Meaning of terms


Growth means increase and enlargement of the body or some parts of the body e.g. body has become heavier and larger etc. Thus growth is a change in the organism which can be observed and measured in quantitative term. It generally refers to increase in size, length, height and weight. Growth is one of the components of the developmental process. Growth rates defer in body parts e.g. people differ in their physiques


Development means a progressive series of changes that occur in an orderly and predictable pattern as a result of maturation and experience. Development can be observed and to a certain extent it can be measured and evaluated. Thus development is achieved through the process of growth, maturation and learning.

Characteristics of Growth

  1. Hereditary factor is the cause.
  2. Physical factors play a dominant role.
  3. Expansion in height and weight is its obvious result.
  4. It is quantitative, additive and enhancive.
  5. Growth stops at a particular point of life.
  6. Growth need not necessarily cause development in all the cases.
  7. Rate of growth is distinct and unique.
  8. Individual difference in growth is apparent and obvious.


Characteristics of Development

  1. Development is a result of experience and maturation.
  2. It is a continuous process.
  3. It does not end at puberty.
  4. It increases the intellectual, moral and social qualities.
  5. It is predictable and the environment plays a central role.
  6. 6. Learning is a part of development.
  7. It is difficult to measure in quantitative measures.
  8. Mental development can occur even without physical growth.


Human Growth and development

This refers to the physical, mental, social and psychological changes that occurs in an individual from the time of fertilization to conception until death.


Sub-topic: Key concepts in human growth and development

Perception – is defined as the recognition and interpretation of sensory information. It also includes how people respond to that information. It’s a process where we take in sensory information from our environment and use that information in order to interact with our environment.

Motivation – is an internal process that makes a person move towards a goal. It is the reason for people’s actions, desires and needs. It is also what causes a person to want to repeat a behaviour.

Attitude –  a favourable or unfavourable evaluative reaction toward something or someone, exhibited in ones beliefs, feelings, or intended behaviour.

Maturation – refers to the progressive characteristic of biological growth and development.

Readiness – means that children must mature to a certain point before they can progress to new skills.

Sub-topic: Differences between Growth and Development

  1. Growth is quantitative and it shows an increase in size, weight and height while development is both quantitative and qualitative.
  2. Growth relates to physical and biological aspects while development relates to an increase in the functional ability of an individual.
  3. Growth is directional while development is sequential and progressive.
  4. Growth stops after the peak maturational level while development is a lifelong process.
  5. Growth can be objectively measured and exactly measured, however, development cannot be measured easily. Yet keen and continuous observation could reveal developmental levels.
  6. Motor and physical domain plays a dominant role in growth, while cognitive and affective domains play a vital role development.
  7. Growth is not affected by learning whereas learning and experience has a lot of impact on development.
  8. Growth is automatic in the sense that it does not require much effort while development requires constant, continuous and guided efforts.
  9. Growth may or may not lead to development while development includes mental, emotional, moral aspects.

Though there exists many differences between growth and development, they are interrelated, intertwined, complementary and not contradictory.

Similarities between Growth and Development

  1. Both of them happen but the individual himself cannot notice.
  2. Both are correlated and one is dependent on the other.
  3. Both are continuous from the time of conception up to time of death.
  4. Both of them have principles that apply at different stages.
  5. Both of them are sequential, that is, all follow a predetermined pattern where one activity must only come after another.
  6. Both of them are progressive whereby growth comes with age and development with effort.

Sub-topic: Principles of Human Growth and Development

Although there are individual differences in children’s personalities, activity levels, and timing of developmental milestones, such as ages and stages, the principles and characteristics of development are universal patterns.

1. Development Involves Change

The human being is never static. From the moment of conception to the time of death, the person undergoes continued and progressive changes. At every age, some of the developmental changes are just beginning, some are at the peak and others are in the process of decline.

2. Development proceeds from the head downward:

This is called the cephalocaudle principle. This principle describes the direction of growth and development. According to this principle, the child gains control of the head first, then the arms, and then the legs. Infants develop control of the head and face movements within the first two months after birth. In the next few months, they are able to lift themselves up by using their arms. By 6 to 12 months of age, infants start to gain leg control and may be able to crawl, stand, or walk. Coordination of arms always precedes coordination of legs.

