childhood start to be vulnerable to addictions, which can leave significant changes in the brain, as in the case of alcohol consumption which in many cases begins with puberty in early adolescence.

    Impulsiveness is also often a hallmark of this stage, as is the propensity to prefer short-term goals over those far in the future. At the end of the school term, the body he begins to show signs of puberty, marked by voice changes in men and breast growth in young women, among others.

    bibliographical references

    • Berk, LE (2012). Babies and Children: Prenatal to Mid-Childhood (7th ed.). Allyn and Bacon.
    • Cantero, MP (2011). History and concepts of developmental psychology. Human development psychology. University club.
    • Cromdal, J. (2009). Childhood and social interaction in everyday life: introduction to the special issue. Journal of Pragmatics. 41 (8): 1473-76.
    • Demetriou, A. (1998). Cognitive development. In A. Demetriou, W. Doise, KFM van Lieshout (Eds.), Psychology of lifelong development (pp. 179-269). London: Wiley.
    • Howard C. (2008). Howard C. (2008). Children at Play: An American History. New York: NYU Press.
    • Taylor, LC, Clayton, Jennifer D., Rowley, SJ (2004). Academic socialization: understanding parental influences on children’s academic development during the early years. General review of psychology. 8 (3): 163-178.

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