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The Stages of Child Development From Zero to 16 Years

By Jennifer Byrne ; Updated June 13, 2017

As a parent, you may feel as though your child is growing up in a flash: one moment you were changing his diapers, the next, he's off to college. However, kids go through distinct phases of physical and cognitive development, each of which have their own specific functions and characteristics. Understanding your child's current phase of development may provide you with valuable insight into her behavior and emotional needs.


The period between zero and one year of age is categorized as infancy, a time in which your child is learning a great deal, the Centers for Disease Control report. At this age, your child's "job description" includes developing such skills as memory, thinking and reasoning and the beginnings of language. Your baby is also learning to focus her eyes and and recognize the sound of your voice, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention note. This is also a crucial stage for emotional bonding; your child will benefit from cuddling, holding and playtime with you.


Between the ages of one and three years old, your child is categorized as a toddler, which is an accurate term for his new-found mobility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children at this age become increasingly aware of surroundings, and are compelled to explore and navigate independently. According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, this is also a time in which a child's muscles grow significantly. Your child may advance from holding on to you or a piece of furniture to walk, and walking free of assistance. In the later phases of toddlerhood, your child may start to exhibit defiant behavior, known as the "terrible twos."

Preschool Age

Preschool age children generally range from age three to age five, report the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During this time, your child will begin to reach out to the world outside your home, and may begin to make friends his own age. The preschool years are a time for cultivating independence and preparing to meet the academic and social challenges that await in school.

School Age

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention divide "middle childhood" or the grade school years into two subcategories: ages six to eight, and ages nine to eleven. During the six- to eight year-old period, children begin to focus more on friendships, developing confidence at school, and extracurricular activities such as sports. There is significant cognitive and physical development during this time. Between nine and 11, also called the "tween" years, children may begin to experience peer pressure. During this time, you can encourage responsibility in keeping with their increased independence. You should also make every effort to bolster your child's self-esteem, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention advise.

The Teen Years

Between the ages of 12 and 16, your child has begun to enter the phase of adolescence. This period is marked by dramatic physical changes, such as the onset of menstruation and secondary sexual characteristics. In addition, children at this age are grappling with the question "who am I?" reports the University of Florida IFAS extension. During this time, parents should be supportive, patient and encouraging. You can also model morals and character, according to the University of Florida IFAS extension. While it might not seem as though your teen is watching, she still looks to you for emotional and moral guidance.

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