The 10 Important Principles Of Growth And Development Of A Child

To understand how growth and development happens in a child and to know its many dimensions, it becomes important that you are familiar about the principles guiding the same. Let us look at the 10 important principles of growth and development of a child.

For purposes of better understanding, we will be looking at the principles of growth and development with examples.

In this article:

  1. The Process of Development is Both Continuous and Discontinuous
  2. Developmental Changes are Predictable as it Follows a Certain Sequence and Specific Pattern
  3. Development Proceeds from General to Specific Responses
  4. Development Involves Change
  5. Development is a Product of the Interaction Between Heredity and Environment
  6. Development Involves Considerable Individual Differences
  7. Development Occurs as an Interactive Product of Maturation and Learning
  8. Early Development is More Critical than Later Development
  9. Developmental Changes are Multi-Dimensional
  10. Development is Highly Flexible

1. The Process of Development is Both Continuous and Discontinuous

The process of development in a child starts at the time of conception and proceeds either at a slow or a rapid rate till the child matures. Development is a non-stop process, because of which the acquisitions of certain features or skills may be seen (and seem) as a sudden process, whereas certain others develop at a gradual pace.

For example, the appearance of the first tooth happens at a rapid rate and becomes explicitly visible, whereas the speech of a child starts only with a cry at birth. It slowly and progressively develops into cooing, babbling, followed by one-word utterance, then two-word utterances, and only later into complete sentences. All this happens over a period of not months – but years!

This principle also emphasises that the development at a particular stage serves as a facilitator for other developments that would follow at a later stage.

2. Developmental Changes are Predictable as it Follows a Certain Sequence and Specific Pattern

Broadly speaking, the development of a child happens in two directions:

From Head to Toe

The process of development starting from the head and then proceeding towards the toe is referred to as Cephalocaudal pattern of growth, wherein the development starts to form the upper portion of the body and then proceeds towards the lower end.

For example, the structure and function of the head is complete before the trunk region, and the last section to develop is the leg. This is the reason why children first learn how to sit on their own, only after which they learn how to crawl on hands and knees, and finally how to walk.

From Near to Far

The development proceeding from the centre of the body towards the outer extremes on both sides is called the Proximodistal pattern of growth.  In this pattern of growth and development, the trunk region is relatively well-developed, only after which the process of development proceeds towards the arm, followed by the hands, and ends with the fingers. That’s why babies use their arms before they use their hands.

An orderly, systematic and progressive pattern of development occurs at every stage. The developmental changes progresses from simple to complex levels of functioning and at the same time proceeds from general to specific areas. To give another example, children first learn how to sit before they start to crawl or stand. Similarly, they first learn to draw a circle before they can draw a square.

3. Development Proceeds from General to Specific Responses

When you observe closely, especially during the early years, you will find that the response of a baby to situations is very general in nature. Over time, it gradually develops and the response gets specific in nature. This pattern of development from general to specific can in fact be observed in all the 3 major domains of development.

For example, when you observe the excitement of a newborn who is just a few-days-old, it will look like a kind of disconnected form of excitement. But if you continue to observe the child closely over a few days, you will find that each of his/her expression is different and is specific to a relevant emotion, like joy, discomfort, pain, frustration, etc.

This principle of development that proceeds from specific to general, is what is behind every child’s uncoordinated random moments or responses as a new born, which later gets replaced by well-coordinated specific moment of response.

4. Development Involves Change

Development is a process of progressive series of orderly coherent changes. In other words, development is not a static process and involves progressive series of changes that are dynamic in nature, right from time of conception to (and across) the entire lifespan.

Growth refers to quantitative and indicative changes, whereas development involves qualitative and non-indicative changes. These changes happen in terms of body size, body proportion, disappearance of old features and the acquisition of new features, among others.

5. Development is a Product of the Interaction Between Heredity and Environment

Development happens as an outcome of interactive effect of both heredity potential (also called genetic potential) and the environmental factors. The question of which factor influences more than the other still remains unanswered.

There are enough research studies to prove that both heredity and environment influence the process of growth and development in a child equally. Moreover, they are both found to always work hand-in-hand.

6. Development Involves Considerable Individual Differences

Though the pattern of development is the same across all children, the rate of developmental changes in every single child is unique. The individual differences in the rate of growth and development is attributed to the unique combination of both genetic and environmental factors a particular child grows up in.

