INFANCY - Definition, Developmental Landmarks, Developmental Tasks and Educational Implications of Infancy Development


INFANCY - Definition, Developmental Landmarks, Developmental Tasks and Educational Implications of Infancy Development

Infancy covers the period of development from birth to two years. It is the earliest time of life for children. Newborns, called neonates, come into the world programmed for physical growth, emotional reactions, locomotion, speech, social interaction, thinking and reasoning. Babies possess unique personalities that will greatly influence the course of their lives. During infancy, tremendous changes in motor and sensory abilities bring children closer to maturity.

We discuss changes in physical structure and dexterity, changes in perceptual and language abilities, and changes in psychosocial behaviour of children during infancy. We also outline the tasks these children are expected to master, and the educational significance of those changes.

At the end of this study, you should be able to:

·Outline the major developmental landmarks in physical and motor, cognitive and psychomotor facets of infant development

·List and explain the major developmental tasks infants are expected to master

·Discuss the educational significance of the changes that accompany development at infancy stage.


Developmental Landmarks

Developmental landmarks would be discussed under the following subtopics:

1.  Physical Growth and Motor Development

Children are born with many reflexes. These are built-in physical responses. Primitive reflexes ensure the survival of the baby after birth.

Examples of primitive reflexes include: crying, grasping, and sucking reflexes. Postural reflexes, such as: stepping and swimming, help newborns adapt to the new world. Stepping and swimming reflexes help the baby to become oriented to the environment.

Generally, newborns are pre-wired to breathe, to respond to temperature changes, touch and noise. They are pre-wired to respond and take in nourishment. These reflexive responses are important determinants of healthy development.

Physical growth and motor development follow a direction. Physical growth and motor development start from the upper areas of the body to the lower areas. This is cephalo-candal direction. At birth, for example, the head of a newborn is much bigger than the rest of the body.

Physical growth and motor development also proceed from the centre of the body to the peripheries. This is proximodistal direction. For example, the chest and the trunk develop and reach adult status before the limbs.

Children do not grow steadily. Growth takes place in spurts. Children may grow as much as one centimetre in a day and then go for days or weeks without any growth.

Physical growth is more rapid in the first year of life than at any other point in time. By the end of the first year, children’s weight has tripled their birth weight.

Infants do not just grow physically; there is also a discernible pattern of changes in motor changes. We can cite some examples of these changes. At birth, the infant’s eyes roam about without direction. A few days later, the infant’s eyes are able to stare at an object for a brief period. By four weeks, the infant’s eyes are able to follow a dangling ring. By four months, a baby is able to hold and look at a rattle.

The examples cited above indicate a patterned connection between the muscles that move the eyes and impulses in the brain. This signifies that there is teamwork between the eyes and the hands. There is coordination of motor actions, and voluntary control of muscles.

Increasing voluntary control of muscular movements helps the child to acquire greater mobility.

The more control children gain of their voluntary motor actions, the greater is their ability to venture the environment.

The motor achievements of children at the infancy stage of development include:

1. Postural Control – Postural control is the ability to stand upright. This ability may be observed progress from lifting head, lying on stomach, rolling over, lying, sitting propped up, to standing holding on to something. 90 per cent of children achieve postural control by the end of the first year of life.

2. Locomotive Control – Locomotive control is the ability to move around. This ability is observed progress from rolling on stomach, crawling on buttocks, creeping on arms and knees, climbing stairs, walking when led to walking alone. 90 per cent of children achieve locomotive control by the end of 15 months.

3. Manual Control – Manual control is the ability to manipulate objects. It involves the use of fine motor skills. Fine motor skills appear when the child is able to coordinate sensory information with motor actions. An example of manual control is shown in prehension. Prehension is the controlled act of reaching for and grasping an object. Reaching and grasping is achieved through eye-hand coordination. Prehension appears around four months.

Prehension signals a move from gross to fine movements and paves the way for gross and fine motor coordination.

These figures indicate averages, that is, when the average healthy child achieves the skill. Many children will fall below or above the average.

