Stages of human development

5 Stages of Human Development

Social, physical, emotional, cognitive and cultural changes take place throughout the lifespan of an individual. There is a general sequence of development which is fixed, however the rate of development can sometimes differ depending on many factors. There are key needs which must be met and consequences if they are not.

Stage of Life Cycle: Infancy 0-5 Years

Attachment Theory-Bowlby

At this stage the infant is highly dependant. From the moment a child is born they begin to develop physically. The baby's senses begin to develop; he is able to focus on objects, learns to hold the weight of his head up and attempts to pull himself up holding onto the edge of a chair or table. He then learns to crawl and with lots of encouragement finally learns to walk. Through interaction with parents, family, friends and other children they learn to socialise, play and communicate. With much needed stimulation and play, babies and young children learn. They begin to recognise and memorise faces, characters, objects and songs. With communication, consistency and encouragement they learn speech and are taught routines and behaviour, such as bed-time and toilet training. To develop emotionally, a baby needs love, affection and consistent care.

Bowlby's attachment theory, as later complimented by Rutter, suggests that from birth a child requires a consistent attachment and bonding with at least one main caregiver. With a sense of safety, belonging and being cared for unconditionally the child learns trust and views the world as a safe place to be. For this reason it is important to avoid broken attachments. If the child's parents are uncaring, unreliable, are inconsistent with their care or if circumstances cause the attachment to be broken completely, the child may be unable to develop to their full potential. Without an adequate, loving attachment the infant may not be able to develop a loving relationship in future and without a trusting relationship with the main caregiver, they will develop mistrust. They may become apprehensive, withdrawn and suspicious around people.

Stage of Life Cycle: Childhood 5-12 years

8 stages of Identity; Initiative v Guilt-Erikson

As the child reaches school age they have increasing physical independence. They now begin to learn new skills such as running, skipping, ball games and cycling. They have progressed socially and have the ability to choose their own friends, find their own interests and make their own decisions about which activities they take part in. They begin to develop an understanding of others needs and wants and learn to share and take turns. They can begin to develop emotional attachments to individuals other than family members which can develop if stimulated. Cognitively the child begins school education and begins to develop an understanding of authority and following rules.

At this stage of a child's development they should be able to learn initiative without taking on too much guilt. Initiative means they should be allowed a certain amount of responsibility and the freedom to learn new skills; they can only achieve this by the parents allowing and encouraging their child to try out ideas and to allow them to use their imagination. The child must not be treated to feel too much guilt over their behaviour or feel ridiculed; this can lead them to become over sensitive and they can feel guilty about their feelings. On the other hand too much initiative and too little guilt can create a ruthless individual; they may not contemplate or care about the consequences of their actions.

Erikson also states a child must develop a capacity for industry without excessive inferiority. The child must learn to understand the difference between imagination and reality with the guidance of parents and teachers. The child should learn the feeling of success and be praised and encouraged, without this they may develop an inferiority complex; they may become scared of failure and not able to attempt and learn new skills.

Stage of Life Cycle: Adolescence 13-20 years

8 Stages of Identity; Identity v Role Confusion/Self Concept-Carl Rogers

During adolescence the individual goes through a rapid growth spurt. Puberty begins and many developmental changes take place; boys begin to develop more defined muscle tone, start to grow hair over their body and their voice breaks and becomes deeper; girls become more curvaceous and they begin their menstrual period-both sexes become extremely hormonal which can lead to mood swings affecting their social and emotional life. They may be concerned that they are not developing as quickly as their peers causing emotional stress. Teens begin to develop and explore their personality and self image. Dependant on their culture they may develop physical relationships and experiment with drugs and alcohol. They experience and develop new social skills as they attend higher education and may leave the family home to attend college or university. The brain continues to develop until late adolescence. Cognitively this can be a very turbulent time with the pressure of exams and choosing their career.

As adolescents go through new life experiences and learn to deal with their emotions, they begin to take responsibility for themselves, reflect on their experience of life so far and create their own identity. Teens often rebel against the authority which has governed them up until this point; they break the rules and resist against their parent's wishes. Their behaviour and attitudes change, they experiment with style and clothing and even begin to speak differently as they struggle to find their true self. They have a need to discover their own identity and to been seen in a positive way by others. Erikson's theory states that the individual must discover his own identity and without the freedom to do so may struggle to fit in and socialise. If this development is not made, for example if adults in the adolescent's life do not allow them the freedom to express themselves, they may find it difficult to take on responsibilities and develop a sense of right from wrong. Should the parents push them to conform to their views; the individual will experience role confusion.

Stage of Life Cycle: Adulthood 21-65 years

Hierarchy of needs-Maslow

As the individual reaches young adulthood, they reach their peak physical fitness, have an increase in stamina and should have developed a balance of good health and lifestyle. They may have their own children and have begun to settle down. They have generally decided and have settled down into their chosen field of profession and work to develop and improve their education and skills. They now take on many more responsibilities such as a mortgage, providing a stable and secure base for their family or they may experience stress within the workplace. Emotionally they may have experience of death and bereavement. They have more intimate relationships and may decide to marry; their role within the family changes and they begin to build social networks.

According to Maslow, to achieve fulfilment an individual has key needs which must be met in order to reach their full potential, this is know as a 'hierarchy of needs'. The bottom of the pyramid shows physiological needs such as shelter, food, warmth, stimulation and rest. The next level states safety needs which are required; protection from disease and illness. Maslow states that in order to move up the pyramid, each stage of requirements must be met. For example, without food and shelter an individual cannot be safe against disease and in turn cannot move up to the next step of the pyramid which is love and belongingness, followed by self-esteem. In adult life in our culture it is expected that an individual will be provided with their physiological needs and can live in safety. If they do not receive the love and affection they need; trust and acceptance and a feeling of belongingness they may not have self-esteem. Without respect and love from others they cannot respect and love themselves.

Stage of Life Cycle: Older Adulthood 65+ years

Hierarchy of needs-Maslow

As the adult enters into the last stage of their life, they may begin to physically grow frail and can often suffer with mental illness. Older adults' eyesight and hearing often begins to fail as they age. Socially the older generation tend to follow other interests and after retirement have time to lead a full social life. However, the older generation can become more isolated due to family issues or health reasons such as hearing or sight difficulties. Emotionally they can become withdrawn feeling themselves as a burden to their society, family and friends. They may begin to contemplate their lives and have negative feelings such as regret or guilt; however they may feel fulfilled, proud of their accomplishments and their family. An older adult has wisdom and experience although they may find it difficult to grasp and understand new technology and develop new skills. These disabilities are often due to ill health or memory loss.

According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, at that top of the pyramid the individual has a need for esteem; self-esteem and the esteem they receive from others. They require a level of respect for themselves and from others; with the needs met they feel self confident and valuable. Without esteem they can feel inferior and worthless. If all the needs of the pyramid have been met, the older adult reaches self-actualisation; a feeling that they have lived a life of purpose. Without the other needs of the pyramid being met they may struggle to reach this level.


  • Miller. J (2000) Care in Practice for Higher Still, Hodder & Stoughton
  • Erikson. E.H. (1965) Childhood and Society, Hogarth Press, London, pp.222-43

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