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How children grow and develop depend on both internal and external environmental factors, some, we have no control over and most of them we do. Having a good understanding of what children need at each stage of their growth and development helps us raise them better.
How Are Growth and Development Defined?
Although the terms growth and development are used synonymously, they have different meanings biologically. Growth refers to physical characteristics such as height, weight, size, etc., while developments refers to qualitative changes to growth in a series of orderly and meaningful changes which lead to maturity. Growth and development contribute to each other and are inseparable and occur simultaneously. For example, most babies by the time they grow to be 8 months old, can sit up and this is a milestone they reach as part of their development.
10 Factors That Influence Growth and Development of a Child
Nature and nurture both contribute to the growth and development of children. Although what’s endowed by nature is constant, nurture makes all the difference and here are the factors affecting child growth and development.
Heredity is the transmission of physical characters from parents to children through their genes. It influences all aspects of physical appearance such as height, weight, body structure, the colour of the eye, the texture of the hair and even intelligence and aptitudes. Diseases are also passed through the genes such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity etc and these genetic factors can adversely affect the growth of a child. However, environmental factors and nurturing can bring the best out of the already present qualities in the genes.
Environment plays a critical role in the development of children and it represents the sum total of physical and psychological stimulations the child receives. Some of the environmental factors influencing early childhood development involve the physical surroundings, geographical conditions, social environment and relationships with family and peers. It is observable that a well-nurtured child does better than a deprived one and the environment they are constantly immersed in contributes to this. A good school and loving family builds in them strong social and interpersonal skills while excelling in other areas such as academics and extracurricular activities. It is different for children who are raised in stressful environments such as poverty and broken families.
The sex of the child is another major determinant among the factors affecting physical growth and development of a child. Boys and girls grow in different ways, especially nearing puberty. Boys tend to be taller and physically stronger than girls, however, girls have faster growth during adolescence and excel boys who mature over a longer period of time. The physical structure of their bodies also has differences which make boys more athletic and suited for physical rigours. Their temperaments also vary making them show interest in different things.
4. Exercise and Health
The word exercise here does not mean physical exercise as a discipline or the child deliberately engaging in physical activities knowing it would help them grow. Exercise here refers to the normal play time and sports activities which help the body to increase muscular strength and put on bone mass. Good exercise help children grow well and reach milestones on time or sooner. Exercise also keeps them healthy and fights off diseases by strengthening the immune system. Outdoor play exposes them to microbes that help them build resistance and prevent allergies.
Hormones belong to the endocrine system and influence the various functions of our bodies. They are produced by different glands that are situated in specific parts of the body to secrete hormones that control body functions. Their timely functioning is critical for normal physical growth and development in children. Imbalances in the functioning of hormone-secreting glands can result in growth defects, obesity, behavioural problems and other diseases. It is just as important during puberty when the gonads produce sex hormones which control the development of the sex organs and the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics in boys and girls.
Nutrition is a critical factor in growth as everything the body needs to build and repair itself comes from the food we eat. Malnutrition can cause deficiency diseases that adversely affect the growth and development of children. On the other hand, overeating can lead to obesity and health problems in the long run such as diabetes and heart disease. A balanced diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals proteins, carbohydrates and fats is essential for the development of the brain and body.
7. Familial Influence
Families have the most profound impact in nurturing a child and determine the ways in which they develop psychologically and socially. Whether they are raised by their parents, grandparents or foster care, they need basic love, care and courtesy to develop as healthily functional individuals. The most positive growth is seen when families invest time, energy and love in the development of the child such as reading to them, playing with them and having deep meaningful conversations. Families that abuse or neglect children would detract them from a positive development. These children may end up as individuals who have poor social skills and difficulty with bonding as adults. Helicopter parenting also has negative effects as they render children dependant on the parents even as young adults and unable to deal with difficulties in life on their own
8. Geographical Influences
Where you live also has a great influence on how your children turn out to be. The schools they attend, neighbourhood, opportunities offered by the community and their peer circles are some of the social factors affecting child development. Living in an enriching community that has parks, libraries and community centres for group activities and sports all play a role in how much the child is involved with the community. Uninteresting communities can push some children to not go outside often but play video games at home instead. What part of the world you live in has cultural factors that shape the child’s thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours. Even the weather of a place influences children in the form of bodily rhythms, allergies and other health conditions.
9. Socio-Economic Status
The socio-economic status of a family determines the quality of the opportunity a child gets. Studying in better schools that are more expensive definitely has benefits in the long run. Well-off families can also offer richer learning resources for their children and afford special aid when they need. Children from poorer families may not have access to educational resources and good nutrition to reach their full potential. They may also have over working parents who cannot invest enough quality time in their development.
10. Learning and Reinforcement
Learning involves much more than schooling, it is building the child up mentally, intellectually, emotionally and socially so they operate as healthy functional individuals in the society. This is where the development of the mind takes place and the child can be mature. Reinforcement is a component of learning where an activity or exercise is repeated and refined to solidify the lessons learned. An example is playing a musical instrument; they get better at playing it as they practice playing the instrument. Therefore, any lesson that is taught has to be repeated until the right results are obtained.
Although nature contributes much to the growth and development of children, nurture contributes much more.