Increasing manual and locomotive dexterity demands that caretakers provide a safe environment for the child to explore.

 2.  Cognitive Development

Physical growth and motor development are at the heart of cognitive achievements at infancy. As locomotive and manual control increases, children venture into the environment of their world. The things they find and the experiences they have significantly influence the course of cognitive development.

Cognitive development at infancy stage of development involves the development of sensorimotor activities. The process of coming to know during infancy is typified by an organisational process.

The major landmarks in cognitive development during infancy include:

1. Organisation of Reflexes

At infancy, the child’s inborn reflexes become organised into schemes. Schemes action patterns for understanding the environment. Schemes are self-initiated activities. Examples of schemes include sucking, kicking, grasping, crying, hitting. Building of schemes become increasingly more complex as the child’s development progresses.

2. Object Permanence

Perceptual abilities develop rapidly during the first year of a child’s life. The child achieves object permanence during the first year of life. The child comes to know that an object exists even when it is removed from their field of vision. The object continues to exist in time and space outside the child, even when the child cannot access it. The evidence for the development of object permanence is when children begin to actively seek or search for a hidden or missing object which they want.

3. Active Experimentation

Active experimentation follows the child’s achievement of object permanence. Children begin to explore and discover new properties of objects. Instead of mere fitting of existing schemes to new situations, children new actively vary their actions to produce different outcomes.

Their actions resemble that of scientists gathering information through trial and error.

4. Mental Representation

Between 18 months and two years, children begin to use mental representations. Objects that are not seen can be mentally represented and manipulated using words, symbols, gestures and mental images.

Use of symbols is the basis of pretend play or make-believe plays of children. Thus, mental representation signals the beginning of thought.

5. Language

Many children utter their first word by the age of 12 months. From this time onwards, children begin to use language to identify things, speak with others, construct past events, and to influence actions in the future.

 3. Psycho-social Development

During infancy, the transformation from a helpless newborn to a baby capable of forming close relationships with others takes place.

The landmark achievements in psychosocial development of the infancy stage of development include:

1. Attachment Bonding

An attachment bond describes a child’s connection with a caregiver.

This connection provides the child a sense of safety and security. As children grow older, attachment with a caregiver ensures that they are cared for. The emotional relationship that develops between the child and the caregiver enables the child to venture with confidence into the world feeling loved and secure. Bonding begins at birth, and is strengthened by reflexive smile and crying.

2. Social Smile

Social smile follows attachment bonding. Eye contact with a human face provokes social smile as distinct from reflexive smile which occurs mainly when the baby is asleep. Social smile ensures that the caregiver will continue to look at, pick up, hold, stroke, and feed and love the baby. It makes caring for the child enjoyable and rewarding.

3. Crying

At birth, crying is reflexive. Crying is the reflex response to choking which allows the child to take in their first breath. Crying elaborates into a scheme when it becomes melodious, signifying different states such as wet, hot, hungry, uncomfortable, seeking attention or in pain.

Crying generally increases until about six weeks of age to two months. Crying in children declines as they get older, and peaks again between 12 and 18 months. Crying peaks when children begin to display negative emotions and may reach the point of temper tantrums.

Infants cry for many reasons. Their reasons for crying change with age.

Babies cry when they are uncomfortable. As they get older, children may cry when they are afraid – at the sight of a stranger or an animal.

They may also cry when frustrated – when the mother is out of sight. In all, crying has a survival value. It ensures that the attention of the caregiver is drawn to the child’s problem.

4. Laughing

Laughing in children appears at about six months of age. Physical stimulation such as ticking; and visual stimuli like the mother’s own laughing provoke infant’s laughing. By the end of the second year of life, children are able to participate in fun-making activities like pulling

on the mother’s ear, or biting the mother’s nipple.

5. Social Referencing

Social referencing appears in the first year of life. Social referencing is the ability to seek out emotional cues from trusted adults. Children use social referencing to know how to react to new situations. Social referencing ensures that children understand facial expressions, and voice tones that signify various emotional states. Children are able, for example, to differentiate emotions such as anger, happiness, approval, and disapproval. Social referencing impacts considerably on a child’s social behaviour. For instance, social referencing is the basis of the development of empathy feeling.

