As parents, our primary goal is to help our children grow and develop properly to give them the best chance at a vibrant and happy life. When considering a child’s development there are many aspects to consider including physical, cognitive, and emotional growth.Children don’t develop in all these areas at the same rate, making it difficult to compare your child’s development to other children of a similar age. But, by considering all the different factors involved you will be able to better understand your child and help them to reach their individual maximum potential. We will discuss various elements of the growth and developmental processes and how you can use that information to assist your child’s growth.
Physical Growth & Development
Physical development refers to a child’s ability to move, coordinate, and control their own body. This development can be broken up into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills refer to moving large parts of the body such as arms and legs. Whereas fine motor skills refer to coordinating movement of small body parts like hands and fingers. As a parent you can foster healthy development in various ways, first by providing opportunities to practice new skills and also while encouraging healthy eating habits..
Exercise & Activities
Exercise is extremely important for the development of fine and gross motor skills. Additionally, there are numerous health benefits of an active lifestyle even at a young age. Physical activity not only assists in weight maintenance and combating childhood obesity, but it results in a multitude of physical and mental health benefits, including:
- Increased heart strength
- Improved lung efficiency
- Stronger bones
- Decreased risk of diseases development (such as diabetes and cancer)
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased cognition
- Improved self-confidence and self-esteem
While some of these benefits may not seem relevant to children, it is important to remember that healthy habits developed at a young age are likely to carry into adulthood.
Finding ways to exercise with your child is a fun way to spend time together. Even simple activities can have notable benefits to your child’s health. These activities do not need to be regimented or rigorous as long as they involve movement. Activities like those listed below are simple, inexpensive, and can be adapted for various family members:
Create an environment that provides lots of time and space for energetic and noisy play.
- Encourage your child to stretch and gently wiggle their toes, feet, legs, arms, and fingers which enhances flexibility.
- Take time to go for a hike, walk, or visit to a nearby park as a family.
- Play games together that involve running, hopping, throwing and catching such as tag or hide and seek.
- Discourage inactivity by limiting TV viewing and video/computer game playing to less than two hours a day.
- Invite children to help with dishwashing and other chores.
Exposing children to a broad range of physical activities will help them to develop new skills and healthy habits that can last a lifetime. Let your child choose what is best for them as long as the activity is physical and gets their body moving.
Diet & Nutrition
In addition to exercise, a healthy diet will help your child grow and learn while preventing childhood obesity and other weight related diseases such as diabetes. A healthy diet for a child is not drastically different than what is needed for adults, but getting kids to eat nutritious food can be difficult.
Suggested items for a well-balanced diet include the following:
A diet based in fruits, vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, and whole grains
- Milk and other dairy products
- Foods high in protein, such as meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, soy products, and eggs
Parents play a huge role in shaping a child's eating habits. Children often learn to like the foods that they see their parents eating. So when a parent eats healthy a child will learn to enjoy healthy foods as well. If your child does not like a new food right away, don't worry. . Children often need to see a new food many times before they will try it.
You should also take the time to talk to your child about how certain foods can benefit their health.. Use your child's food choices as teaching moments and speak up when you see unhealthy eating habits. Try to steer your child toward healthier options by offering healthy choices as often as possible.
Try affirmations such as:
- "Great choice!"
- "You're giving your body what it needs with that snack!"
- "I like those too."
You can also help improve your child’s diet in the way you cook and present food. Serve meals with a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Be sure to include a high quality source of protein at each meal. Encourage healthy snacks and limit processed snack foods. Avoid sweetened beverage such as juice or soda, encourage them to drink water or milk instead.
Give your child small portions of food to start out to ensure your child is eating the correct portion sizes. Allow them to have second helpings only after they have finished the first serving and if possible encourage seconds to be primarily fruits and veggies.
As your child ages, their nutritional needs will change and they may make more of their own independent choices around food. If your child eats at school, you can help ensure your child continues to receive proper nutrition by finding out more about the school's breakfast and lunch options.. If the food offered does not seem to be providing ideal options, ask for input on menu choices and offer your services as a volunteer. Or consider packing a healthy lunch for them daily or getting them involved by packing their own lunch.
In addition, certain vitamins and minerals are essential to help support growth in children. Vitamins A, C, D, calcium, iron, and zinc are all important for children’s development so ensure your child is receiving the recommended daily value through their diets. Lastly, children need more dietary protein pound for pound than adults do. For children ages 1-3, protein can make up 5-20% of total calories, and children 4-18 years old, protein can account for 10-30% of total calories. Keep these numbers in mind when you are tracking your child’s diet.
Psychosocial Growth & Development
The five stages of childhood psychosocial growth and development were theorized by 20th century psychologist Erik Erikson and include Infancy, Early Childhood, Play Age, School Age, and Adolescence. These stages cover the stretch of time from birth to 18 years of age, providing detailed milestones for a child’s psychological and social experiences at each stage. .
As your child moves through the various stages of development that occur throughout their childhood, you as the caregiver can help promote their development in a variety of ways. Each stage sees your child overcoming a distinct set of challenges and learning specific lessons as a result. By understanding these stages, you can devise activities to help your child grow and develop age appropriate skills.
Occurring from birth to 18 or 24 months old, infancy is when a child develops motor skills and a sense of trust with the primary caregiver. In this stage, you can help your child grow by focusing on activities that allow them to use their senses. Toys that encourage grabbing or pushing will increase motor function, those with bright colors are most attractive to children at this age. Your child will also begin to look at faces and track movements of your face and body. Allow them to watch your lips and expressions to help them develop beginning interpersonal skills.
From about 18 months to 3 years of age, your child starts to develop their qualities of self-control, autonomy, and language. You can assist your child in developing these skills by reading to them and allowing them to make decisions for themselves, they may even begin to use the word, “No.” At this age, allow your child to try doing things on their own, like brushing their teeth, washing their hands, and picking up toys. Encourage them to repeat words and name objects like animals, colors, and numbers.
From ages 3 to 5, your child develops a sense of responsibility for their body and behavior. Exploring the world around them, this is often the first time your child starts to interact with the world outside your home. Encouraging growth during this stage may require you to enroll your child in activities like sports or preschool so they have an opportunity to start interacting with peers. You can also develop their sense of accountability by rewarding your child for completing certain tasks around the house such as cleaning up after playtime, brushing their teeth, making their bed, and finishing a meal before leaving the table.
During this stage the child, aged 6 to 12 years old, is now consistently in school and developing relationships with those outside the home. The school age stage is key to the development of self-confidence and industry. At this point, your child should be allowed to dress themselves and choose which activities they would like to participate in outside of school. Instruments, sports and other social activities can play a large role in developing your child’s self-confidence..
Your child’s psychosocial development ends with adolescence. Moving through ages 12 to 18 years, your child will develop their sense of self in preparation for adulthood. This stage is most often the hardest for parents to help support growth as you must provide a delicate balance of supervision and freedom for your child to make their own choices. To foster growth, give your child the opportunity to make decisions and live with the consequences while quietly standing by to be available when they need your guidance and support.
Helping your child to grow and develop throughout their life is a difficult job, but knowing the stages of development is an excellent start to providing what they need. Providing them with guidance and nurturing at a young age will help give them the skills to make their own decisions in later stages of growth. As they get older, listen to what your child needs and support them when they ask for your assistance. The skills you’ve helped them acquire from a young age will begin to take form in adolescence and they will know what they need.