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Physical Development In Children: Importance And Different Stages

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Physical development in children refers to their physical growth – both height and weight – and their motor development, that is, the development of their bones and muscles and their ability to move and manipulate their environment.

Although each child develops at their own pace, it is necessary to monitor your child’s physical growth to ensure they grow to their fullest potential. Optimum physical development in early childhood lays the foundation for long-term health and well-being ((1)).

Read this post as we explain the various factors that affect physical development in children, highlight the physical development milestones in children, and give you a few tips to boost your child’s physical development.

Factors That Affect Physical Development In Children

Knowing the factors that affect children’s physical development can help you provide the best care to your child. Here are some important factors that are known to affect children’s physical development.

1. Nutrition

Children can lose developmental potential and suffer long-term health problems due to poor nutrition and early learning opportunities (2). A nutrient-rich diet containing fiber, vitamins, and minerals aids the physical growth of your child. When a child’s or adolescent’s diet has an excess of high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt, nutritional deficiencies can emerge. Overconsumption of these foods and beverages can lead to ill health and weight gain.

2. Genetics

The parents’ genes influence the physical characteristics of a child. The interplay of genes and environmental factors, such as toxic stress and poor nutrition, can significantly impact a child’s physical development (3).

3. Low socioeconomic status

Children need to hone their fine motor skills since they spend most of their time on tasks such as writing, cutting, and coloring. Due to lack of proper facilities and good nutrition, children born to families of low socioeconomic status are susceptible to growth restrictions and can experience delays in motor development (4).

4. Physically activity

Children should be encouraged to take part in physical activities during the day for better growth and development. Physical activity levels among children and parents are known to be linked; hence, inactive parents are more likely to produce inactive children. Encourage your children to participate in sports and spend time outdoors as lack of physical activity is linked to several health problems, including obesity (5) (6).

5. Environment

A child’s environment has a significant influence on their well-being. Some environmental factors that can influence children’s physical development include toxins and pollutants, noise, crowding, chaos, and housing, school, and neighborhood quality (7).

6. Infections

Infections such as diarrhea and pneumonia can disrupt the child’s normal growth. As per a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, “Infections may decrease food intake, impair nutrient absorption, cause direct nutrient losses, increase metabolic requirements or catabolic losses of nutrients and, possibly, impair transport of nutrients to target tissues” By altering the nutritional status, such infections can reduce linear growth in children. Children born in emerging countries are highly susceptible to these infections (8). 

Physical Developmental Milestones In Children

Physical developmental milestones refer to a variety of changes in a child’s motor abilities. As their gross motor and fine motor skills improve, most children exhibit increased independence and self-control.

Gross motor skills: Gross motor skills involve the major muscles in the arms, legs, and torso. Walking, running, throwing, lifting, kicking, and other daily physical tasks require gross motor skills. These skills are also associated with body awareness, reaction speed, balance, and strength. (9).

Fine motor skills: Fine motor skills include the movement and use of the small muscles in the hands, wrists, fingers, and upper extremities. The skills include reaching, gripping, and manipulating objects with your hands (10).

While each child develops at their own pace, the following are some of the typical milestones that children in the age group of three to 18 years achieve (11) (12) (13).

AgeGross MotorFine motor
 

3-4 years

  • Uses alternate feet as they walk up and down the stairs — one foot per step
  • Walks forward and backward
  • Kicks, throws, and catches a ball
  • Climbs and descends in a controlled manner
  • Rides a tricycle
  • Hops and stands on one foot
  • Bends over without falling
  • Puts on and takes off clothes with assistance
  • Grasps little things and turns the pages of a book
  • Holds pencils and crayons with control
  • Copies circles and squares
  • Builds a tower of five or more blocks
  • Screws and unscrews jar lids
  • Uses fork and spoon
 

