Lyndsey Garbi, MD, is a pediatrician who is double board-certified in pediatrics and neonatology.
From the baby years through adolescence, kids grow in amazing ways. Along with physical transformations, children go through complex cognitive and social changes, too. There will be exciting positive developments, like new skills and knowledge, but probably some defiant and emotional periods, too. It's all part of nature's way of preparing kids for adulthood.
Here, find what to expect during each unique developmental stage. You can also learn more about ways to keep children healthy, happy, and motivated as they grow and change.
Early childhood (birth to age 5), middle childhood (ages 6 to 12), and adolescence (ages 13 to 18) are three major stages of child development. Children may hit milestones associated with these stages a little faster or slower than others, and that's OK. Annual check-ups with a pediatrician can help you understand your child's unique physical and intellectual development track.
The early childhood years are especially important to set the stage for success and wellness. Between birth and age 3, your child's brain grows to 90 percent of its adult size. By providing children with healthy food, mental stimulation, and plenty of love during this tremendous period of growth, children are better able to develop important physical, emotional, and intellectual skills they'll lean on for a lifetime.
Simply speaking to a young child often, whether you're chatting during a diaper change or pointing out things on a walk, can boost brain growth. Taking turns during interactions and playtime develops social and language skills. But perhaps the most powerful way to nurture children's brain development is to show care and love. Research shows that the brain regions critical to learning and memory grow more quickly in children of emotionally supportive parents.
It can take a lot of repetition for big, hard facts or skills—from shoe tying to long division—to sink in. If your child seems to be forgetting things more than usual, they could be stressed or short on sleep. If it's a problem that's been going on for a while, check in with a developmental pediatrician. They can explore whether your child might have a learning disability that might affect their working memory.
Your IQ (intelligence quotient) remains somewhat consistent throughout life, but it's not fixed. Studies have shown that IQ scores can fluctuate up (or sometimes down) in children, especially during the teenage years. Researchers point to natural developmental leaps rather than any particular mental exercises as a possible explanation.
Breastfeeding when they're babies is a great start (as is formula-feeding, or a combination of both!). As they grow, feed them a variety of foods that include plenty of nutrients including protein (meat, nuts, beans), choline (eggs), and omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, fish oils). Include green leafy vegetables whenever possible; they include brain-building folate, iron, and vitamin A.
Milestones are physical changes, skills, or behaviors that mark a child's growth. Pediatricians use a checklist of developmental milestones defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help gauge whether a child is developing at a rate that's typical for their age.
Children's ability to comprehend and use words effectively in either speech or writing is verbal intelligence. Some children have special needs that require some expressive language, reading, or writing support to bolster these skills.
Nonverbal IQ relates to thinking and problem-solving abilities that don't rely on verbal skills. Processing visual information and applying abstract reasoning and motor skills to complete a task—sometimes referred to as performance IQ on intelligence tests—fall into this category.
Motor skills refer to the movements kids make as they go about their day. Big movements like walking, running, and jumping that involve large muscle groups are gross motor skills. Smaller, more precise movements such as writing, using utensils, and manipulating toys are fine motor skills.
A child's growing ability to experience, express, and recognize various feelings in themselves and others is emotional development. Researchers have found that emotional development, especially in the first five years, is linked to long-term school and social success.
Height and weight percentiles are calculated by comparing your child's body measurements to those of same-age peers using growth charts developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors gauge healthy growth by looking at where your child falls in their age group and also whether that's changed over time.
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