3. Development proceeds from the centre of the body outward:

This is the principle of proximodistal development that also describes the direction of development. This means that the spinal cord develops before outer parts of the body. The child’s arms develop before the hands and the hands and feet develop before the fingers and toes. Finger and toe muscles (used in fine motor dexterity) are the last to develop in physical development.

4. Development depends on maturation and learning:

Maturation refers to the sequential characteristic of biological growth and development. The biological changes occur in sequential order and give children new abilities. Changes in the brain and nervous system account largely for maturation. These changes help children to improve in thinking (cognitive) and motor (physical) skills. Also, children must mature to a certain point before they can progress to new skills (Readiness). For example, a four-month-old cannot use language because the infant’s brain has not matured enough to allow the child to talk. By two years old, the brain has developed further and with help from others, the child will have the capacity to say and understand words. Also, a child can’t write or draw until he has developed the motor control to hold a pencil or crayon. Maturational patterns are innate, that is, genetically programmed.

5. Growth and development is a continuous process: Pick form here next week

As a child develops, he or she adds to the skills already acquired and the new skills become the basis for further achievement and mastery of other skills. Most children follow a similar pattern. Also, one stage of development lays the foundation for the next stage of development. For example, in motor development, there is a predictable sequence of developments that occur before walking. The infant lifts and turns the head before he or she can turn over. Infants can move their limbs (arms and legs) before grasping an object. As in maturation, in order for children to write or draw, they must have developed the manual (hand) control to hold a pencil and crayon.

6. Growth and development proceeds from the general to the specific:

In motor development, the infant will be able to grasp an object with the whole hand before using only the thumb and forefinger. The infant’s first motor movements are very generalized, undirected, and reflexive, waving arms or kicking before being able to reach or creep toward an object. Growth occurs from large muscle movements to more refined (smaller) muscle movements.

7. There are individual rates of growth and development:

Each child is different and the rates at which individual children grow is different. Although the patterns and sequences for growth and development are usually the same for all children, the rates at which individual children reach developmental stages will be different. Some children are more active while others are more passive. This does not mean that the passive child will be less intelligent as an adult. There is no validity to comparing one child’s progress with or against another child. Rates of development also are not uniform within an individual child. For example, a child’s intellectual development may progress faster than his emotional or social development.

8. Development follows a pattern:

Development occurs in an orderly manner and follows certain sequence. Thus infancy, early childhood, adolescence and maturity is the sequence of development in the human beings.

9. Development proceeds from general to specific responses:

The responses or the reactions of a child are of general nature to start with. He reacts to the situations and external stimuli with the whole of his body. Gradually, he learns to have specific responses. This is not only true for his physical responses only, but also of his intellectual and emotional responses. The responses of a child witch are general nature first, grade become more and specific. This is sign of development maturation.

10. Most traits are correlated in development:

It has been observed that the child whose intellectual development is above average, is also superior in so many other aspects, like health, sociability and special aptitude. Similarly this means development is intimately related to his physical growth.

11. Each developmental stage has certain characteristics or traits

There are some peculiar traits that are observed in children at a particular developmental stage and go away after some time. The child’s behaviour should be understood against the expected behaviour of his age.

12. There are periods of accelerated growth and decelerated growth

During babyhood and the early pre-school years growth is rapid. During the school years, the growth rate decreases. Growth is again rapid during adolescence but physical growth tapers off during the latter part of adolescence and by the time, an individual reaches adulthood.


Sub-topic: Factors that Influence human Growth and Development

Man is said to be a product of nature and nurture. Nature refers to heredity, the genetic makeup an individual carries from the time of conception to the time of death.  Nurture refers to various external or environmental factors to which an individual is exposed from conception to death. These environmental factors involve several dimensions. For example, they include both physical environments (e.g., second hand smoking and prenatal nutrition) and social environments (e.g., the media and peer pressure). The following are a list of factors which influence human growth and development:


Heredity and genes play an important role in the transmission of physical and social characteristics from parents to off-springs. Different characteristics of growth and development like intelligence, aptitudes, body structure, height, weight, colour of hair and eyes are highly influenced by heredity.


