Unit II: Nature of Child Development

2.1 Child Development: meaning and nature

2.2 Principles of growth and development

2.3 Significance of child development for special educators in understanding the learner with disability

2.4 Concept of developmental delay and / differences

2.5 Factors influencing development: heredity and environmental









2.1 Child Development: meaning and nature

Human development refers to the biological and psychological development of the human being throughout the lifespan. It consists of the development from infancychildhood, and adolescence to adulthood. The scientific study of psychological human development is sometimes known as Developmental psychology.

Human development is a lifelong process of physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional growth and change. These two terms, growth and development are used interchangeably. Both relate to the measurement of changes occurred in an individual after conception in the womb of the mother. However, in the strict sense of terminology, these two terms have different meanings:

Growth: can be defined as an increase in size, length, height and weight or changes in quantitative aspect of an organism/individual.

Hurlock has defined Growth as “change in size, in proportion, disappearance of old features and acquisition of new ones”.

Development: is a series of orderly progress towards maturity. It implies overall qualitative changes resulting in the improved functioning of an individual.

According to Crow and Crow (1965) development is concerned with growth as well as those changes in behavior which results from environmental situation.”

Growth refers to physiological changes.

Development refers to overall changes in the individual. It involves changes in an orderly and coherent type towards the goal of maturity.

Growth is one of the parts of developmental process.

Development is a wider term and growth is one of its parts.

Changes take place in particular aspect of the body and behavior.

Changes in the organism as a whole.

Growth stops once maturity is attained.

Development is a continue process: from womb to tomb.

Changes may be measured. As in case of height or weight.

Can’t be always measured.

Changes in the quantitative respect is termed as growth.

Development changes in the quality along with quantitative aspect.

Growth occurs due to the multiplication of cells.

Development occurs due to both maturation and interaction with the environment.

Not affected by leaning

Learning and experience effects development

May or may not bring development. A child may grow in terms of height and weight but this growth may not bring any functional improvement/development.

Development is also possible without growth.


2.2 Principles of growth and development

From the scientific knowledge gathered through observation of children, some principles have emerged. These principles enable the parents and the teachers to understand how children develop. What is expected of them? How to guide them and provide proper environment for their optimum development?  It seems that the process of development is operated by some general principles. These rules or principles may be named as the principles of development. Some of these principles are briefly explained below:

1.     Principle of Continuity:  Development is a process which begins from the moment of conception in the womb of the mother and goes on continuing till the time of death.   It is a never ending process. The changes however small and gradual continue to take place in all dimensions of one’s personality throughout one’s life.

2.     Principle of Individual differences:  Every organism is a distinct creation in itself. Therefore, the development which undergoes in terms of the rate and outcome in various dimensions is quite unique and specific. For example, all children will first sit up, crawl and stand before they walk. But individual children will vary in regard to timing or age at which they can perform these activities.

3.     Principle of lack of uniformity in the developmental rate:  Though development is a continuous process it does not exhibit steadiness and uniformity in terms of the rate of development in various dimensions of personality or in the developmental periods and stages of life.   Instead of steadiness, development usually takes place in fits and starts showing almost no change at one time and a sudden spurt at another. For example, shooting up in height and sudden change in social interest, intellectual curiosity and emotional make-up.

4.     Principle of uniformity of pattern: Although there seems to be a clear lack of uniformity and distinct individual differences with regard to the process and outcome of the various stages of development, yet it follows a definite pattern in one or the other dimension which is uniform and universal with respect to individuals of a species. For instance, the development of language follows a somewhat definite sequence quite common to all human beings.

5.     Principle of proceeding from general to specific:  While developing in relation to any aspect of personality, the child first picks up or exhibits general responses and learns to show specific and goal-directed responses afterwards. For example, a baby starts by waving his arms in general random movement and afterwards these general motor responses are converted into specific responses like grasping or reaching out. Similarly when a new born baby cries, his whole body is involved in doing so but as he develops, it is limited to the vocal cords, facial expression and eyes etc. In development of language, a baby calls all men daddy and all women mummy but as he grows and develops, he begins to use these names only for his own father and mother.

