Each child's development is unique, but most children share some common behaviors, capabilities and needs during specific periods in their lives. These periods are generally differentiated by age ranges, and may be called development stages. From the time a child is born until his emergence from childhood development around age 18, he is growing away from his parents or caretakers and into his own developing sense of independent self.
Most child experts agree that a child develops a basic sense of trust in his earliest months. This is a time, from birth to about 18 months, when a child is completely dependent on his caretakers to meet his every need. A child may develop a sense of worthiness if he is cared for, or unworthiness if he is neglected or hurt, in these early months. Loving parents and caretakers who help the child develop a strong sense of trust and security may be establishing a foundation for the child's lifetime of relationships during this development stage.
As your child develops physically from about 18 months to 36 months, she's learning to do things on her own, such as walking, running, climbing, feeding herself, becoming toilet trained, talking and dressing herself. Her physical abilities coincide with her realization that she is her own person, separate from her parents and caretakers. She is developing her sense of self and learning from her parents that her new independence has limits because life is full of dangers such as fire, electricity, speeding cars and high places. These limits, imposed by parents, usually result in your child discovering her assertiveness.
From the time your child is about 3 years old until he's around 7 years old, your child is developing his sense of self as it relates to others. These others in his life may be real or imagined, as this is a time when a child develops his reality-fantasy understanding. He may have imaginary friends that are very real to him at 3 but will begin to let them go by the time he begins school and makes real-life friends. He is intrigued by creating things, building--and perhaps unbuilding--things, and he's learning to understand the differences between boys and girls.
After age 7, your child is becoming gradually more responsible for her own decisions. Parents and caretakers will still intervene to provide guidance and teach the consequences of choices. She's learning values, right from wrong, subjective good from bad. From now until your child is about 12 years old, she will test her decision- and choice-making capabilities based in part on her physical, emotional and intellectual development, and based in part on her interests. Same-sex friends may become a big part of her life during this developmental stage, another reflection of her emerging value system and its influence on her decision-making.
Identity and Independence Stage
As your child enters and passes through his teenage years, his developmental goal is to establish his own sense of identity apart from his parent or caretaker. This is the development stage where experts believe the influences of childhood play a marked role. Your child will likely use his heightened sense of self and his personal values to choose or reject group identities. Peer pressure rather than familial pressure may influence his choices, personal appearance and behaviors regarding his friends, activities, future goals and the opposite sex. He may explore different gender and personality roles as he seeks his independence. This may be a time of tension between you and your child.