Sex is a very important factor which influences human growth and development. There is lot of difference in growth and development between girls and boys. Physical growth of girls in teens is faster than boys. Overall the body structure and growth of girls are different from boys.


Socio-economic factors have some effect on growth and development. It has been seen that the children from different socio-economic levels vary in average body size at all ages. The upper level families being always more advanced. The most important reasons behind this are better nutrition, better facilities, regular meals, sleep, and exercise. Family size also influences growth rate as in big families with limited income sometimes have children that do not get the proper nutrition and hence the growth is affected.


Growth is directly related with nutrition. The human body requires an adequate supply of calories for its normal growth and this need of requirements vary with the phase of development. As per studies, malnutrition is referred as a large-scale problem in many developing countries. They are more likely to be underweight, much shorter than average, and of low weight for age, known as stunting. If the children are malnourished, this slows their growth process.


There are a large number of endocrine glands present inside our body. These glands secrete one or more hormones directly into the bloodstream. These hormones are capable of raising or lowering the activity level of the body or some organs of the body. Hormones are considered to be a growth supporting substance. These hormones play an important role in regulating the process of growth and development.


According to studies, air pollution not only affects the respiratory organs but also have harmful effects on human growth. Indoor pollution or the pollution from housing conditions can result in ill health which can negatively impact human growth and development. For example, lead exposure from deteriorated lead-based paint in older housing can be very harmful. Lead is very harmful for children as it simply gets immersed into the growing bodies of children and obstructs the normal development of brain and other organs and systems.


Racial factors also influence height, weight, colour, features, and body constitution of a human being. The body growth and development differences show a relationship with varied cultural groups. For example a child of black race will be black, their height, their hair and eye colour, facial structure are all governed by the same race.


This affects growth and development in that some chronic diseases are dangerous.


Culture affects growth and development in that some cultures do not allow consumption of certain food stuffs e.g. in the traditional African society, pregnant women were not allowed to eat eggs.

Pre-mature birth

This is when a child is born before their term (pre-term) and this may affect the child physically or emotionally.

Sub-topic: Importance of Human Growth and Development

  1. It provides a rich background of information about childhood behaviour and psychological growth.
  2. The course helps social workers to understand the development stages of the child and characteristics which emerge at different stages so that they can correctly cater for the needs of children at various developmental stages.
  3. Helps social workers understand the factors responsible for mental ill-health and maladjustment.
  4. It helps social workers to understand the causes of individual differences.
  5. It helps social workers to understand the basic principles of growth and development.
  6. Helps in career development.


Sub-topic: Problems in Human Growth and Development

There are different problems encountered in human development. They are;

Physiological problems

These are problems which can be seen physically and they affect people in the shape of their bodies. Some common examples are;

  1. Increased number of fingers.
  2. Deformed lips.
  3. Poor dentine.
  4. Lack of the correct number of limbs.

Physiological problems are brought about by;

  1. Medicated child birth
  2. Traditional methods of delivery

Spontaneous abortions

  1. Induced abortion
  2. Caesarean section

Psychological or social factors

These are problems which affect the mental state of a new born baby. Periodically, they also affect the IQ of the child but in most cases, the mind is the one that is mostly affected. Psychological problems are the direct effect of mental retardation, anxiety and negative attitudes. Psychological problems lead individuals to have deviant behaviours. People with mental retardation need specialized care.


These are problems which are brought about by lack of adequate resources. These include lack of funds, poverty, basic need, poor nutrition, lack of proper clothing and added responsibility.

Heredity and environment

Downs syndrome – this is a genetic defect caused by the presence of a third chromosome in the 21st pair. The physical manifestation of Downs syndrome are a poorly shaped head and slanted eyes. Downs syndrome affects mental development because it affects the brain. By extension therefore, a child’s cognitive abilities are impaired leading to learning disability. Other genetic diseases include haemophilia, sickle cell……….Environmental problems are caused by such factors as.

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