Child development refers to the process of mental, physical and psychological changes that occur in a child as he or she ages. It is a subject of considerable study and consistent advancement by medical and psychological professionals. Child development is not an exact science — some children may grow at different rates than others — but can serve as a guideline for normal developmental steps. The study of child development is usually limited to subjects between infancy and late adolescence.
The physical processes that occur to take a child from birth to adulthood are quite tremendous. At birth, children are almost entirely helpless, while by adulthood a child may grow to more than five times its original height and more than 20 times his or her birth weight. Some childhood development studies are geared toward understanding the rate, order, and level of variation in the physical changes that occur during infancy, childhood, and adolescence. While this area includes the study of weight and height changes, it also involves sexual development and musculature changes. The study of physical development also seeks to understand ailments and injuries that can affect development, their causes and any potential cures.
Mental and psychological development are another major source of research and study in the field. Mental development may refer to changes in intellect and memory ability, as well as the development of motor skills such as speech and hand-eye coordination. Psychological development focuses on the types of emotional and social growth that occur during this critical period of life.
The study of child development is associated with many other areas of medical and mental health research. Developmental issues can arise from a variety of sources, including genetic disposition, injury, childhood illness, birth trauma, physical or mental trauma during childhood, and chemical imbalances in the brain. With these widespread emphases, child development researchers may have varied medical and mental health backgrounds that enable them to specialize in the treatment or research of a particular set of issues.
Parents often study childhood development materials in order to get a sense of their child's position on a developmental scale. While it is important to remember that few children match the average scale of physical, mental, or psychological growth exactly, understanding the basic age ranges for development can help identify a possible developmental disability. There are many textbooks and guides available at bookstores and through online merchants that can help a parent prepare for the long road associated with raising a child to adulthood.