Child development focuses on the changes that occur from birth to adolescence. It attempts in the first instance to identify a child’s repertoire of behaviours at a particular time. Secondly, the discipline aims to identify the factors that influence particular development processes: that is, to specify how development occurs.
As a discipline Child Development focuses on specific questions (the what, and the how) yet it covers a wide range of topics. A simple, theoretical way of breaking down the discipline is to consider three main areas of study. These descriptive areas refer to the topic of investigation rather than a specific orientation to a problem.
Physical changes: The growth of the body offers tremendous opportunity for change. An infant who is strong enough to walk can explore a much wider environment. A child whose fine motor skills are delayed will have difficulty writing in the classroom. The physical changes of puberty are classic examples of how changes in the body can influence wider psychological processes in the individual.
Cognitive development: Changes in the ways in which children think about their world as they mature has a profound effect on their ability to cope with the demands of school and daily life. The ability to process greater amounts of complex information offers scope for learning new skills and knowledge.
Social-emotional development: Here the focus of investigation is the relations the child has with others, including parents, peers and friends. There has been a long-standing interest in topics such as attachment to caretakers and the development of morality. More recently, the ways in which children develop an understanding of gender, expand their skills in interpersonal communication and form friendships have become new and exciting areas of research.
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