Hesperian Health Guides

Young children need help to grow and develop

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.

HealthWiki > Helping Children Live with HIV > Chapter 3: How young children develop > Young children need help to grow and develop

It is easy to see how a child grows in size and develops physical skills. Babies are born with some skills, like sucking and crying. With enough to eat, babies grow and learn to do more things. But because they are babies, they need the help of others to learn. Before walking, first babies just wiggle, then they can roll over, crawl, sit, and stand. Finally, they can walk and run.

a baby lying on a blanket
a baby sittiing up
6 months 1 year old
a child squatting
a child running and speaking
Wait! Papa says I can go!
3 years 5 years

Children develop in both body and mind

As children grow and develop physically, they also develop in other areas: mentally (thinking), emotionally (feelings, such as fear, desire, or happiness), and socially (communicating and relating to others). As soon as a child is born, all these areas start developing together. New skills in each area lead to more skills and abilities. This works best when people help and encourage the child.

Children learn many skills step by step, in a certain order. Before a child can learn to walk, for example, he must first learn these other physical skills:

a baby reaching for a ball
a baby sittiing up
1. First he holds his head up. Seeing what is around him makes him move his arms and legs. 2.Then he uses his arms and legs to push himself up to sit, so he can see and do more.
a baby sitting up and reaching for a pitcher
a baby pulling up on a chair
3. While sitting, he reaches, leans, and twists. This develops his balance, a skill he needs to stand and walk. 4.Then he pulls himself up to stand, and soon walks, by holding onto things for support.

Because a child’s body and mind develop together, one simple action may involve all areas of development. For example, when a child reaches his arms up to you, wanting to be lifted and held, he is using:

a baby speaking
  • communication skills — he tells you what he wants, using both a word and his body, and he watches how you respond.
  • mental skills — he knows you, and he might remember he can see more, or feels safer, when you pick him up and hold him.
  • physical skills — he stands, looks up at you, and holds up his arms.
  • social skills — he trusts you, knows you often hold him, and he likes being held by you.

When a child does not learn a skill, this means he will have problems not only with that skill, but also with other skills that depend on it. For example, if he cannot hold up his head, he will not easily learn skills like sitting or crawling, for which holding up the head is important. Over time, his development will fall behind that of other children his age.

Stimulation helps learning

HIV Ch3 Page 23-2.png

Much of a child’s development depends on her being able to use all of her senses, mind, and body to explore and learn about the things around her. Her activity and experience, including attention from her caregivers, stimulates her learning. Usually, all the stimulation a child needs to advance through stages of development — such as learning to sit, then crawl, then stand, and then walk — comes from day-to-day life among the people and things in the child’s family and community.

Loving care also helps a child’s learning. A close connection with a caregiver helps a child feel secure, and this gives her more confidence to explore.

Each child develops at her own pace, but many children about the same age usually have similar abilities and needs. Some children may have disabilities or be slower in their development. These children often need extra help to develop as fully as possible.

This page was updated:27 Nov 2019