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.

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s Basic Tendencies in Thinking
Piaget identified that children actively construct their own cognitive worlds. To make sense of the world, they organize their experiences and adapt their thinking to include new information. Organization is an ongoing process of arranging information and experience into mental systems or categories. Piaget termed these mental concepts as schemas. A schema is a mental concept that is useful in organizing and interpreting information.

As an individual’s thinking processes become more organized and new schemes develop, behaviour also becomes better suited to the environment.
Piaget found that children adapt their schemas through two processes- assimilation and accommodation. 

Assimilation means fitting new information into existing schemas or what we already know. For example, if the child knows about the horse, then when the first time he/she sees a camel, he/she may call it a “horse”. 

On the other hand, accommodation is altering existing schemas or creating new ones in response to new information. Children demonstrate accommodation when they add the scheme for recognizing camels to their other systems for identifying animals.

During this process, children experience disequilibrium in their attempt to understand the world. Gradually, they reach in a balanced state of thought known as equilibrium.

This shift in thought from one state into another is termed as equilibration.

Four Stages of Cognitive Development

According to Piaget’s theory, children progress through a sequence of four major developmental stages: 

(a) the sensorimotor stage of infancy- involving the senses and motor activity; 

(b) the preoperational stage of early childhood- the stage before a child masters logical mental operations; 

(c) the concrete operational stage of middle childhood- mental tasks are tied to concrete objects and situations; and 

(d) the formal operational stage of adolescence to adult- mental tasks involving abstract thinking and coordination of a number of variables.

Sensorimotor Birth-2 years 

Object permanence Child begins to understand that objects do not cease to exist when they are hidden. Eg.: Showing the child a toy, hide it under a cloth. The child would take out the toy by removing the cloth.

Goal-directed Actions that are produced actions consciously to achieve a desired end. Eg.: Hitting a musical toy to elicit a sound

Preoperational 2-7 years 

Semiotic Begins to use gestures, signs, function sounds and words to represent and convey meaning. Eg.: Waving goodbye; pointing to something of interest.
One-way logic Able to think operations through logically in one direction. Eg.: Students treat addition and subtraction as two unrelated processes.
Lack of Believes that amount changes conservation when a substance is reshaped or rearranged, even when nothing is added or taken away. Eg.: Not understanding that there will be same amount of paper, even if it is torn into several pieces.
Egocentricism Have difficulties seeing things from another person’s point of view, they think their own perspective is the only one possible. Eg.: If a little boy is afraid of dogs, he may assume that all children share this fear.

Concrete 7-11 years 

Reversibility Understands that certain operational processes can be reversed. Eg.: Students start recognizing that subtraction is the reverse of addition. 

Conservation Recognizes that amount stays the same if nothing has been added or taken away, even if a substance is reshaped or rearranged. Eg. Students can prove that there will be same amount of paper, even if it is torn into several pieces, by taping the pieces back
Classification Recognizes that objects may belong to several categories simultaneously. Eg. A student may acknowledge that a mother can be a doctor, a sister and a spouse.
Deductive reasoning Able to draw a logical conclusion from two or more pieces of information. Eg:If all children are human beings and if all human beings are living things, then all children must be living things.

Formal operational 11-adult 

Abstract and hypothetical reasoning Ability to reason about abstract, hypothetical, and contrary-to- fact ideas. Eg. A student understands negative numbers and is able to use them effectively in mathematical procedures.

Adolescent egocentrism Understand that others may have different perceptions and beliefs; they become focused on their own ideas, beliefs and attitudes. Eg. “The whole class thought my answer was dumb”.

Moral Development

Every day, we come across many situations which demand our reasoning of right or wrong. For example, you are already late for school and on your way you find a red signal at a square. If you do not reach on time half of your salary gets deducted. What will you do? There are such situations in our daily life which make us realize how far we can uphold our attitude of being self. In these situations, we need to extend and challenge our thinking about what is ‘moral’. Actually, being moral or morality refers to the fundamental questions of right and wrong, justice, fairness and basic human rights. These questions or components of moral development have emerged out of social contexts. However, Piaget proposed that there are cognitive developmental approaches which emphasize moral reasoning, along with the impact of social context. 

