Child Development Resources


Parents and Teachers

South Carolina Department of Mental Health
Division of Children, Adolescents, and Their Families,
School-Based Services Mental Health Professional Guidebook

1) Developmental Milestones

The Developing Person So Far. The First Two Years

Physical Development

Brain and Nervous System

The brain triples in weight. Neurons branch and grow into increasingly dense connective networks between the brain and the rest of the body. As neurons become coated with an insulating layer of myelin, they send messages faster and more efficiently. The infant's experiences help to "fine-tune" the brain's responses to stimulation.

Motor Abilities

Brain maturation allows the development of motor skills from reflexes to coordinated motor abilities, including grasping and walking. At birth, the infant's senses of smell and hearing are quite acute, and although vision at first is sharp only for objects that are about 10 inches away, by 6 months, acuity approaches 20/20.                                                                                                                                                    

Cognitive Development

Cognitive Skills

The infant progresses from knowing his or her world only through immediate sensorimotor experiences to being able to "experiment" on that world mentally, through the use of mental combinations and an understanding of object permanence.


Babies' cries are their first communication; they then progress through cooing and babbling. Interaction with adults through "baby talk" teaches them the surface structure of language. By age 1. an infant can usually speak a word or two, and by age 2 is talking in short sentences.

Psychosocial Development

Personality Development

The major psychosocial development during the first two years is the infant's transition from total dependence to increasing independence. This transition is explained by Freud in terms of the oral and anal stages, by Erikson in terms of the crises of trust versus mistrust and autonomy versus shame and doubt, and by Mahler in terms of separation-individuation.

Understanding Self and Others

In the first month, infants have very little understanding of themselves and others as separate persons. Between the ages of I and 2, they begin to develop self-awareness and, consequently, become much more attentive to the reactions of others.

Parent-Infant Interaction

Parents and infants respond to each other first by synchronizing their behavior. Toward the end of the first year, secure attachment between child and parent sets the stage for the child's increasingly independent exploration of the world.

The Developing Person So Far:  The Play Years, Ages 2 through 6

Physical Development

Brain and Nervous System

The brain continues to develop faster than any other part of the body, attaining 90 percent of its adult weight by the time the child is 5 years old. Myelination proceeds at different rates in various areas of the brain. This differential neurological development has some bearing on the child's readiness for certain types of activity.

Motor Abilities and Perception

The child becomes stronger, and body proportions become more adultlike. Large body movements, such as running and jumping, improve dramatically. Fine motor skills, such as writing and drawing, develop more slowly. Between the ages of 2 and 3, the activity level is higher than at any point in the life span.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive Skills

The child becomes increasingly able to use mental representation and symbols, such as words, to "figure things out." However, the child's ideas about the world are often illogical and much limited by the inability to understand other points of view.


Language abilities develop rapidly; by the age of 6, the average child knows 14,000 words and demonstrates extensive grammatical knowledge. Children also learn to adjust their communication to their audience.

Psychosocial Development

Personality Development

According to Erikson, increased levels of energy at this stage enable the child to boldly and exuberantly initiate new activities. The outcome of the crisis of this stage of life-initiative versus guilt-will depend on whether the child often succeeds and is praised for his or her endeavors or whether efforts fail and the child is unrewarded, or worse, blamed.

Understanding Self and Others Parent

The child's ability to interact with others depends on a well-developed sense of self. As children's social and cognitive skills develop, they engage in increasingly complex and imaginative types of play, sometimes by themselves and, increasingly, with others.

Child Interaction

As children become more independent and try to exercise more control over their environment, the parents' role in supervising the child's activities becomes more difficult. Some parenting styles and some forms of discipline are more effective than others in encouraging the child to develop both autonomy and self-control.

The Developing Person So Far: The School Years, Ages 7 through 11

Physical Development


During middle childhood, children grow more slowly than they did during infancy and toddlerhood or than they will during adolescence. Increased strength and heart and lung capacity give children the endurance to improve their performance in skills such as swimming and running.

Motor Skills

Slower growth contributes to children's increasing control over their bodies. However, since brain maturation is not yet completed, the average 7-year-old may take twice as long as an adult to respond to a stimulus.

