Introduction

Having a comprehensive knowledge of the stages a child undergoes during growth and development is crucial in gaining knowledge of morphological differences in children.  This is important in the evaluation of a child’s overall maturity and may be applied in making comparisons on a child’s growth and health between different individuals and populations. This paper explores five development stages of a child. These stages are; prenatal, infant, toddler, early childhood, and school age. The researcher will also explore public policy, and cultural influences on a child’s development. During each of these stages of a child’s development, it is necessary to pay attention to fundamental physical, cognitive, language, emotional, as well as, social growth milestones (BronfenbrenneR, 1979). This is crucial since the outcome of a child’s development is not easy to predict. In stead, it comprises of various factors, which involves the child, the family, school, and the cultural backgrounds. However, a child’s development does not take place at a constant rate because of the periods of stagnation which alternate with periods of rapid growth.

Pre-natal development and birth

Prenatal development refers to the time of a child’s conception to birth. This begins with the period the egg germinates into fetus resulting into new life. For a normal development, a child takes approximately nine months to reach the stage when a baby is born. During this period, there are many changes that a child undergoes. In addition at this time, the growth is more rapid and intense than after birth. Pre-natal development begins from conception of the zygote, and then takes several weeks. Afterwards, the zygote turns into an infant, containing billions of cells and weighing approximately seven and half pounds. All these changes occur at the 40 weeks time period. Therefore, the nine months or 40 weeks of pregnancy that a woman passes through can be broadly divided into three stages of pre-natal development. During this period, a child passes through different levels of growth and development. These stages include; the conception stage, embryonic stage, and the fetal development stage (Duncan et al, 2007).

The conception stage begins at the first two weeks of pregnancy. At this stage of a child’s development, the body makes the womb ready for potential pregnancy by gathering a layer of rich, bloody tissue around the womb. This stage lasts for two weeks, where the female ovum reaches the uterus and evolves into a basic life form. This is a preparatory stage that initiates the preliminary process and gears up body for forthcoming pregnancy. The embryonic stage begins when the ovum reaches the uterine walls and lasts till the eleventh week of pregnancy. It is the most critical stage of a child’s development. During the embryonic stage, when reproduction system passes through critical initial development, there is a lot of care needed. After 14 days, the embryo develops at a faster rate, and it is only during the 4th week that cellular division begins. This is a particularly crucial stage, when the cell divides to create a placenta and the unborn baby.  At around the sixth week, the development of limbs begins and the baby acquires a heartbeat. It is an important stage in a child’s prenatal development. The teeth and the intestines begin to develop during the 8th week. In addition, towards the end of this crucial prenatal stage, nearly all the body organs, including the central nervous system begin to develop including various joints of the body, and the iris of the eye begins to develop.

The fatal development stage begins at the eleventh week. At this period, the child is referred to as fetus. This period marks the last stage of prenatal development and ends with the birth of a baby. After the eleventh week, the genitals begin to develop and other body parts, such as, nails, hair, vocal chords, as well as, hardened bones. This is also the period when other body organs begin to function. The fetus experience rapid growth and development from the 16th week to the 20th week onwards. It is a period when fats begin to be deposited under the skin. In addition, this period is also marked by the onset of the heartbeat and the baby may begin experiencing hiccups. Furthermore, this period is also characterized by spending equal times of sleep and when the fetus is awake, which is a characteristic of a typical new born baby.

However, the development stage of a fetus slows down during the 21st to 24th week. At this period, other body parts and organs, such as, the eyebrows and the eyelids are perfectly formed. The fetus at this stage weighs approximately 1.3 pounds. However, when the fetus is male, the male organs, the testis begin to develop. The development of the lungs also begins at this stage, combined with the secretion of surfactant, which is a perquisite for breathing. The other noteworthy aspect of a child’s development at this stage is the development of the brain. Furthermore, the development of the retina takes place at this stage, where the fetus may be able to open the eyes. Finally, all the main body organs of a human being are formed at the 40th week, with an exception of the lungs. Various immunities begin to develop, the child may also begin to fatten up, as a result of response to the external factors within the environment. From the 37th week, the fetus begins to add weight on a daily basis to the total body weight, and after 9 months or 40 weeks, the fetus is set to be born (Laura, 2012).