This is the fundamental reason why it is not at all appropriate (and never ideal) to expect any two children of same age to either develop at the same pace or behave in a similar manner.

For example, though developmental milestones states that most children speak three-word sentences by the time they are 3 years old, there will always be few children who may master well before they are 3, while some others would accomplish the milestone when they well past 3-and-a-half years.

If there is one principle among all the 10 important principles of growth and development of a child that every parent, teacher or facilitator should necessarily know and understand well, it will be this principle about individual differences!

Ignorance or lack of appreciation of this principle could result in parents and teachers having unfair expectations from a child, which could result in the child having diminished confidence and low self-esteem. And it may not end there. Unable to fulfil the expectations, he or she may suffer by carrying that feeling as a huge burden – across his or her entire life.

7. Development Occurs as an Interactive Product of Maturation and Learning

Maturation is defined as the ability to unfold the skills that are potentially present in an individual, and it comes from his or her genetic endowment. Maturation is seen in both Phylogenetic and Ontogenetic functions.

Phylogenetic Functions are skills common to race. A few examples are skills like crawling, sitting, walking, etc.

Ontogenetic Functions are the skills that are specific to an individual. A few examples are skills like swimming, riding a bicycle or writing.

Robert J Havighurst, who is an educator and an expert in human development and aging, has referred to this maturational readiness as “The Teachable Moment”, which underlines that children cannot learn until they are developmentally ready.

Learning is a form of development that comes from practice and effort, whereas competence can be acquired by the hereditary resources. In other words, learning happens through imitation, repetition, training and experiences, and gets manifested later in the form of behaviour.

It is therefore important to understand that maturation is only raw potential, which has to be fed (supplemented) with learning experiences, so as to develop and manifest in its fullest form.

For example, every child has got an inert potential to write, which gets unfolded only at a particular point in time. But identifying his/her readiness for learning and developing skills, including writing, by providing enough opportunities is very important.

8. Early Development is Far More Critical than Later Development

There is a wonderful saying that succinctly explains this principle of development, which goes like this:

The childhood shows the man as morning shows the day.”

To put it in a different context: Children learn what they see.

Any mal-behaviour in a person could mostly be traced (not necessarily always), to unfavourable childhood circumstances and/or experiences.

Going by this principle, the top 3 conditions and circumstances that positively affect early childhood development, among others, and subsequently manifests into good healthy adulthood are:

9. Developmental Changes are Multi-Dimensional

The process of development and growth in a child is said to be interrelated within three major domains of development, namely:

  • Physical
  • Psycho-Social
  • Cognitive

All the three developmental domains may or may not develop at the same pace, but they do greatly influence each other.

For example, the physical development is found to be very rapid at one stage of life (early childhood and adolescence, and in that order) than in the other stages, whereas the development of other two domains, namely psycho-social (social and emotional) and may happen at a relatively slow and gradual pace.

While all the 10 principles of growth and development of a child are indeed important, this principle that developmental changes are multi-dimensional is considered very important.

There is a very famous proverb which you might almost certainly be aware of, which goes:

A stitch in time saves nine.”

Similarly, if the growth and development in a child doesn’t happen the way it has to during early childhood years, it could become progressively challenging to correct the gaps at every subsequent developmental stages that follow.

10. Development is Highly Flexible

Development, by nature, is highly flexible. If provided the right environment and adequate exposure to various experiences within the given environment, a child that went through a slow pace of development in a particular domain might show tremendous improvement in that very same domain at a later stage in life.

Let us take the example with one of the three major developmental domains: Psycho-Social, which comprises both social and emotional.

A child may be least expressive and demonstrate very little or no emotion, as he or she may have got orphaned at a very young age (say before attaining 5 years).

But if the same child were to be:

  • Adopted by a family before 6 or 7 years of age, and
  • If the entire family, larger family and friends welcome him or her will open arms
  • Provide lots of love and affection, and
  • Nurture him or her the way any biological parents/normal family would do …

… the child will start becoming more expressive and demonstrate varied emotions like any other child that had a normal upbringing right from birth would.


Just being aware of the 10 important principles of growth and development of a child doesn’t really mean anything, unless the parent, teacher or facilitator acts in a manner that is in line with the principles, and accordingly nurtures a child to grow into a well-rounded individual.

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.