Characteristics of Moral Development 

Moral development is concerned with how people grow in understanding moral issues and in making moral decisions. 

  1. In early childhood (4-6 years), children are more often concerned about their own personal well-being when they make moral decisions. They think in terms of distributive justice or fair sharing of any stuff. 
  2. But by middle childhood (roughly 6 to 9 years of age), children begin to develop more empathetic and abstract methods of moral reasoning. 
  3. Moreover, adolescents develop an understanding of the complexity of moral issues like question values, cultural expressions, and religious teachings. At this stage, individuals also show impatience with the pace of change, and underestimate how difficult it is to make social changes. They, therefore, need to be influenced by adult role models who will listen and be trustworthy. Besides, they judge others quickly, but accept one’s own faults slowly. Yet, they show compassion and have special concern for animals and environmental issues. Now you know, adolescents’ cognitive development, in part, lays the groundwork for moral reasoning, honesty, and pro-social behaviours such as helping, volunteerism, or caring for others. 

Piaget and Moral Reasoning 

Before we try to understand Piaget’s concept of moral reasoning, let us consider two illustrations. 

Case Study: Rajat is a very young boy. His younger brother is very hungry, but Rajat has no money left after buying medicine for his mother. His brother starts crying because of hunger. Rajat goes to a snack-stall and requests the shopkeeper to give kachori for his hungry brother. But he refuses. Finally, Rajat becomes desperate and steals two kachoris. He, then, runs out and gives that to his brother. 

Case Study: Shivani goes to a shop. She sees a pretty piece of hair band hanging there in a shelf. She imagines that it would look very nice on her dress. So, while the salesgirl turn back, she steals the hair band and runs away at once. 

Are these children equally guilty? We will try to find the answer after studying Piaget’s theory of moral reasoning. Here, Piaget called such situations as moral dilemmas, the problems that require individual judgments and moral reasoning based on our cognition. Therefore, Jean Piaget developed his theory of moral reasoning. 

He proposed two types of moral reasoning, which are closely related with cognitive development- ‘heteronomous morality’ and ‘autonomous morality’

Heteronomous moralities are those moral decisions which are based on the rules of people with supreme authority such as parents. Children who reason about moral issues using heteronomous morality hardly care about the motives or intentions behind actions. However, this type of moral reasoning may be found in some adults too. 

Besides, another type of moral reasoning is Autonomous morality, which is the ability to reason that appreciates the perspectives of others and the motives behind their words and actions. According to Piaget, autonomous morality develops parallel to the development of the stage of formal operations and abstract thinking. Now, let us answer the question asked above on the moral dilemma regarding the subject of stealing, mentioned in above two short stories. The people of typical heteronomous morality, would respond that Rajat is guiltier than Shivani because two pieces of kachori costs more than a piece of hair band. While, people supporting autonomous morality would respond that Shivani is guiltier because she is being deceitful and Rajat has good intentions of sustaining his younger brother.

Moreover, Piaget’s work on moral reasoning also inspired Lawrence Kohlberg, who too believed that moral reasoning was closely linked to cognitive development. Let us explore Kohlberg’s theory of moral development to find out more. 

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development 

Case Study: Atul was not prepared for his Physics Exam, so he wrote some important formulae on a slip of paper which he put in his pocket before the test. Just before the test began, the teacher informed the class that any student caught cheating would automatically fail the test. Even though Atul needed to use the information he wrote on the slip, he didn’t use it because the teacher stood too close to his desk during the entire exam.
What was the reason that stopped Atul from cheating in the examination? There are many such moral dilemmas systematized by Kohlberg under different stages in his theory of moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) got inspired by Piaget’s work and particularly his method of observing and interviewing children.
Therefore, he also used a similar methodology of interviewing children and adolescents to collect his data on moral issues. 

Kohlberg’s theory started from self-centeredness and moved towards others’ centeredness.