6.     Principle of integration:   By observing the principle of proceeding from general to specific or from the whole to the parts, it does not mean that only the specific responses are aimed for the ultimate consequences of one’s development. Rather, it is a sort of integration that is ultimately desired. It is the integration of the whole and its parts as well as the specific and general responses that enables a child to develop satisfactorily in relation to various aspects or dimensions of his personality.

7.     Principle of interrelation: The various aspects of one’s growth and development are interrelated.  What is achieved or not achieved in one or the other dimension in the course of the gradual and continuous process of development surely affects the development in other dimensions.  All healthy body tends to develop a healthy mind and an emotionally stable and socially conscious personality.  On the other hand, inadequate physical or mental development may results in a socially or emotionally maladjusted personality. That is why all efforts in education are always directed towards achieving harmonious growth and development in all aspects of one’s personality.

8.     Principle of interaction: The process of development involves active interaction between the forces within the individual and the forces belonging to the individual. What is inherited by the organism at the time of conception is first influenced by the stimulations received in the womb of the mother and after birth, by the forces of physical and socio-psychological environment for its development. Therefore, at any stage of growth and development, the individual’s behaviour or personality make-up is nothing but the end-product of the constant interaction between his heredity endowment and environmental set-up.

9.     Principle of interaction of maturation and learning: Development occurs as a result of both maturation and learning. Maturation refers to changes in an organism due to unfolding and ripening of abilities, characteristics, traits and potentialities present at birth. Learning denotes changes the changes in behaviour due to training and experience.

10.                       Principle of predictability: Development is predictable, which means that, to a great extent, we can forecast the general nature and behaviour of a child in one or more aspects or dimensions at any particular stage of its growth and development. Not only such prediction is possible along general lines but it is also possible to predict the range within which the future development of an individual child is going to fall. For example, with the knowledge of the development of the bones of a child it is possible to predict his adult structure and size.

11.                       Principle of cephalocaudal and proximodistal tendencies: Cephalocaudal and proximodistal tendencies are found to be followed in maintaining the orderly sequence and direction of developments.

According to cephalocaudal tendency, development proceeds in the direction of the longitudinal axis, ie. head to foot. For example, before it becomes able to stand, the child first gains control over his head and arms and then on his legs.  In terms of proximodistal tendency, development proceeds from the near to the distant and the parts of the body near the centre develops before the extremities. For example, in the beginning the child is seen to exercise control over the large fundamental muscles of the arm and the hand and only afterwards the smaller muscles of the fingers.

12.                       Principle of spiral versus linear advancement.  The path followed in development by the child is not straight and linear and development at any stage never takes place with a constant or steady pace.  At a particular stage of his development, after the child had developed to a certain level, there is likely to be a period of rest for consolidation of the developmental progress achieved till then. In advancing further, development turns back and then moves forward again in a spiral pattern.


2.3 Significance of child development for special educators in understanding the learner with disability

Child development is a process every child goes through. This process involves learning and mastering skills like sitting, walking, talking, skipping and tying shoes. Most children learn these skills, called developmental milestones, during predictable time periods. Milestones develop in a sequential fashion. This means that a child will need to develop some skills before he or she can develop other skills. For example, children must first learn to crawl and to pull up to a standing position before they are able to walk. Each milestone that a child acquires builds on the last milestone developed.

There are five main areas of development in which children develop skills:

We must also remember that children are individuals and will not develop in the five areas at the same rate.

From the moment of birth, a baby is in the process of extraordinarily rapid growth and development. As they grow up, children develop many different capacities. These capacities influence how they communicate, make decisions, exercise judgement, absorb and evaluate information, take responsibility, and show empathy and awareness of others. It is recognised in all societies that there is a period of childhood during which children’s capacities are perceived as developing or evolving rather than developed or evolved. When babies are born, they are completely dependent on their caregivers for food, warmth, shelter, cleanliness, and protection from harm. Nevertheless, even small babies are capable of communicating their needs. Through crying, facial expressions, body language, eye contact, they are able to engage with those caring for them, and to convey their feelings, moods and needs. As children grow up they gradually acquire an increasing range of capacities and skills and are able to take increasing control over their own needs.

As a health worker it is important to have some understanding of this process of children’s development. This will enable you to assess whether or not a child is developing appropriately, to understand what they are and are not capable of doing, and to respond to each child’s needs and rights more effectively.