6. Self-awareness

By 18 months, self-awareness has appeared in children. Self-awareness describes the sense of oneself as distinct and different from other persons. Self-awareness makes it possible for the child to experience secondary emotions such as; pride, shame, guilt, embarrassment and jealousy. Self-awareness paves the way for children to see peers as individuals. It aids them in forming friendship based on trust and shared interest.


Developmental Tasks

To attain the goal of development, the child must learn to become worthy, responsible adult. The process of attaining this goal demands that the child performs some critical tasks at certain times of their life. When a child masters developmental tasks for any stage of development, they feel a sense of satisfaction. The child is encouraged to go on to new challenges. Difficulty with developmental tasks slows a child’s progress towards future accomplishments. This inability to master developmental tasks leads to unhappiness and social disapproval.

Difficulty impacts negatively on the attainment of personal independence. The number of developmental tasks, and the nature of these tasks that a child must master at different age levels, depend on the child and the particular culture the child finds him/herself in.

However, some tasks are typical and cut across individuals and cultures.

We outline below the typical developmental tasks of infancy.

1. Learning to Walk

The child at this stage of development is expected to master the skills of walking. Mastery of these skills ensures that the child learns during subsequent stages to run, jump and skip.

2. Learning to Talk

The child utters their first word between 12 and 18 months. With the first word uttered, talking begins. Speech is engendered by the forces of maturation and learning.

Mastery of speech ensures that the child succeeds in achieving effective communication and social intercourse during subsequent stages of development.

3. Learning to Eat Solid Food

At this stage, the child is expected to master the skills of taking solid food and be weaned from the breast. The nature of the weaning process, the age at weaning, and the schedule of feeding during weaning, all have profound impact on later development of personality.

4. Learning to Control the Elimination of Body Waste

The child must learn to urinate and defecate at socially acceptable times and places. Toilet training is the first moral training the child receives.

The stamp of this first moral training may persist in the child’s later character.

5. Learning to Trust Self and Others

The child is expected during infancy to learn to trust caregivers as providers of contact comfort, nourishment and security. The child must also learn to trust self as an efficient system capable of self -control.

Trust in infancy sets the stage for a lifelong expectation that the world will be a safe and pleasant place to live.


Educational Implications

The educational implications of infancy development are as follows:

· Early attachment behaviour has significant implication for adult personality. Children form an internal working model of their social world. This model is patterned after the relationships pattern between the child and the caregiver, especially during feeding, toileting and cleaning, and contact comfort. Children carry this model through life, and it influences school experience, career and social relationships.

· Parents and caregivers must take note that malnutrition in infancy results in stunted growth, cognitive delays and motor retardation. Infant malnutrition is a significant public health and educational issue in Nigeria.

· The ability to reach for and manipulate objects is important for the infant’s motor and cognitive development. Caregivers should provide adequate opportunity for children to move around and manipulate objects in a safe environment.

· The development of any skill depends on both maturation and experience. Caregivers should be sensitive to match experiences provided with the level of maturation children have attained.

· The goal of parenting and education is creating an enabling environment to aid children master life skills. Parenting and education should not constitute an obstacle to children’s activities that lead to personal independence.

· Newborns are especially prone to childhood diseases. Parents are

encouraged to take advantage of immunisation to protect children

against various childhood diseases.

· Emotional health of an infant depends on a continuous warm and intimate relationship with the caregiver.


Dramatic transformations occur during infancy in the basic biological equipment the child is born with. Basic reflexes elaborate into patterns of behaviour. The obviously helpless infant soon transforms into a lovely baby who partakes in the give-and-take of active human relations.

Skills that help the infant venture into the world are mastered during infancy, as the various body systems differentiate and become more efficient and perceptual abilities increase.

We follow the child as they venture into the neighbourhood environment, the world of peers and the world of preschool.

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