What is Child Development?

Child development is one of those terms that we hear often, and may even use, but may not be able to strictly define. While the vague awareness can be enough to get by, it can be very helpful for

parents to develop a deeper understanding. Being aware of what exactly child development is will give you a better insight into possible health issues, things you should look out for, and help you to understand what your pediatrician is talking about.

Florida’s Children’s Medical Services defines child development as the “normal progression by which children change as they grow older by acquiring and refining knowledge, behaviors, and skills.” Child development is broken into four major categories: physical, cognitive, social, and communication. These categories are measured against the average development in these categories of the “average,” using a milestone system.


The Center for Disease Control has published enough reading material on child development for a lifetime, and is a great resource for learning about the subject. One of the most useful things they’ve done is publish very exact and in-depth information about the various child development milestones, which you can find here. The CDC provides a list of milestones from 1 month to 5 years, and has a checklist for offline use. If you’re attempting to familiarize yourself with all of the child development milestones, you can also take a quiz on their website to test your knowledge.

In the interest of time, we won’t go over every milestone. However, we will look at one of these milestones, as it is the best way to gain a tangible understanding of child development. For example, a 3-year-old should:

  • Socially copy their peers and adults, show affection, and understand and comply with concepts such as taking turns.
  • Communicate easily, as they begin to understand more complex words, easily comply with directions and string together 2-3 related sentences in conversation.
  • Cognitively be able to play with most toys that have moving parts, use jars and door handles, and turn book pages one at a time.
  • Physically run easily, climb well, and move up stairs one at a time.

Looking at this milestone, we begin to see what child development refers to. Child development is a way to measure and discuss a child’s growth. By maintaining relativity to other children, we can use child development to make sure that a child is growing at a healthy rate.

How Does Child Development Affect Us?

Child development influences us in a way that is often invisible. Like our own breathing, child development is easily forgotten about until something goes wrong. Our breath is something to check against—as long as it’s regular, we’re healthy. If our breath is disrupted, if we miss a breath or it’s pace begins to quicken, then we must not be healthy.

Similarly, if your child is developing regularly, the most we will ever think about child development is to say, “Okay, everything’s good.” However, if we notice something is wrong, then child development can help us to determine what exactly that is. By being familiar with the concept, you can tell if your child is healthy. While sickness is easy to see, the concept of child development can help us catch disorders like autism that are more subtle.

What Affects Child Development?

Conversely, a variety of factors affects child development. The most well-known of these is pregnancy itself. The choices a mother makes during pregnancy can cause a host of problems. We know not to drink alcohol during pregnancy, because it can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. In 2012, Reuters linked smoking during pregnancy to asthma.

Pregnancy isn’t the beginning, however. Genetics can play a large part in child development, as many developmental disorders are hereditary. Down syndrome, for example, is linked to an extra chromosome—something that is decided at the moment of conception. Once a child is born, many things can cause issues with child development. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development took a deep dive into child development, naming family and environment as the two biggest factors.

Additionally, one thing that is often overlooked as an influence on child development is injury. Physical injury such as broken bones can cause a stunt in development, and innumerable long term issues.


Child development is a vague concept, but one we must be aware of. Keeping track of child development at home can help us catch possible issues and nip them in the bud. Many things can affect child development, so we must be aware of those as well. Knowing what can hinder child development will make you more aware of your child’s health. Often overlooked, physical injury can stunt development if not handled well, making it very important that you know what hospitals are best at treating children’s emergencies.

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