Cognitive Development

Concrete Operational Thought

Beginning at about age 7 or 8, children develop the ability to understand logical principles. Once acquired, the concepts of reciprocity, classification, class inclusion, seriation, and number help children to develop a more complete understanding of mathematics and of measurement.

An Information-Processing View

Children's expanded ability to understand and learn can be attributed, in part, to enlarging memory capacity and an increasing ability to use metamemory techniques. At the same time, metacognition techniques enable children to organize their knowledge.


Children's increasing ability to understand the structures and possibilities of language enables them to extend the range of their cognitive powers, to become more analytical in their use of vocabulary, and to enjoy the word-play involved in puns, jokes, and riddles.

Psychosocial Development

Personality Development

According to Freud, middle childhood is the period of latency, during which the intense drives of the phallic stage are submerged, freeing children to learn and be productive. Erikson describes the conflict of this stage as the crisis of industry versus inferiority, Learning theorists suggest that children's greater understanding of cause and effect and their awareness of the actions and attitudes of others make them more susceptible to reinforcement and modeling techniques.

The Peer Group

The peer group becomes increasingly important to children as they become less dependent on their parents and more dependent on friends for help, loyalty, and sharing of mutual interests.

Social Systems and the Child

Children are increasingly aware of, and involved in family life, as well as in the world outside the home, and therefore are more likely to feel the effects of family, economic, and political conditions. Whether or not particular situations will be stressful for a child will depend, at least in part, on the child's temperament, competence, and the social support provided by home and school.

The Developing Person So Far; Adolescence, Ages 10 through 20

Physical Development

Physical Growth

At some time between the ages of 9 and 14, puberty begins with increases in male and female hormone levels. Within a year, the first perceptible physical changes appear-enlargement of the girl's breasts and the boy's testes. About a year later, the growth spurt begins. During adolescence, boys and girls gain in height, weight, and musculature. The growth that occurs during these years usually proceeds from the extremities to the torso and may be uneven.

Changes in Sex Organs and Secondary Sex Characteristics

Toward the end of puberty, the young person's potential reproductive capacity is signaled by menarche in girls and ejaculation in boys. It will take several years before full fertility is achieved.

On the whole, males become taller than females and develop deeper voices and characteristic patterns of facial and body hair. Females become wider at the hips; breast development continues for several years.

Cognitive Development

Formal Operational Thought

By the end of adolescence, many young people can understand and create general principles and use scientific reasoning. For many adolescents, cognitive advancement is also reflected in their ability to reason morally.

Adolescent Egocentrism

Adolescent egocentrism tends to prevent teenagers from thinking rationally about their own experiences. Their feelings of invincibility and uniqueness may prompt them to underestimate risks, for example, with regard to sexual relationships and drug use.

Psychosocial Development


One of the major goals of adolescence is identity achievement-the development of f he young person's own sense of self. Identity formation can be affected by personal factors-including relationships with family and peers-the nature of the society, and the economic and political circumstances of the times.


During adolescence, the peer group becomes increasingly important in helping adolescents to become more independent, to "try out" new behaviors and explore different facets of their personality, and to interact with members of the opposite sex.

Parent-Child Relationships

Although in early adolescence parents and children may find themselves at odds over issues centering on the child's increased assertiveness or lack of self-discipline and self-control, these difficulties usually diminish as the parents recognize the teenager's increasing maturity and allow him or her more autonomy.


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middle_schooler41.GIF (842 bytes)   Adapted from:
Five Forks Middle School
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1. Possesses a new found intellectual prowess, an ability to deal with symbolic ideas and abstract concepts.

2. Is living under the impact of the onset of puberty and the appearance of sexual feelings.

3. Is bound by an overwhelming need, a craving for peer acceptance and approval.

4. Is faced with a new body, in muscular and skeletal terms, which must be mastered all over again.

5. Needing to assert his autonomy and independence, often exhibits a resentment of and resistance to adult authority.

6. Possesses extreme idealism.

7. Struggles with turbulent emotions.

8. * Needs to face the task of developing a new value system to fit his life and society.