2.4 Concept of developmental delay and / differences

Developmental delay: A condition in which a child is behind schedule in reaching milestones of early childhood development. This term is often used as a euphemism for mental retardation, which can be less a delay than a permanent limitation of a child's ability to progress.

Often, developmental delays affect more than one area of a child’s development. When a child has delays in many or all of these areas, it is called global developmental delay.

Some developmental delays have an identifiable cause. However, for many children, the cause of the delay, or multiple delays, is not clear.

Cognitive Delays

Cognitive delays may affect a child’s intellectual functioning, interfering with awareness and causing learning difficulties that often become apparent after a child begins school. Children with cognitive delays may also have difficulty communicating and playing with others.

This type of delay may occur in children who have experienced a brain injury due to an infection, such as meningitis, which can cause swelling in the brain known as encephalitis. Shaken baby syndrome, seizure disorders, and chromosomal disorders that affect intellectual development, such as Down syndrome, may also increase the risk of a cognitive delay. In most cases, however, it is not possible to identify a clear reason for this type of delay.

Motor Delays

Delays in motor skills interfere with a child’s ability to coordinate large muscle groups, such as those in the arms and legs, and smaller muscles, such as those in the hands. Infants with gross motor delays may have difficulty rolling over or crawling; older children with this type of delay may seem clumsy or have trouble walking up and down stairs. Those with fine motor delays may have difficulty holding onto small objects, such as toys, or doing tasks such as tying shoes or brushing teeth.

Some motor delays result from genetic conditions, such as achondroplasia, which causes shortening of the limbs, and conditions that affect the muscles, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. They may also be caused by structural problems, such as a discrepancy in limb length.

Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Delays

Children with developmental delays, including those with related neurobehavioral disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, often also have social, emotional, or behavioral delays. Due to differences in brain development, they may process information or react to their environment differently than children of the same age. These delays can have an impact on a child’s ability to learn, communicate, and interact with others.

It is common for children with developmental delays to have difficulty with social and emotional skills. For example, they may have trouble understanding social cues, initiating communication with others, or carrying on two-way conversations. They may also have difficulty dealing with frustration or coping with change. When the environment becomes too socially or emotionally demanding, children with developmental delays may have prolonged tantrums and take longer than other children to calm down. This behavior can be a signal that the child needs more support by modifying his or her environment or learning skills to cope with social and emotional challenges.

Speech Delays

Some speech delays are receptive language disorders, in which a child has difficulty understanding words or concepts. Children with this type of speech delay may have trouble identifying colors, body parts, or shapes. Others are expressive language disorders, in which a child has a reduced vocabulary of words and complex sentences for his or her age. A child with this type of speech delay may be slow to babble, talk, and create sentences. Often, a child with a speech delay has a combination of receptive and expressive delays.

Children with an oral motor problem—such as weakness in the muscles of the mouth or difficulty moving the tongue or jaw—that interferes with speech production have what is known as a speech production disorder.

Children may have speech delays due to physiological causes, such as brain damage, genetic syndromes, or hearing loss. Other speech delays are caused by environmental factors, such as a lack of stimulation. In many instances, however, the cause of a child’s speech delay is unknown.


There’s no one cause of developmental delays, but there are some risk factors to consider. They include:

·        Complications at birth: Being born too early (prematurely); low birth weight; not getting enough oxygen at birth

·        Environmental issues: Lead poisoning; poor nutrition; exposure to alcohol or drugs before birth; difficult family situations; trauma

·        Other medical conditions: Chronic ear infections; vision problems; illnesses, conditions, or injuries that have a significant and long-term effect on a child’s day-to-day activities


2.5 Factors influencing development: heredity and environmental


The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest philosophical issues within psychology.

The nature-nurture debate is concerned with the relative contribution that both influences make to human behavior.

Image result for nature and nurture debate

It has long been known that certain physical characteristics are biologically determined by genetic inheritance.  Color of eyes, straight or curly hair, pigmentation of the skin and certain diseases (such as Huntingdon’s chorea) are all a function of the genes we inherit.  Other physical characteristics, if not determined, appear to be at least strongly influenced by the genetic make-up of our biological parents.

