Stages of development – what to expect from your child at different ages

It’s important when encouraging a child to thrive that we only impose age appropriate expectations on them, expecting too much or too little of the child may hinder their development. Generally speaking, there are several stages of development that most children go through around the same age, and understanding a child’s capabilities at each stage helps to set reasonable expectations and guide appropriate reactions to their behaviours. These stages of development are outlined below.

Early childhood (ages 4-5)

  • Active imaginations – may not distinguish between real and make believe very well
  • Have limited logical thinking capabilities and do not understand abstract concepts
  • Assumes everyone thinks and feels the same way they do and have difficulty interpreting other people’s intentions correctly
  • Tend to overestimate their abilities and think they are capable of more than they actually are
  • Developing the ability to control their impulses
  • Learning how to cooperate with other people and take turns through play
  • Often express their feelings behaviourally due to limited vocabulary
  • Beginning to recognise other people’s emotions and respond appropriately, for example hugging someone they think is sad
  • Generally self-esteem is high

Middle Childhood (ages 6-10)

  • Growth has stabilised and motor skills are easier to master as a result
  • Problem solving skills are developing along with logical thinking, however abstract thinking is still a way off and alternative solutions may be limited, for instance may still view people’s reactions as directly related to them and fail to consider it may be due to another cause such as earlier bad news
  • Developing more self-control and becoming more self-aware. Comparisons to others may lead to self-doubt
  • Friendships become more critical; beginning to deal with the issues of acceptance, rejection, peer-pressure and conformity
  • More developed ability to interpret other people’s emotions and social cues and respond appropriately

Early Adolescence (ages 11-14)

  • During this period of development young people are often at their most vulnerable and rates of maturity vary greatly
  • Physical changes are occurring more rapidly and may result in increased clumsiness and a lack of coordination
  • Social acceptance is critical and anxiety about appearing awkward or different may arise. There is a tendency to think that that other people are noticing more about them than they are, causing over-sensitivity in regards to their actions and appearance
  • Physical and hormonal changes may cause confusion and discomfort as sexual thoughts and feelings arise, which may be accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment
  • The ability to think abstractly, reason more logically and predict consequences improves, however they can have difficulty applying these thought processes to themselves and so may still have difficulty linking situations, events, feelings and consequences
  • May begin to experiment with self-definition and push boundaries, while still feeling vulnerable due to lack of life experience, causing confusion in relationships with the adults around them
  • Have a tendency to believe that bad things happen to other people but not them, leading to increased risk taking behaviours
  • Peer acceptance and fear of rejection become major issues at this stage, increasing vulnerability to peer pressure. Young adolescents may still struggle to take others viewpoints into account, resulting in difficulties in peer relationships
  • This stage of development can be characterised by moodiness, emotional outbursts, anger, anxiety, shame, depression and guilt. The emotional roller coaster experienced may further increase feelings of anxiety that are often masked as anger, which can in turn increase interpersonal conflict and alienate the very people that are needed for support

Mid-Adolescence (ages 15-18)

  • Mid adolescence is generally characterised by a slowing of physical development and more emotional stability and greater self confidence
  • Abstract thinking is developing, allowing hypothesising, consideration of future events and consequences, although inconsistencies in thinking remain and lack of life experience may still result in poor choices
  • Focus is on achieving independence, interests may change and self-questioning and experimenting with identity may take place
  • There is often a greater tolerance for individual differences, less dependence on others for emotional support and more stability in peer relationships as a result
  • This age group are less likely to behave erratically or impulsively and have more stable responses to emotional upsets than during earlier years

It is important to remember that every child is unique and there are also other considerations including biological issues or neurological issues such as autism that may impact on your child’s development. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, please do consult a health professional.

This blog is associated with, a source of self-help resources and affordable support services via online consultations with a certified CBT therapist and counsellor


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s