4-5 years

  • Stands on one foot for more than eight seconds and maintains balance
  • Climbs stairs and descends independently
  • Draws a triangle, a circle, a square, and other shapes by copying them
  • Performs a  series of somersaults, hops, and jumps
  • Jumps up and down and catches things
  • Hops on one foot
  • Rides a tricycle
  • Builds towers in a straight block
  • Combs their hair, brushes their teeth, and washes their hands
  • Gets dressed by themselves, except for the tying of shoelaces
  • Draws shapes and a person with a body
  • Uses the toilet without assistance
  • Uses a knife to spread soft foods

 

 

AgeGross motor and fine motor
  6-7 years
  • Coordination of large and tiny muscles improves
  • Jumps ropes, hops, and climbs confidently
  • Has improved balance and hand-eye coordination
  • Has more control and precision when drawing and writing
  • Rides a two-wheeled bicycle
  • Learns swimming and sports that involves excellent physical control
  • Sets up a preference for one side of the body
  • Improves writing skills as there is controlled pencil movement
  • Takes part in artistic activities
  • Plays instruments
  • Dresses and undresses independently
  • Plays and catches ball properly
  8-9 years
  • Begins to display a gender-related development pattern: Girls grow taller and gain weight faster than boys.
  • Increased body awareness and self-perception can be seen
  • Shows a greater understanding of one’s physical abilities and how they seem to others
  • Swims and plays team games such as football, cricket, and tennis
  • Handwriting becomes more fluid
  • Jumps, runs, and uses slides for fun
  9-12 years
  • Develops larger and stronger bones
  • Makes significant progress in sports such as soccer, baseball, and cricket
  • Improves bodily strength and dexterity
  • Shows interest in skating, bicycling, and gymnastics
  • Has well-built small muscles
  • Shows the first signs of puberty
  • Uses adult tools, such as saws and hammers
  • Makes basic clothing and builds basic things out of wood
  • Writes and paints well
12-18 years
  • Body fat in girls increases.
  • Muscle mass of boys grows.
  • Both boys and girls have physically grown by the age of eighteen and have usually attained their full height after puberty.

Ways To Boost Physical Development In Children

Children are adventurous and curious. Here are some ways in which you can assist your child’s physical development.

  1. Get your children some toys that can help with their physical development and make them physically active.
  1.  Let them express themselves via art. Allow your child to spend time doing crafts, drawing, painting, etc.
  1. Jumping rope, riding bikes, rollerblading, jogging, and running are all excellent activities to improve motor skills, and thus, should be encouraged.
  1. Provide them with building blocks and other materials to develop their fine motor skills and problem-solving skills.
  1.  Enroll them in sports to improve their motor skills and balance.
  1.  Encourage your child to assist you with easy and enjoyable household tasks. You could also help them with putting their toys away and making their beds.
  1.  Physical development in children should be accompanied by good nutrition and a well-balanced diet since this enables proper muscle and bone growth.

Parents adore their children above everything else in life; thus, they should be aware of their physical growth. Understanding your child’s physical development and needs early on will help them thrive and grow up to be strong and healthy individuals.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Katie Ballantyne; Generation of a Motor Development Tracker for Evaluation of Physical Literacy in 3- to 5-year-old Children; The American Academy of Pediatrics (2021).
2. Nutrition – school-age to adolescence; The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
3. Aline Jelenkovic et al.; Genetic and environmental influences on height from infancy to early adulthood: An individual-based pooled analysis of 45 twin cohorts; Scientific Reports (2016).
4. N Sabturani; The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Status and Fine Motor Skills Among Six-Year-Old Preschool Children; Universiti Teknologi MARA (2013).
5. How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need? How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?; CDC
6. Mitchell, Jonathan; Physical Inactivity in Childhood from Preschool to Adolescence; HHS Author Manuscripts (2019).
7. Ferguson, Kim T et al.; The physical environment and child development: an international review HHS Author Manuscripts (2013).
8. Stephensen, Charles; Burden of Infection on Growth Failure; The Journal of Nutrition (1999).
9. Gross Motor Skills: Birth to 5 Years; Children Hospital of Richmond at VCU
10. Fine Motor Skills: Birth to 2 Years; Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU
11. Positive Parenting Tips; CDC
12. Normal growth and development; MedlinePlus
13. Physical Development in Children and Adolescents; Child Development Institute

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