Principles of Growth and Development

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  • 0:06 Principles of Growth &…
  • 1:42 Cephalocaudal Principle
  • 2:30 Proximodistal Principle
  • 3:03 Orthogenetic Principle
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Is there a pattern to how human growth and development takes place? This lesson will examine some universal principles of growth and development in order to help you find the answer to this question.

Principles of Growth and Development

You are getting ready to do your laundry. What do you do first? Then what? What's the last thing that occurs? You probably answered these questions the same way that most others would: First, you sort your laundry into loads of lights and darks, next are the steps to wash and dry, and last, you put the laundry away. Most people would answer these questions in the same way because there is a sequential process that has to take place to get your clothes clean and put away.

Biological development takes place in a similar, organized manner. Biological development occurs in a sequential order. Typical biological development also takes place as a predictable and orderly process. Most children will develop at the same rate and at about the same time as other children. These patterns of growth and development allow us to predict how and when most children will develop certain characteristics.

There are also certain universal principles of growth and development that describe how the process of growth takes place. These are the cephalocaudal principle, the proximodistal principle, and the orthogenetic principle.

While these universal principles exist and we can predict that certain growth and development will take place during certain periods, it is also important to recognize that individual differences in rates of development are normal. This is why most stages of development are described as occurring within an age range rather than at a specific time.

Cephalocaudal Principle

The cephalocaudal principle states that development proceeds from top to bottom. According to this principle, a child will gain physical control of their head first. After this, physical control will move downward to the arms and lastly to the legs.

Imagine that you are holding a newborn. You have to carefully support the baby's head because the baby is not strong enough to support its head by itself. By the time the child is two months old, it develops enough strength to hold its head up on its own and to control its facial movements. Over the next few months, the baby gains control over the use of its arms. The baby can lift itself, and it can reach for objects. Finally, the child learns to control leg movements and to crawl, stand, and walk.

Proximodistal Principle

The proximodistal principle also describes the direction of development. This principle states that development proceeds from the center of the body outward.

Think of a fertilized egg. This one tiny cell divides and expands outward to become an embryo. The spinal cord forms first, and development progresses outward to become a fetus. The limbs of the body form before the hands and the feet, and the hands and the feet develop before the fingers and the toes.

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Additional Activities

Infant Growth and Development

Activity 1:

For this activity, imagine that you are a counselor. You have a client who is worried about her child, because she read a development chart for "normal" development, and her child seems to be lagging behind in some areas, such as proximodistal development, but fine in others, such as orthogenetic development. Knowing what you know about normative developmental charts as well as infant development, what would you tell your client? For example, would you recommend that she has her child assessed? Would you tell her not to worry? What follow-up questions might you ask?

Activity 2:

Think about the principles you learned in the lesson. You read about the cephalocaudal principle, the proximodistal principle, and the orthogenetic principle. When you think of a developing infant, which of these principles is most easily observed, and why? For example, if you think that the orthogenetic principle is the most obvious to observe, you can list behaviors that are indicative of the development of simple to complex movements and abilities.

Activity 3:

Develop a clinical intervention with pregnant teenage mothers that will focus on teaching them about normal physical development in infants and young children. Given your knowledge from the lesson, what information would be most important to share with them (e.g., that development occurs from top to bottom? That development proceeds from the simple to the complex?)? What do you think would be most relevant to them? If you only had a short period of time with these teenage mothers and wanted to emphasize the most important information that they need to know regarding their babies, on what would you focus?

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