There are factors which characterize the prenatal development stage. These include prematurity which may result from multiple pregnancies, fetal abnormalities, as well as, structural or endocrine abnormalities in the mother. Some babies may also be born small for their gestation period, which may also be delayed in other areas as well, as a result of intra uterine growth retardation. Other abnormalities may be caused by genetic abnormalities, which may be reduced through observing genetic counseling before pregnancy. Maternal diseases may also occur and may be reduced by early and thorough prenatal care which may minimize the risk to the fetus by avoiding exposure to maternal diabetes, hypertension, as well as, other disorders. Furthermore, other complexities during the prenatal period may occur as a result of adolescent pregnancy among young girls. Mothers who are below 15 years may increase the risk of giving birth to the fetus with low birth weight or neonatal death. Other abnormalities may occur as a result of maternal ingestion of substances which are toxic to the fetus, such as, cigarette smoking. This may result into children who are hyperactive with short attention spans, as well as, delays in language development. Previous studies on child development show mother who are addicted to substance or drug abuse give birth to children who have low birth weight and may show a condition referred as neonatal abstinence syndrome which is characterized by mild irritability, emotional liability, coupled with intense reactions to external stimuli. On the other hand, mothers who experience psychological problems while pregnant may give birth to children who have maladaptive behavior; these are termed as emotional factors (Weisner, 2002).

Infancy stage: the first year

In the infancy stage of a child’s development, from the period a child opens its eyes, they undergo intense dramatic physical and mental changes. During this period of a child’s development, infants should undergo regular examination to assess proper development and identify any health complications. This will ensure early detection and treatment of any potential problem that a child may experience. A baby needs just 12 months to make outstanding transformation. During the first three months, the brains and bodies of babies learn to adapt to the environment (Laura, 2012). Between times of birth to three months, a baby may begin to smile, may be to herself, but later may smile in response to a parents smile and try to get a smile in response. The baby may also be able to raise her head, as well as, chest when on her tummy, track objects with the eye, open and shut hand and take hands to the mouth, grip objects, and reach for hanging objects (BronfenbrenneR, 1979)..

Within four to six months, babies learn to reach out and manipulate the environment around them. At this period of a child’s development, they are able to master the use of their hands. In addition, babies are able to roll over from back to front and vise versa, make sounds that sounds like real words, laugh, and sit up when supported. Between seven to nine months, the baby will be able to figure out how to make forward and backward movements. In addition, the baby will be able to crawl on hands and knees, sit without the need of support, make a response to familiar sounds like her name, play games and clap hands, and learn to pull herself up to a standing posture. Within ten to twelve months, which is the final stage of a child’s development within the first year is characterized by self feeding, moving around a house on her feet while getting support from objects such as furniture, say a word such as mama or dada, point at objects she want, in order to attract attention, begin to mimic others while playing, such as pretending to talk to a phone, and make her first steps. Skills such as taking the first steps are known as developmental milestones, referring to the things that a child is able to do at a given age. Other processes such as language and thinking are known as cognitive development. During the first year, babies are also able to develop bonds of trust and love with other people, particularly parents, to form part of emotional development (Parten, 1932).

Motor landmarks include activities such as being able to hold up a hand, sitting with the need of support, sitting alone, standing alone, and walking with support. Cognitive landmarks include memory enhances and the ability to overcome basic obstacles, able to perceive connections between events, and anticipate the next occurrences. In addition, infants are able to realize the existence of objects even if out of sight. On the other hand, cognitive landmarks include crying as an act of conveying information, such as, feelings of fatigue or hunger, and, the ability to play with sounds or bubble. At this stage, babies also pass through various stages of attachments, which are the behaviors, feelings, or cognitions which are directed to the mother figure. It is an important occurrence that enhances proximity or contact (Duncan et al, 2007).