9. Is constantly developing, testing, and changing his perceptions of self, his self concept.

10. Is living through a major transformation in interpersonal relationships with the opposite sex.

11. Faces the task of sex-role identification.

12. Has rapidly multiplying, but superficial interests.

13. Has a need for frequent periods of physical activity and movement altered with periods of rest.


I.  There is a rapid acceleration in growth patterns.

    A.  The bones lengthen.

    B.  The muscles increase in strength and coordination.

    C.  The glands begin to produce hormones causing sexual changes known as puberty.

    D.  These changes create the puberty "growth spurt".

        1.   The height increases.

        2.   The body breadth and depth increases.

        3.   The heart and lungs grow to adult sizes.

    E.  The bones grow faster than the muscles so the adolescent appears to be the size of an adult but doesn't have the strength of one.

    F.  The legs are out of proportion with the rest of the body because they grow the fastest.  This creates an awkward and graceless period.

II.  Genetics as well as environment can affect the rate of development. 

    A.  There is a tremendous diversity between the growth development of boys and boys, girls and girls, and boys and girls.

    B.  The girls' growth spurt occurs about two years earlier than boys.


I.   Emerging adolescents display a variety of skills and abilities.

A.  Students will range in development from the concrete-manipulatory stage of development to the ability to deal with abstract concepts.   They are intensely curious and growing in mental ability.

B.  Middle Schoolers prefer active over passive learning activities.  They enjoy working with their peers during learning activities.

C.  They have a strong willingness to learn things they consider useful.  Students enjoy using skills to solve "real-life" problems.

D.  Often they are egocentric and will argue to convince others or to clarify their own thinking.  Independent, critical thinking emerges.

II.     Studies show brain growth slows between the ages of twelve and fourteen.

A.  Existing cognitive skills of learners should be refined.

B.  Opportunities should be provided for enjoyable studies in the arts.

C.  Self-expression should be encouraged on all subjects.


I.   Middle School years are times when students test values and question authority.

A.  The child needs adult support, understanding, guidance and calm direction even though he/she is more apt to question authority.

B.  Often, due to changing role models and family structure, the Middle Schooler is "bombarded" with conflicting values.

C.  Students begin to weigh the values of their parents/family.  Often this is a time when prejudices emerge.

D.  Students are becoming less dependent and are facing greater expectations and responsibilities.  In a sense they are forced to adopt values at this time.

II.   Middle School students tend to be less family oriented and begin forming peer groups.

A.  The Middle Schooler feels the needs to be part of a group.  Being in a particular peer group means acceptance.

B.  The peer group friend relationships are often superficial.  Example-- Best friends at lunch are often enemies at the end of the day and best friends again by morning.

C.  The child is greatly influenced by the pressure of their peers.  Status within the group is maintained by conformity.

III.   Middle School students are quite conscious of status and symbols of status.

A.  The peer group serves as a type of status symbol to many middle Schoolers.  Lacking in tangible status symbols (cars, boats, etc.)   The Middle Schooler may identify being in the the "In Group" as a social status symbol within itself.

B.  Great attention is given to personal appearance in order to maintain status.

C.  Students often determine status for girls with:
    1.  Physical appearance
    2.  good social skills

D.  Students often determine status for boys with:
    1.  physical appearance
    2.  athletic performance

E.  Family status symbols (home, cars, clothes) become very important to the Middle Schooler.

IV.   Middle School students have a great instability of interest.

A.  The Middle Schooler may be quite interested in activities of one sort then completely shift interest to something totally different.

B.  Boy-boy, girl-girl friendships are particularly unstable as interest in members of the opposite sex begins to grow.

V.     A time of great need for interaction begins in the early Middle School years.

A.  The Middle School student, through peer interaction, often finds needed achievement and success, recognition and reward.

B.  Students appear more willing to accept opportunities for social activities.

C.  Students receptive to group work within the class room.

VI.     Middle School students are more unlike each other than they are like each other and a greater range of social skills are evident due to their varying levels of maturity.

A.  Boys tend be be more boisterous, physically active, and engage in horseplay.

B.  Girls are not as physically active.  They tend to be chatty, giggly and always on the telephone.

C.  Social life in general depends on the degree to which the Middle Schooler has developed physically, intellectually, mentally, and emotionally

For Information on the School-Based Program contact:
Beth V. Freeman, MSW, LISW  803-898-8328
South Carolina Department of Mental Health
Division of Children, Adolescents, and Their Families,