Lawrence Kohlberg proposed a detailed sequence of six stages of moral reasoning, classified into three levels. His three levels of moral development included: 

(I)Pre-conventional Level- At this level, judgment is based solely on a person’s own needs and perceptions. Here, right and wrong is based primarily on external circumstances (punishments and rewards). The first two stages are included in this level:
Stage 1: Punishment-Obedience Orientation: At this stage (lowest) you try to avoid breaking rules for fear of punishment because a good or bad action is determined by its physical consequences. Here, the conscience .that works is ‘self-protection’.

Stage 2: Personal Reward Orientation: At this stage personal needs determine right and wrong and so, the conscience seems to be ‘cunning’. Your behaviour is determined primarily by what will earn you a reward.

(II) Conventional Level- At this level, the judgment is based on other’s approval, family expectations, traditional values, the laws of society, and loyalty to country. This level includes stages 3 and 4.
Stage 3: Good Boy-Nice Girl Orientation: This stage is the stage of social approval. Your behaviour is determined by what pleases and is approved by others. Here, mutual relations of trust and respect should be maintained provided they conform to your expected social role. The conscience at this stage is loyalty.

Stage 4: Law and Order Orientation: You are expected to respect the authority and maintain the social order. It is right to contribute to the society and fulfil social duties. Here, the conscience is good citizenship.

(III) Post-conventional Level- The last two stages (5 and 6) are at this post-conventional level. At this level, judgments are based on abstract, more personal principles that are not necessarily defined by society’s laws. 

Stage 5: Social Contract Orientation: This stage is the stage of social utility and individual rights. Your loyalty is towards truth. At this stage, you are not only aware of the social contract between individuals, but also of the different moral perspectives of others. The conscience of this stage is reason. 

Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principle Orientation: This is the highest stage of morality. At this stage you realize to follow self chosen ethical principles. Your choices are grounded in genuine moral interest in the well-being of others, regardless of who they are. Therefore, the conscience at this stage is personal integrity.

Heinz Dilemma 

A woman in Europe was diagnosed with a kind of cancer and was near her death. Only one medicine could save her as per doctors’ opinion which was a kind of radium, discovered by one of the pharmacists in that town. But that pharmacist was charging nearly ten times the cost of the radium, i.e. $2000 and that too for a small dose. Heinz, the sick woman’s husband tried hard to collect money but could arrange for only half the amount. He requested the pharmacist to lend him the medicine because his wife really needed it but the latter didn’t help. Heinz got so distressed that he broke into the pharmacist’s shop to steal the medicine for his wife. Let us study Heinz dilemma at all levels of morality by Kohlberg. 

Stage 1: Heinz should not steal the medicine because he might be caught and punished or Heinz won’t go to prison because he was not stealing something big and more importantly, he asked for it first and was ready to pay. 

Stage 2: Heinz might steal the medicine to give happiness to his family at home by saving his wife. But he might get sentenced for a long term in prison which he could not stand. 

Stage 3: Heinz was not doing wrong. He just wanted to save his beloved wife. It was the pharmacist who overcharged. He won’t get a hard punishment because the judge would look at all sides of the situation. 

Stage 4: Heinz should not have stolen because it was against the law or if he had to steal then he must be ready to take the punishment; otherwise, there would be a chaos if everybody sets up everybody’s own beliefs. 

Stage 5: Life is more important than property and Heinz should save his wife even if he had to steal. Let the moral and legal standpoints coincide or Heinz should not have stolen because even though his wife was sick, it couldn’t make his action right. 

Stage 6: Heinz should steal the medicine because human life has more value than the property rights of some person or Heinz should not have stolen because any other person might have needed the medicine more badly.

Gilligan’s Stages of Ethics of Care 

Carol Gilligan (1982) has proposed a different sequence of moral development in the form of “ethics of care”. She debated that Kohlberg’s theory of stages are biased in favour of males, in a male dominant society and do not represent the way moral reasoning develops in women because he conducted a longitudinal study of men only. 