The Toddler: Ages 1 to 3

During ages 1-3, the child enters the toddler stage. During this period in a child’s development, a child becomes increasingly more mobile. In addition, she becomes more aware about the environment. A child becomes more curious by having the desire to explore new objects and people. A toddler shows an attitude of greater independence, demonstrates defiant behavior, and mimics others, especially adults and older children. A toddler has the ability to recognize the language of others and objects and can understand simple phrases, and sentences, as well. Therefore at the toddler period, a child goes through a time of rapid change in all spheres of a child’s development, which include physical development, social development, emotional development, cognitive and language development (Ruben, et al, 1983).

A toddler is able to adjust to the society’s demands, and at the same time tries to maintain independence and a sense of self. There are three milestones which are typical to the toddler stage of a child’s development. These are the physical development, language development and social development. In physical development, the following signs are expected. In the gross motor skills, a toddler has the capability of using the larger muscles in the legs and arms. These allow a toddler to stand without support, walk well, learn to make backward steps, plays with a ball, and can ride a tricycle. In fine motor skills, a child is able to make use of the small muscles in hands and fingers. A child is able to make three dimensional objects such as a tower of three cubes, scribble, make use of a spoon and drink easily (Laura, 2012).

In language development, a child is able to use more than two words, at 12 to 15 months, understand and follow some simple commands, provide names to images of items and animals, point named body parts, able to tell her names, all these at the age of 18 to 24 months. by the age of thirty six, a child is able to discover gender and age. In social development, a child is able to indicate some needs. This can be done by pointing. In most toddlers, this occurs at the age of 12 to 15 months. At 18 months. A toddler can look for assistance, when there is trouble, can address herself and put items away at eighteen to 24 months. Furthermore, a child is able to listen to stories, when shown pictures, and can tell ore stories concerning immediate environment by 24 months. At the age of 24 – 36 months, a child can engage in hide and seek games or pretense games (Parten, 1932).

The behavior of a characterized by trying to become more independent; hence creating more concerns on the child’s safety, and discipline changes as well. Furthermore, when a toddler tries out activities that seem not to work. The motor landmarks are characterized by the following. First, at the age of three years, a child can make movements without any difficulty or support. Toilet training starts and daytime urination may be controlled and night time urination by three and half years up to four years.  The cognitive landmarks at this stage include tertiary circular reaction, enabling a child to produce new events for personal sake or through extending existing habits to different objects. By one and half years, a toddler is able to recognize herself in a picture. The communication landmarks include making extensive use of jargon at 1 to 1 ½ years. These are sounds which resemble speech but are rather unintelligible. Furthermore, when a toddler reaches 24 months old, she is able to make a two word sentence and can identify body parts when named. At this period, a child is able to seek for parental help for emotional cues over novel occurrences. At the third years, a child may make efforts to struggle with psychological autonomy and develops the desire to separate from parents. The behavioral landmarks that toddlers experience include the development of empathy for others and a child is able to label emotions verbally. On the other hand, they develop reaction formation and fear towards loud noises, animals as well as, separation from parents.

Early childhood: Ages 3 to 6

This time of a child’s development is the most rapid. It is characterized by unidentifiable sequence of physical, cognitive, as well as, emotional development and change. The motor skills landmark at this period involves the following. At 36 months, a child is able to stand on her foot, run without any problem, and climb stairs using alternating feet. Ay four years old, a child is able to ride a tricycle very comfortably and throw a ball overhead. A child at five years old has a better balance and may be able to skip very smoothly. On the other hand, at three years old, a child is able to copy a circle, and at four years of age, a child can draw a simple man and label the body parts (Weisner, 2002).

