Even though development is a continuous process, some theorists believe that various stages can be identified for the sake of locating major shifts and determining the developmental tasks. This helps in monitoring the pace of developmental changes.
There is no sharp dividing line between them. Each stage has certain characteristic features and prepares the ground for the next stage. Some theorists have suggested stages in specific areas of development. For instance Piaget who identified stages of cognitive development and Freud who suggested stages of psycho-sexual development.
Life Span Perspective
Most psychologists identify the following stages of development:
Prenatal period (from conception to birth): In this period, the single-celled organism changes into a human baby within the womb.
Infancy and toddlerhood (birth-2 years): Rapid changes in the body and brain help several sensory, motor, social and cognitive capacities to emerge.
Early childhood (2-6 years): Motor skills are refined, language develops, ties are formed with peers, and the child learns through play.
Middle childhood (6-11 years): These are the school years when the child acquires literacy skills, thought processes are refined, friendships emerge and self-concept is formed.
Adolescence (11-20 years): This period is marked by puberty which signals the onset of rapid physical and hormonal changes, emergence of abstract thinking, sexual maturity, stronger peer ties, sense of self and autonomy from parental control.
Early adulthood (20-40 years): This is the stage of life when the youngster leaves home for the sake of education, or to find a career, and to form intimate relationships leading to marriage and having children.
Middle adulthood (40-60 years): At this stage the person is at the peak of his or her career. There is a need to help children begin independent lives, and to look after own parents who are ageing.
Late adulthood (60 years till death): This period is marked by retirement from work, decrease in stamina and physical health, bonding with grand-children, and dealing with impending old age and death of self and spouse.
Though the stages of development are universally recognized, the exact age range is arbitrary and depends on cultural factors. In some cultures, for example, there is no distinct phase of adolescence with the stress associated with it. One simply moves from childhood to adulthood.
The concept of old age is undergoing a change with enhanced medical, health and cosmetic facilities.
Each developmental stage is characterized by a dominant feature or a leading characteristic which determines its uniqueness. For example, a child is expected to go to school and study while an adult is expected to work and raise a family. Certain characteristics stand out more prominently than others and each period is called a stage.
People learn certain behavior patterns and skills more easily and successfully at certain stages and this becomes a social expectation. For example, a child is
supposed to be able to go independently to school in middle childhood. Such social expectations of a particular age common to all persons constitute “developmental tasks”.
If a person is able to master the developmental task of a particular stage, he or she is considered to have successfully moved on to the next stage of development.