According to Gilligan, women are likely to think of right and wrong in terms of care and relationships, whereas men tend to think in terms of rules and justice. She describes three stages of moral reasoning: 

Stage 1 Pre-conventional Morality: The goal of this stage is individual survival. This is a transitional stage from selfishness to responsibility to others. You are motivated to act by deciding what is best for yourself. 

Stage 2 Conventional Morality: This stage says that self-sacrifice is goodness. At this stage, transition is from goodness to the truth of the situation. You are motivated to perform actions which are based on what will care for and benefit others. 

Stage 3 Post-conventional Morality: This stage favours the principle of nonviolence. It proposes not to hurt others or the self. You learn that it is just as wrong to ignore your own interests as it is to ignore the interests of others. You come to understand that a relation involves two people, and if either one is affronted, it troubles the relationship.

Theory of Psychosocial Development- Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson (1963, 1972) described a series of eight ‘psychosocial’ stages in which our selfhood, independence, identity and self-worth may be developed or crushed, depending on how we resolve issues and interact with others along the way.

When children reach elementary school (6-12 years of age), they soon learn that they can get recognition of adults by producing things- for example, through their written assignments, art projects, dramatic productions, and so on. When children are allowed and encouraged to make and do things and when they are praised for their accomplishments, they begin to demonstrate ‘industry’. Therefore, ‘industry’ is a pattern of working hard, persisting at lengthy tasks and putting work before pleasure. But, when children are punished for their efforts or when they find that they cannot meet their teachers’ and parents’ expectations for their performance, they may develop feelings of ‘inferiority’ about their own abilities. 


We can understand this interrelationship with the help of following examples: 

(i) A physically unhealthy person is unable to perform one’s duties to oneself, family and community. 

(ii) A child under emotional strain is likely to be physically unhealthy, socially inefficient and cognitively deteriorated. 

(iii) A child with less social interaction, may feel lonely which further may lead to emotional disturbance along with cognitive and language difficulties. 

(iv) The undue emphasis on cognitive development may ignore emotional and physical side of an individual’s personality. We may conclude that an individual has to be considered as one ‘whole’. Therefore, while taking measures for all round development of a child, it must be remembered that all the dimensions of child development are inter-related and inter-dependent. 


Unbelievably, you as a teacher can really transform the life of a child. Let us now explore a teacher’s role in facilitating different dimensions of development of children. While teaching, whenever you come to know about specific physical needs of children, you should consequently plan your programmes. 

For example– 

Making a child with low vision sit at front desk; using larger fonts on chalkboard; high quality audio aids, etc. Knowledge of the pattern of physical growth and development helps the teacher to arrange school programmes like co-curricular activities. 

  1. Besides, you should emphasize on sitting in right postures, regular medical check-ups, regular exercises, play activities, and nutritious diet for the children. The teacher’s facilitation in cognitive development of a child needs great attention. 
  2. You should ensure that students maintain cognitive balance between new experiences and what is already known; challenge their illogical explanations and ask them to explain their reasoning; express confusion or explain that others think differently when students show egocentrism; relate abstract and hypothetical ideas to concrete objects and observable events and many more. This balanced cognition helps them develop emotionally. 
  3. Stable emotions are important for a harmonious personality of an individual. Your role as a teacher may include equal treatment to all children in your classroom; planning dynamic activities; balanced emotional behaviour of yourself; creating a trustworthy environment; and enabling students recognize emotions of others and express their own feelings. 
  4. Furthermore, the teacher’s role in developing psychosocial behaviours here is to encourage responsibility among students by assigning group tasks to value their hard work and task accomplishments while discouraging excessive competition to avoid feelings of inferiority; promote social interaction among diverse groups like assigning partners to students with special needs to develop an understanding. This may help them in developing morally too. 
  5. You may facilitate moral development among children by modelling appropriate moral behaviour. You should talk about reasons why some behaviours are inappropriate, e.g. throwing chewing gum here and there may spoil somebody’s hair or clothes. 
  6. Besides, you may incorporate moral issues and dilemmas during classroom discussion, e.g. discussion on wars between two countries. 
  7. A positive reinforcement to students may also help in encouraging morally desirable behaviours among them.

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