Height, weight, hair loss (in men), life expectancy and vulnerability to specific illnesses (e.g. breast cancer in women) are positively correlated between genetically related individuals.  These facts have led many to speculate as to whether psychological characteristics such as behavioral tendencies, personality attributes and mental abilities are also “wired in” before we are even born.

Those who adopt an extreme hereditary position are known as nativists.  Their basic assumption is that the characteristics of the human species as a whole are a product of evolution and that individual differences are due to each person’s unique genetic code. In general, the earlier a particular ability appears, the more likely it is to be under the influence of genetic factors.

Characteristics and differences that are not observable at birth, but which emerge later in life, are regarded as the product of maturation. That is to say we all have an inner “biological clock” which switches on (or off) types of behavior in a pre programmed way.

The classic example of the way this affects our physical development are the bodily changes that occur in early adolescence at puberty.  However nativists also argue that maturation governs the emergence of attachment in infancy, language acquisition and even cognitive development as a whole.

At the other end of the spectrum are the environmentalists – also known as empiricists.  Their basic assumption is that at birth the human mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) and that this is gradually “filled” as a result of experience (e.g. behaviorism).

From this point of view psychological characteristics and behavioral differences that emerge through infancy and childhood are the result of learning.  It is how you are brought up (nurture) that governs the psychologically significant aspects of child development and the concept of maturation applies only to the biological. 

For example, when an infant forms an attachment it is responding to the love and attention it has received, language comes from imitating the speech of others and cognitive development depends on the degree of stimulation in the environment and, more broadly, on the civilization within which the child is reared.

Examples of an extreme nature positions in psychology include Bowlby's (1969) theory of attachment, which views the bond between mother and child as being an innate process that ensures survival. Likewise, Chomsky (1965) proposed language is gained through the use of an innate language acquisition device. Another example of nature is Freud's theory of aggression as being an innate drive (called thanatos).

In contrast Bandura's (1977) social learning theory states that aggression is a learnt from the environment through observation and imitation. This is seen in his famous Bobo doll experiment (Bandura, 1961). Also, Skinner (1957) believed that language is learnt from other people via behavior shaping techniques.

Others examples are:


When someone achieves greatness thanks to an innovation or other breakthrough, it is usually agreed that the individual has a high level of intelligence. Often, when exploring the background of the individual, the influences of nature versus nurture are questioned. 

·         Nature - Those who would argue that nature is largely to thank for the individual’s ability to achieve greatness might point to his or her parents and use their level of intelligence as a reason for why he or she is so successful. Perhaps the child developed early skills quickly and this would be used to show that the child was clearly, “born smart.”

·         Nurture - Those who would argue that a child's intelligence was affected by nurture would look at the child's educational background as well as how his or her parents raised her. These individuals would state that the intelligence level which permitted the child to be so successful, is largely the result of the child's upbringing and the school system.


The development of personality traits is often part of the nature versus nurture debate. People want to know how children develop their personalities. 

·         Influence of the parents - Often it is easy to see similarities between a child’s personality and one or both of her parents’ personalities. In this situation, it would seem that the child's personality has developed largely from the influence of the parents. 

·         Effects of nature - In some situations, children develop personalities, or tendencies toward certain behaviors, such as shyness or aggression, that can’t seem to be explained because neither parent demonstrates the same trait. In this situation, it can be argued that nature is at play in the development of the child's personality. 


The debate about homosexuality and whether the genesis of which is the result of nature or nurture has spanned throughout history, but has taken on even greater importance in more recent years as the rights of these individuals are being hotly debated throughout the world. 

·         Effects of environment - Some individuals believe that homosexuality is a choice. Others believe that it is the result of something having negatively affected an individual, such as sexual assault, causing the individual to become homosexual. These debates focus on the influence of nurture and the individuals feel that environmental factors are the cause of one’s homosexuality. 

·         Biological factor - Other individuals believe that homosexuality is a biological factor, no more a choice than eye color or foot size. These individuals are debating from the perspective of nature being responsible for the development of the individual. 

These examples show several ways that the nature vs. nurture debate plays out in real life. 

It is widely accepted now that heredity and the environment do not act independently. Both nature and nurture are essential for any behaviour, and it cannot be said that a particular behaviour is genetic and another is environmental. It is impossible to separate the two influences as well as illogical as nature and nurture do not operate in a separate way but interact in a complex manner.