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Developmental Tasks

Often parents have a fear that their children are not on track developmentally compared to other children. To address this issue, an educator R. J. Havighurst (1972, Developmental Tasks and Education), defined benchmarks for human development called developmental tasks. These tasks are society's expectations at any given age beginning with infancy and continuing through to adulthood and serve as useful tools for parents, teachers and health care providers.

The Developmental Tasks through adulthood include:

Infancy and Early Childhood: up to 6 years

  1. Learning to walk-between 9 and 15 months
  2. Learning to take solid foods.
  3. Learning to talk-between 12 and 18 months
  4. Learning to control the elimination of body wastes-between 2 and 4 years
  5. Learning sex differences and sexual modesty
  6. Forming concepts and learning language to describe social and physical reality
  7. Getting ready to read
  8. Learning to distinguish right and wrong and beginning to develop a conscience--occurs during the later years of early childhood

Middle Childhood: 6-12 years

  1. Learning physical skills necessary for ordinary games
  2. Building wholesome attitudes toward oneself as a growing organism
  3. Learning to get along with age mates--to develop a social personality
  4. Learning an appropriate masculine or feminine social role
  5. Developing fundamental skills in reading, writing, and calculating
  6. Developing concepts necessary for everyday living--occupational, civic and social matters
  7. Developing conscience, morality, and a scale of values
  8. Achieving personal independence
  9. Developing attitudes toward social groups and institutions

Adolescence: 12-18 years

  1. Achieving new and more mature relations with age mates of both sexes
  2. Achieving a masculine or feminine social role
  3. Accepting one's physique and using the body effectively
  4. Achieving emotional independence from parents and other adults
  5. Preparing for marriage and family life
  6. Preparing for an economic career
  7. Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behavior-developing an ideology
  8. Desiring and achieving socially responsible behavior

Early Adulthood: 20 years +

  1. Selecting a mate
  2. Learning to live with a marriage partner
  3. Starting a family
  4. Rearing children
  5. Managing a home
  6. Getting started in an occupation
  7. Taking on a civic responsibility
  8. Finding a congenial social group

The developmental tasks fall into three major categories. They are:

  1. physical maturation
  2. societal pressures (including social interactions and social skills)
  3. individual values and self-aspirations: including moral development/knowing right from wrong and motivation and achievement

Particularly when children enter pre-school and kindergarten, their level of development becomes more obvious. Professionals can usually spot the highly competent, well developed and perhaps gifted children as well as the children who are struggling. Young children develop at their own rate, some walking first, some talking first, and some being more aware of their surroundings. No cut and dry rule exists as to what children should do first as long as they eventually progress in all the areas at an age appropriate time. It is a mistake to compare siblings in terms of development because children's process of development will most likely differ.

Parents should not hesitate to act if it comes to their attention from others that there might be a problem. Keep in mind that early intervention is the key to getting children on track with their peers. Seek feedback and ask for recommendations from the primary care physician, the teacher(s), and/or a child psychologist. Professionals have the tools to do multi-faceted assessments to determine a child's actual age versus "test" age in any given area and regarding any one of the developmental tasks.

Janet E. Dix, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist

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