Physical, Cognitive and Psychosocial Development

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

Physical, mental and emotional maturity is something that is developed in stages throughout childhood and adulthood. These attributes are all monitored closely by a pediatrician, and a lag in any one can be a sign of other pathological conditions. Here is a look at these three developmental aspects of growth, and what pediatricians watch for in regards to each:

Physical Development: This is the first and most basic of the three development types. It includes height, weight, muscle tone, reflexes and balance. It also includes things like the onset of puberty and a monitoring of appropriate vital signs. Doctors are looking for nutritional deficiencies and other signs of improper growth, which are things that, when discovered, can be easily remedied. Physical growth can be the first inkling of many hereditary disorders, and because of this it is watched by doctors on a three to six month basis for the first two years, and then on an annual schedule.

Cognitive Development: This is the development of mental skills, from basic perception of the different senses to speech and complex thought. As a child progresses, doctors watch for different milestones. Can a baby follow their mother's face across the room? Respond when their name is called? Does a toddler have an appropriate vocabulary level? Can they draw and recognize logos and letters? Does your school-aged child read, write and speak effectively? Can they do spacial logical activities like puzzles and math? Do they grasp complex and abstract concepts? Though some of this is IQ related, other reasons for delays in cognitive development can be a lack of proper academic stimulation. This is especially important in the first five years of life, when the learning groundwork for academic success is laid. Though it is possible for children to catch up later, the burden for this is huge and much more difficult.

Psychosocial Development: This is a child's ability to relate to both adults and other children. Can they have a conversation with people of various ages? Do they cope well with things that don't go their way? Are they able to understand the emotions of others and make appropriate decisions? Are they able to understand their own emotions and make good choices? Can they understand right and wrong, action and consequence? The flip side of this, as kids get older is the level of reliance they have on their social circles. Can the child discern peer pressure choices from reasonable actions? Can they stand up for themselves in situations that make them uncomfortable, like group bullying of others? This is a multilayered issue that begins at its most basic level with the identification of syndromes like high functioning autism, and continues into ensuring you have a child with enough self-esteem that they are unlikely to commit acts of self harm.

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