Four major areas

Four major areas
As the months pass, your child will begin to reach physical, cognitive, emotional, and social milestones.

As the months pass, your child will begin to reach physical, cognitive, emotional, and social milestones.

Children don’t always master the same skills at the same age, but they do go through the same developmental stages. “Children progress in a predictable sequence. They start simple, then move on to more complex tasks. Before taking their first steps, for instance, they learn how to creep, crawl, and stand upright,” explains Miriam Beauchamp, director of the ABCs Developmental Neuropsychology Lab.

Read on to learn about the four major areas of development.

Motor development

Motor development includes gross and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills are big movements, like crawling, walking, running, and rolling over, that require the use of larger muscles. “My nine-month-old, Loïk, can stand upright while holding on to furniture,” says Emanuelle Roy-Paradis, who also has two other children named Caleb and Alicia with her partner, Cécilia Moreno-Rivera. “He bounces whenever he hears a song in Spanish, Cécilia’s native language. He can also take a few steps with the help of his walker toy.”

Early on, babies figure out how to use their neck muscles to turn, lift, and hold up their head. Eventually they learn how to roll over, sit up, creep, crawl, walk, go up stairs, climb, jump, run, balance on one foot, pedal, and more.

“As children grow, their balance, coordination, and agility improve,” says Beauchamp. “This allows them to master more difficult movements, like kicking a ball while running.”

Fine motor skills are more precise movements that use the small muscles of the hands and fingers. “Our son Émile is four and a half and can zip up his own coat,” say Sophie Lalancette and Charles Langlois, who also have a six-year-old son. “He’s very handy with scissors. Once, he even made himself a mask.” However, Émile still can’t tie his shoelaces, a skill that children generally acquire at age five or six.

Children learn more precise movements as they develop hand-eye coordination and the ability to use both hands independently. For example, they can pick up different objects, give high-fives, point, flip the pages of a book, thread beads, hold a pencil, and unscrew a lid.

Cognitive development

From birth, babies are already developing cognitive abilities such as thinking, memory, attention, reasoning, and planning. These skills allow them to learn, solve problems, exercise judgment, and understand their surroundings. Language is also an important part of a child’s cognitive development.

During their first year, babies discover the notion of cause and effect through their random actions. “For example, your baby might shake a noisy rattle and realize that this action is causing a reaction,” explains Beauchamp. “Your child will shake the rattle again to recreate that noise. It’s the beginning of reasoning.” After age one, babies start to develop object permanence, the understanding that objects and people continue to exist even when they can’t be seen.

In terms of language acquisition, babies start by cooing (vowel sounds like “ahhh” and “ohhh”), then transition to babbling (syllables like “ba ba ba” and “pa pa pa”). By 12 to 16 months, they understand that words have meaning and start to speak.

Symbolic thinking develops between 18 months and three years. At this stage, children are able to represent objects and people in their minds. They can do puzzles and solve other small problems. They also start to play make-believe. Emanuelle and Cécilia’s three-year-old daughter Alicia loves this game. “She often pretends that she’s cooking or fixing things. She also loves dinosaurs and has an imaginary dinosaur friend who sleeps in the basement.”

Between ages three and five, children’s creativity and reasoning abilities improve drastically. For example, they can use logical reasoning to understand that a smaller box contains less than a bigger box. “I’m pregnant, and my partner has nicknamed me Mama Whale,” says Alexandra Loembe, mother of three-year-old Noah. “The other day, my son made a very logical connection and called his dad Papa Whale. We had a good laugh!”

Noah is also starting to grasp rules. “I taught Noah about traffic signals and told him to always wait for the green light before crossing the street,” says his father, William Longmene. “Now, he’s the one who reminds me to wait for the light to change!”

A four- or five-year-old can carry on a conversation, even if they make mistakes. “People understand Émile when he speaks,” says Sophie. “But he still mixes up time-related words, like ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow.’”

Emotional development

According to Beauchamp, emotional development is essential for children to learn how to express themselves, recognize and control their emotions, and decipher the emotions of others. “This is the foundation on which all future relationships are built,” she says.

Your baby’s emotional development begins with the bond you share. It is through the parent-child relationship that babies develop a sense of security and confidence.

During their first few months of life, they might be fearful of strangers. “Whenever Loïk meets someone new, he runs up to Cécilia and hides,” says Emanuelle. But this fear doesn’t last. Thanks to the emotional security provided by their parents, children eventually open up to others. They develop a need to explore and be autonomous. Plus, they learn how to be empathetic, compassionate, resilient, and assertive.

Emotional development plays a central role in self-discovery, relationship building, self-confidence, and, eventually, academic success. That’s why it’s important for parents to interact with their children, allow them to make choices, and help them manage their emotions and understand the emotions of others.

Social development

For children to build relationships and live with others in society, their social development is key. They need social skills to make friends, get along with others, and be part of a team. “Most of our day-to-day activities require interacting with others,” points out Beauchamp.

“Family is the first place where children learn to socialize.” A child’s first interactions are the looks and smiles shared with his or her parents. Once children start spending time with other kids and adults, their social skills improve.

But they will not intuitively know how to share, wait their turn, be polite, lend a hand, collaborate, follow rules, make compromises, or resolve conflicts. These behaviours need to be learned. “When Noah’s friends come over to play, he still has trouble sharing certain toys,” says Alexandra. “But I’ve noticed that he’s better at sharing and cooperating when he’s with his friend Emma, who is a year older. For example, they take turns pushing each other when they play with his toy car.”

Learn about all the major stages of child development (in French only):


Photos: Maxim Morin (the first four) and GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, July–August 2019
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator