The first years of life are marked by phases through which the development of childhood passes.
Childhood is the stage of life that goes from birth to youth. Now, within this phase there are also different moments that mark the rhythms of the child’s development, both physically and psychologically.
That is why it is possible to distinguish between different stages of childhood. This is a classification that both psychologists and health professionals in general take into account to understand how human beings think, feel and act when they go through their first years of life.
The stages of childhood
Next we will give a brief review of these stages of childhood and the physical and mental changes that occur in the transition from one to another.
However, it must be borne in mind that the boundaries between these phases are diffuse and do not always occur in the same way; each boy and girl is a world. In any case, in all these stages of childhood there is a development that goes from processing information related to the senses and the present, to the understanding of abstract concepts that transcend the here and now. Unless a genetic or medical condition is present, this development will occur naturally if the rearing environment is conducive.
On the other hand, this classification assumes that the little ones go through a process of formal education in schools; Although this is not always the case, the evolution of the nervous system of children occurs in a similar way in all societies and cultures.
1. Intrauterine period
Although childhood is considered to begin at birth, it is sometimes assumed that it can begin earlier, especially in cases of premature delivery. This phase includes the early and late fetal periods, and involves processes of rapid formation and improvement of the senses.
It must be borne in mind that, although at this stage one is totally dependent on others, the main learning is already taking place, especially through the ear. However, these are subject to a very simple and basic type of memorization. For example, at this stage the areas of the brain that are responsible for providing the basis for autobiographical memory have not yet developed.
This stage of life is characterized by the fact that neither the biological structures of the organism have matured, nor has the child had the opportunity to learn from being immersed in a socially and sensory stimulating environment.
2. Neonatal period
This phase of childhood begins at birth and ends approximately at the end of the first month. In the neonatal period, babies learn the main regularities of the world around them and more direct communication with other human beings is established, although they are not yet in a position to understand the concept of “I” and “you” since the language is not mastered.
In addition, from the first days babies show an amazing ability to distinguish phonemes and, in fact, they are able to discriminate different languages by how they sound. This is a skill that is lost in the first months of life.
With regard to physical changes, at this stage of childhood the entire body begins to grow except for the head. In addition, in this phase one is very vulnerable, and sudden death is much more frequent in this period of time.
3. Postneonatal or lactating period
This is still one of the earliest stages of childhood, but in this case, unlike the previous stage, the physical and psychological changes are easier to notice, since there are more qualitative changes in behavior.
In the infant stage, sufficient muscles begin to develop to maintain an upright posture and, in addition, around 6 months, babbling and false words begin to be emitted. In addition, you learn to coordinate parts of the body so that it is easy to move them at the same time with precision (fine motor development).
Of course, breastfeeding is a very important element in this phase of growth, as it provides both food and a channel of communication with the mother that allows emotional ties to be strengthened.
4. Period of early childhood
Early childhood ranges from the first to the third year of age, and roughly coincides with the stage in which boys and girls attend daycare. Here the use of language itself begins to be controlled, although at first it is a telegraphic language with individual words and later the ability to formulate simple sentences with inaccuracies such as generalization (calling a dog “cat”, for example ).
On the other hand, in this phase you begin to gain control of the sphincters and a strong will to explore and discover things is shown; According to Jean Piaget, this curiosity was precisely the engine of learning.
Furthermore, at this stage, thinking is fundamentally self-centered in the sense that it is difficult to imagine what others think or believe. This does not mean that children want to harm others, but rather that their attention is focused on concepts that refer to oneself, since they are the easiest to understand and to relate to sensory experiences.
Regarding physical changes, the size of the lathe and the limbs continues to grow, and the difference in size between the head and the rest of the body is reduced, although this development is slower than in the previous stages.
5. Preschool period
The preschool period is from 3 to 6 years old. This is the stage of childhood in which the Theory of Mind capacity is gained, that is, the ability to attribute unique intentions, beliefs and motivations (that are different from one’s own) to others. This new capacity greatly enriches social relationships, although it also makes lying more useful and effective as a resource.
Furthermore, here their ability to think in abstract terms is further developed, in part because of the myelination of their brain and in part because they begin to routinely deal with larger communities other than just the father and mother.
On the one hand, myelination causes more parts of the brain to be connected to each other, which allows more abstract concepts to be created from the combination of ideas of many types, and on the other, the enrichment of the type of interactions to which the child submits makes their cognitive abilities learn to cope with more complex tasks.
In this phase one begins to reach agreements, negotiate and seek to give a concrete image. At the end of this, many times you begin to try to adjust your own behavior to gender roles, and cases of gender dysphoria appear frequently throughout this stage.
6. School period
The school period is the last stage of childhood and the one that gives way to adolescence. It goes from 6 to 12 years old and in this phase the ability to think in abstract and mathematical terms develops a lot, although it does not reach its maximum. This is because myelination of the brain runs its course (and will not slow down until the third decade of life). The frontal lobes begin to be better connected with other parts of the brain, and this facilitates a better command of executive functions such as attention management and decision-making by following consistent strategies.
In addition, in the school stage the image that is given begins to have even more importance, and it is about winning the friendship of those who consider themselves important.
The social circle outside the family begins to be one of the factors that configure the identity of children, and this causes family norms to begin to be broken frequently and being aware of it. It is partly this that makes at this stage of childhood one begins to be vulnerable to addictions, which can leave significant alterations in the brain, as in the case of alcohol consumption that in many cases begins with puberty in early adolescence.
Impulsivity is also usually a characteristic of this stage, as well as the propensity to prefer short-term goals than those that are far away in the future. At the end of the school period, the body begins to show the signs of puberty, marked by voice changes in boys and breast growth in girls, among other things.
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