Looking back at our lives, we have memories that remind us about the changes we have faced over time and it is a fact that humans grow and change throughout their entire lifespan. For example, Riya is just now learning how to talk and walk, while her teen age sister Shivani is learning how to handle stress better. This is all about development and this development is multidimensional which means that change happens across many different aspects of a child’s life. Physical, cognitive, emotional, moral or psychosocial changes- all take place at the same time. Therefore, these aspects are actually the various dimensions of development. Therefore, these dimensions of development are those aspects of human life, which change throughout the life span. To understand this concept more, let us begin with physical development.

Physical Development
Prior to the concept of physical development, let us imagine a process. Consider a newborn baby. Right now s/he has no control over her/his movements, but within 18 months s/he will be walking, in another year running, and soon after, jumping and throwing and kicking things. In the first two years, a child develops physically at a faster rate than at any other time in her/his life. This physical development forms a significant basis for the developments in cognition and emotion.
Physical growth and development refers to a process which brings bodily and physiological changes- internal, as well as external- in a child from conception till death. Here, in this topic, while we are not going to discuss infant’s physical development in detail, it forms a foundation for a child’s development- not only physical, but also social, emotional and cognitive– in later years. Let us first discuss the characteristics of physical development during childhood and adolescence.

Characteristics of Physical Development 

During childhood there are changes in a child’s height, weight and body proportion. 

The pace of this growth is more in later childhood (7-12 years) than in early childhood stage (3-6 years). Legs lengthen rapidly and there is increase in height. A gradual improvement in speed, steadiness of movement and accuracy also form significant features of physical development in early childhood while at a later stage they get weary after physical activity, but also show a great interest in competitive games which require skill. This stage of childhood is now going to be transformed into the blossoming period of child development, which is known as adolescence. Let us now try to explore the characteristics of adolescence stage. As we all know, at the adolescent stage (13-18 years), noticeable changes take place in many domains like height and weight, bodily proportions, change in voice, increase in motor performance and sexual changes. Both boys and girls have a growth spurt caused by the production of hormones. A boy’s growth spurt is usually later than the girls. The most important physical development in adolescence is puberty, when they become sexually mature. 

Girls can experience puberty from around the age of 11 years, for boys this is slightly later. Girls at this stage show a continuous growth in height, but at a slower pace than earlier. Prominent changes can be seen in bodily proportions with the broadening of pelvic bone, circular wrist, while the arms and legs grow in length and become finer. The voice becomes sweet and shrill. In terms of secondary sex characteristics, the sex organs in girls acquire maturity. The growth in breast, hair growth at pubic and armpits, and change in gait are some significant features of adolescence in girls. Apart from this, the girls start going through menstruation cycle (average age varies from 12 to 16 years). Researches show that the girls seem to mature earlier than boys do in physical aspects. 

If we look into the distinguished characteristics of adolescent stage among boys, these include rapid growth in height and weight (continues until age 18 or 19), development of muscles and increase in strength. The changes in bodily proportions can be seen in the form of rounded shoulders, broadened chest and developed muscles. The maturity of the larynx can be noticed with broken and deepened voice. Besides, genital organs in boys grow in size. Other significant features of adolescent boys include hair growth in pubic, armpits and facial areas.


The physiological changes occurring commonly in both boys and girls include full growth of all internal systems, pulse rate, and complete brain development. The skin becomes oily and acne and sweating may be problematic. Rapid growth may cause clumsiness and lack of coordination. They always feel hungry and their appetites seem to be great. Sexual desires and fantasies also increase in both boys and girls. However, these changes occurring in the body of a child are influenced by some factors which may be hereditary or environmental.

Emotional Development 


Emotion has been defined differently as ‘a stage of agitation’, ‘disturbance of equilibrium’, ‘intense random and disorganized response to a stimulus’. In modern life, emotions demand greater understanding because of their pervasive effects on behaviour, personality and health.

Characteristics of Emotional Development 

At the childhood stage, children experience feelings of love, hatred and fear which last for long. There is the formation of sentiments and complexes. They develop a sense of autonomy, combat, doubt and shame. In other words, they accept themselves if they succeed in their own eyes and develop a sense of inferiority, if they fail. 

By the time the children enter the stage of adolescence, there are some noticeable changes in their emotional behaviour. The adolescents often struggle with a sense of identity and question about themselves. The common observable behavioural patterns at this stage are moodiness, anger, depression, anxiety and state of dilemma. Their trust therefore shifts to friends and the opinions of others seem to be important. Moreover, ‘crushes’ on movie stars, models, pop artists, etc. can easily be found and therefore, they are found to be sexually attracted to people.


If the emotional development of a child moves towards equilibrium, then it leads to another stage of development: Cognitive development, which we will discuss in the next section.

Cognitive Development 

Does a child’s cognition refer merely to the achievements in academics? Is there any role of cognition in developing other dimensions of a child’s personality? Child’s cognitive development forms the foundation of many other developments like language, social, moral and emotional development. But the question arises, what is this cognitive development? Cognitive development involves mental processes that are associated with taking in, organising and making sense of information processes that include perceiving, attending to, understanding and recalling information. 

The mental functions are part of what is referred to as cognition. Let us explore this dimension of cognitive development in terms of general characteristics and Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

Characteristics of Cognitive Development in Childhood and Adolescence

At adolescence stage, between the ages of 13 and 16 years, there seems to be a progression in skills like arguing, abstract thinking, deductive reasoning, and decision-making. They can now distinguish fact from opinion, learn to focus on future development, mixed with some fantasy and develop a conscience. When the children enter the stage of later adolescence (16-18 years), they develop an ability to think more abstractly, hypothetically, reflectively, and critically, and therefore, form their own opinions. They are more concerned with reasons and proofs. Although, most have not made the connection between learning and life’s experiences, they desire to do something well. Therefore, everything seems to be a big deal for young teens. Jean Piaget (1896-1980), while working in Binet’s test lab became interested in how children think. Piaget’s training as a biologist influenced his theory of cognitive development.

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