Child development entails the biological, psychological and emotional changes that occur in human beings between birth and the conclusion of adolescence, as the individual progresses from dependency to increasing autonomy. It is a continuous process with a predictable sequence, yet having a unique course for every child. It does not progress at the same rate and each stage is affected by the preceding developmental experiences. Because these developmental changes may be strongly influenced by genetic factors and events during prenatal life, genetics and prenatal development are usually included as part of the study of child development. Related terms include developmental psychology, referring to development throughout the lifespan, and pediatrics, the branch of medicine relating to the care of children. Developmental change may occur as a result of genetically-controlled processes known as maturation, or as a result of environmental factors and learning, but most commonly involves an interaction between the two. It may also occur as a result of human nature and our ability to learn from our environment.
The optimal development of children is considered vital to society and so it is important to understand the social, cognitive, emotional, and educational development of children. Increased research and interest in this field has resulted in new theories and strategies, with specific regard to practice that promotes development within the school system. There are also some theories that seek to describe a sequence of states that compose child development.
Attachment theory, originating in the work of John Bowlby and developed by Mary Ainsworth, is a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. Bowlby's observations of close attachments led him to believe that close emotional bonds or “attachments” between an infant and their primary caregiver is an important requirement that is necessary to form “normal social and emotional development”.
Although the identification of developmental milestones is of interest to researchers and to children's caregivers, many aspects of developmental change are continuous and do not display noticeable milestones of change. Continuous developmental changes, like growth in stature, involve fairly gradual and predictable progress toward adult characteristics. When developmental change is discontinuous, however, researchers may identify not only milestones of development, but related age periods often called stages. A stage is a period of time, often associated with a known chronological age range, during which a behavior or physical characteristic is qualitatively different from what it is at other ages. When an age period is referred to as a stage, the term implies not only this qualitative difference, but also a predictable sequence of developmental events, such that each stage is both preceded and followed by specific other periods associated with characteristic behavioral or physical qualities.
A common concern in child development is developmental delay involving a delay in an age-specific ability for important developmental milestones. Prevention of and early intervention in developmental delay are significant topics in the study of child development. Developmental delays should be diagnosed by comparison with characteristic variability of a milestone, not with respect to average age at achievement. An example of a milestone would be eye-hand coordination, which includes a child's increasing ability to manipulate objects in a coordinated manner. Increased knowledge of age-specific milestones allows parents and others to keep track of appropriate development.
Abilities for physical movement change through childhood from the largely reflexive (unlearned, involuntary) movement patterns of the young infant to the highly skilled voluntary movements characteristic of later childhood and adolescence.
Children with Down syndrome or Developmental coordination disorder are late to reach major motor skills milestones. A few examples of these milestones are sucking, grasping, rolling, sitting up and walking, talking. Children with Down syndrome sometimes have heart problems, frequent ear infections, hypotonia, or undeveloped muscle mass. This syndrome is caused by atypical chromosomal development. Along with Down syndrome, children can also be diagnosed with a learning disability. Learning Disabilities include disabilities in any of the areas related to language, reading, and mathematics. Basic reading skills is the most common learning disability in children, which, like other disabilities, focuses on the difference between a child's academic achievement and his or her apparent capacity to learn.