Understanding a children’s physical, cognitive, and mental changes as they grow

Childhood is a term used vastly to describe infants, pre-school, school-going, teens, and young adolescents. However, during each of these phases, children go through different development stages. As they grow, their wants and needs also change. An infant is dependent on an adult, while a teenager would seek more independence. As children grow, they learn skills and abilities as much from parental involvement as they do from their peers. Social interactions with others help children in making bonds, understanding emotions, learning language and how to deal with various challenges.

As a parent, understanding these changes is key to raising healthy individuals. Only if parents are equipped with the knowledge of what their child is going through, can they be better prepared at dealing with their children’s problems. A parent should seek to equip children with skills and values that help them thrive in this world independently.

Understanding a child’s development can help parents in the long run. Impairments such as hearing, if detected at the right age can prevent language impairments. Therefore, being aware of the developmental milestones in a child’s life can help parents and caregivers in providing the treatment and corrective measure to a child. By monitoring behavior, learning abilities, and motor skills in a child, a parent can detect disabilities and behavioral problems at the right time.

A child around the age of 3 requires parental supervision at all times. However, a child around the age of 6 can be a little independent. Only by understanding the inner machinations of a child, can a person become a better parent and provide the care and attention that a child needs.

Child Psychology

Child psychology is a field of psychology that describes how adults differ from children and how children differ from one another. It provides insights regarding the physical and mental growth of a child and how external and internal factors contribute to it. Child psychology is categorized into 5 areas:


This is divided into 3 areas: physical, cognitive, and social-emotional. Physical development involves the growth of the body and development of motor skills, including hand-eye coordination. Cognitive development refers to skills such as language, logical reasoning, and imagination. Social and emotional development involves learning how to handle emotions such as anger, love, hate, trust, fear, pride, and others through interactions in a social setting.


Milestones help child psychologists and parents determine a child’s growth according to their age. Milestones are categorized into 5 areas: physical, mental, social, emotional, and communication. These checkpoints ensure that a child’s behavior is normal for a particular age. In case it’s not, caregivers and parents can take corrective measures.


A child’s behavior is defined by their experiences. As children grow, they tend to assert their identities, which often brings them in conflict with their parents. While this is perfectly normal, other aggressive and abnormal behaviors are problematic. Some aggressive behaviors are triggered by stressful situations and are temporary. Child psychology involves getting to the root of behavioral patterns.


Emotional development involves understanding one’s emotions. For example, a six-year-old can control anger better than a three-year-old. Emotional development occurs throughout one’s upbringing. As children grow older, they are also able to understand and deal with complex emotions. A child needs a parent’s help in dealing with an emotion.


This refers to a child’s ability to form connections and make friends in different environments such as school, home, and community. Children gain social skills and are can apply qualities such as empathy to understand and relate to others. The more interactions a child faces, the better equipped they are to handle various situations.

A child’s development through different phases

We take a look at different age categories of a child to understand the changes a child goes through. These include psychological, physical, cognitive, and mental changes.

Infant: Age 0-2

The first couple of years in a child’s life are defined by considerable growth and change. Between birth and age 3, a child grows double in height and quadruples in weight. A child develops the five senses and uses them to understand concepts such as cause and effect. An infant is wholly dependent on caregivers and parents to take care after them. The physical and mental faculties are starting to develop.

According to attachment theory, a person’s relationships later in life are shaped by the quality of emotional attachment in the primary years. Therefore, a child’s experience with a caregiver or parents in formative years is important.

Early childhood: Age 3-6

During early childhood years, till the age of 5, a child’s development can be categorized into 3 parts: play, language, and cognitive.

Around age 5, a child engages in play independently or with other children their age. A child’s fine-motor skills develop during this age, and they learn from playing with peers rather than from the instruction of adults and parents. In addition to this, a child’s cognitive abilities also form. Children in this age are eager to communicate with others and make verbal mistakes freely without any fear. This allows them to make improvements in their grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

As a child’s interactions increase, they start understanding that people are different. During this phase, children start developing a sense of right and wrong. They are also able to deal with emotions such as anger and are better at controlling impulses than, for instance, a 2-year-old. At this age, children also crave social recognition, and will actively participate in group activities.

A child’s brain develops in different stages. The left hemisphere, associated with logic, writing, and language learning skills develops around age 2-6. While the right hemisphere, associated with creativity and artistic skills, develops more fully around age 7-11. This is why children can learn language and rules associated with it at a younger age.

In this age, children learn by imitation. Therefore, setting a good example and being a good role model is important.

School-age children: Age 7-11

As children enter school-going years, they experience improvements in motor skills and hand-eye coordination. This is due to neurological changes. At this age, children tend to seek a social bond with their peers. However, they are at a stage where they can recognize the difference between themselves and their peers. Also, the motor skills improve and children may show interest in sports, art, music, and other activities. This is the age where children develop an interest in various activities. While a child’s vocabulary increases, an 8-year-old may still face problems in grasping abstract ideas.

Along with improvements in motor skills, a child’s logical thinking and reasoning also improve. Moreover, this is the prime age for children to learn new concepts and memorize information. In addition to this, children also gain problem-solving skills, including recognizing a problem and finding a solution. Since children crave social interactions and attention from their peers, a lack of it can have negative impacts on children. In this case, children either lash out or become withdrawn.

Adolescent: Age 12-18

Adolescence is categorized by accelerated growth in height and weight. During this phase, children also attain sexual maturity, though there is no fixed age when this happens. Typically, females mature at age 13, while males mature at age 15.

Adolescence is a confusing time for children. For one, hormonal changes because of puberty can make them emotional. The changes that their body goes through can make a child feeling confused. During this phase, a child needs the support of parents to help them understand the changes that they are facing. Many parents may describe their children as moody or emotionally unstable. This is because of the hormonal changes their body is going through. During this age, a child’s social circle may change as they meet new people and enter new situations. Pressure from peers, academics, and parents is enough to make a child feel overwhelmed. Questions related to a child’s identity and place in the world can induce issues with self-esteem. Eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and other disorders are prevalent due to unachievable standards thrust on teens by society and media. 

In this age, children show tremendous growth in cognitive ability. They can understand complex problems, define processes, logically come to a conclusion, consider different perspectives, and understand arguments. However, in this age, adolescents learn from experiences more than they learn from principles. With age and development of complex cognitive functions, an adolescent can understand abstract ideas.

Childhood is an integral part of a child’s life. During this phase in life, a child not only grows physically and mentally but also develops a personality. Various factors are responsible for a child’s growth into a healthy individual. Taking these factors into account, a parent’s responsibility is to facilitate their child’s development, whether physical, cognitive, or social-emotional.