There are several distinct stages that a child will go through as the develop into adults. According to Jean Piaget's cognitive development theory there are four core stages that most children will experience during typical development. With each stage comes the opportunity for growth, learning, experimenting, and huge milestones.
Birth to Two Years Old
Huge amounts of physical and mental growth take place during the sensorimotor phase as your baby grows into a toddler. During this phase experimentation, as well as trial and error help your child understand their world. As an infant develops into a toddler, they begin to understand a concept called object permanence. This means that by the end of this stage, they will understand that objects continue to exist even when they aren't seen. By age two you may notice your child is reaching these milestones:
- Climbing furniture
- Walking with stability and running
- Is able to follow simple instructions
- Mimics adults or other children
- Is excited or happy to be around others
- Shows signs of independence and rebelliousness
- Can say small sentences and points to objects
- Can find hidden toys or objects
- Is able to build small structures
From Toddlers to Young Children
From age two to seven, your little one will enter into the stage called pre-operational. The goal of this stage is to eventually grasp the concept of symbolism. This means by the end of the pre-operational stage your child will be able to assign meaning to objects. You may notice your child:
- Has difficulty understanding the perspective of others, otherwise known as egocentrism
- Engages in imaginative pretend play
- Has a better memory
- Has some difficulty with logic
- Has the ability to tell time and understand numbers
- Has the ability to read and communicate effectively
- Has the physical ability to participate in sports
From Young Children to Preteens
From seven to 11 years old children enter into the concrete operational stage. By the end of this stage your child will be able to understand the opinion of others, develop more empathy and insight, and make more logical decisions. You may notice:
- Your child can understand conservation- this means that the same amount of water in a short and tall glass is equal even though one looks as if it has more.
- Your child shows more interest in people, events, and places other than him or herself.
- Children are better at problem solving and looking at several aspects of the issue before drawing conclusions.
- Your child develops friendships and values the opinions of their friends highly.
- Your child seeks more independence.
- Your little one is able to concentrate for a longer period of time.
- A child may show signs of puberty.
Adolescence is the final stage before adulthood. This stage is known as formal operational and by the end of this stage your child will be able to better understand abstract concepts, thoughts, and theories. You may notice:
- The ability to use learned information to form thoughts
- An increase in empathy, insight, and self reflection
- An emphasis on peer relationships
- Experimentation with their concept of themselves
- A drive for independence
- Puberty and an increased awareness of sexual and emotional needs
When to Seek Out Professional Help
If you notice that your child is not reaching some major milestones, reach out to their pediatrician. It's always best to err on the side of caution and reach out for a second opinion if you notice something or have a gut feeling regarding your child's development. During the preteen and teen years your child may also develop symptoms of various mental health disorders. If this is the case, it's important to find an appropriate child psychologist or therapist to help alleviate their discomfort.