Cognitive landmarks include the following. A child is able to develop the ability to transcend space as well as time by the application of non-verbal symbols followed by use of language. Some children develop symbolic play, which may constitute of imaginative play with toys or dramatizing roles or stories (Laura, 2012). On the other hand, children are animalistic and hold the belief that all actions can be explained by the action of some human like force or agency. Some attributes include the development of moral realism. Children are also able to determine guilt by the amount of damage and not by the intent or motivation.  Children are able to discover simultaneous positive or negative aspects of the same person or event. In addition, children develop a belief that death is an occurrence which is irreversible and understand the concepts of today tomorrow, and yesterday. In addition, children like engaging partners of the same sex, when they play.  In communicative landmarks, children at this stage are able develop vocabulary at the rate of 50 new words on daily basis until they reach the age of six years (Ruben, et al, 1983).

 Middle Childhood: Ages 6 to 12

The fifth stage of a child’s development is the middle childhood which begins at the age of six to 12 months. This stage is also known as the latency period. The latency period is known as the phase of personality development. This stage is characterized by lack of interest in sex. This stage begins at the age of six until the adolescence stage which serves as a very critical biological purpose. This stage affords an opportunity for a child to develop his personal resources, by beginning to apply both physical and mental strength. When a child develops premature interest in sex, this distorts personality development. By seven years old, the brain of a child attains 70% of a child’s weight. In addition, the child develops the ability to conserve. This tendency starts with the ability to conserve quantity, which is then followed by weight and finally volume. The other aspect of the latency period is that morality becomes subjective because children begin to understand other people’s feelings and emotions, which is very fundamental in influencing their actions and those of others. As observed by some theorists, most children at eight years old read for pleasure, however, their ideas still exceed their writing ability. Children at ten years old, experience difficulty with abstraction. Furthermore, at the age of 10 to 11, children begin to develop a more realistic concept of death. By the age of 12 years, a child is able to develop metacognitive abilities, which may also be characterized by ego and super ego development (Parten, 1932).

Culture and policy in child development

In today’s world, policy and culture affects early childhood development in different ways. Culture and policy are interrelated in various ways. Policy usually reflects shared values hence form part of culture. Policies are expressed through different programs just like cultural beliefs; however, policies are not consistent with individual cultures or cultures of families or individuals affected by them (Garbarino, et al, 2002). As noted earlier, stages of child development consists a series of periods of stable development which are punctuated of crisis at birth and between the ages. Thus, child development occurs very differently, and  in different historical settings, hence, points to the need for concepts which allow the route through which cultural factors can be determined empirically, in a child’s development, hence, allowing us to understand various mechanism whereby the culture of institutions  of a society are reproduced from one generation to the other. Therefore at the beginning of any development stage, there are unique relations, which are specific to a given age, and between a child and reality. This is mainly social reality that surrounds a child. Therefore, the social situation of a given stage of a child’s development indicates the initial period through which all the dynamic changes in a child occurs (Garbarino, et al, 2002). It determines wholly and completely the path through which a child obtain new personality characteristics.

Conclusion

It is important to understand that policies may be regarded as cultural productions, as a result of their conceptualizations through the implementation and evaluation. Thus, through globalization, it is important to understand that due to the increase in cultural differences between communities, there are concerns on how to adapt policies to different client populations. Therefore, through the application of cultural lens for looking at policies, this can assist in sorting out distinctions between the universally positive aspects of a child’s development, as well as, those which are seen as the current focus in a given society.

 Likewise, it should be understood that cross cultural research on policies on their implications on a child’s development can point to a wider array of policy options than are available to a given society. Thus, the ideas of parents and policies which are related to child care as well as child development are naturally shaped by culturally constituted wisdom. These are assumptions which are embodied in public policies; therefore a greater awareness of cultural variability in parenting practices and developmental agendas may be vital to parents. Hence, studies on policy related to the development of children should integrate various disciplinary perspectives in order to match the expertise on the individual child development with information concerning culture and how to study it.

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