Childhood Development

The Many Layers of the Childhood Experience…


Children are more than just little adults.Their bodies are constantly changing, their minds are quickly growing, and their spirits are forever exploring & evolving. In the field of environmental pediatrics we strive to view the whole child in the context of their family, community, and the larger world. 

Getting to know basic childhood development theories & practices is essential for knowing what is normal or pathological in children.

Holistic childhood development requires looking at a child from multiple perspectives. Check out a few of our favorite paradigms below for understanding & appreciating the complexities of growing children.

Holistic Childhood Development

Classical Developmental Pediatrics


In the most traditional sense of the word, childhood development can be viewed as a series of relevant milestones achieved throughout the process of maturation from newborn, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Although a largely reductionist view of development, the allopathic model does indeed provide a sense of crucial mile markers that, if not met appropriately, may indicate pathology.


Here’s a few of those indicators to give you a sense of what signs indicating “normal” physical development:


  • 2 months: able to lift head up, and more refined movements with arms & legs
  • 4 months: pushes legs down when on a surface
  • 6 months: can roll over in both directions
  • 9 months: can stand with support
  • 12 months: may take several steps without holding on

We can use the developmental milestones to let us know when the normal functioning is somehow interrupted or inadequately developing.

Five Element Development


Every child is unique, and according to the Five Element model of East Asian Medicine each child is influenced by one of five elements. These elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood and each element has a series of correspondences that describe characteristics about that child’s behavior, temperament, & physiology.nori-water-element-ep-1


A Wood child, for example, has lots of energy, tends to push boundaries, and may be prone to attention disorders. Meanwhile, a Water child is often more introspective, socially aloof, and might experience growing pains & bed wetting.


For parents & practitioners, knowing a child’s five element type can help you make sense of a child’s unique & inherent qualities.


According to Dr. May Loo, MD in her book Pediatric Acupuncture, the five element system also explains childhood development in detail. Each developmental stage can be ascribed an element type according to the system below:


  • Infancy to early childhood (birth to 2-3 years): Metal transition to Water phasezoe-fire-element-ep
  • Early childhood (2-3 years to 6-7 years): Water transition to Wood phase
  • Early childhood to pre-teen (6-7 years to 12 years): Wood phase, transition to Fire phase
  • Teenage & early adulthood: Fire phase, transition to Earth phase
  • Adulthood: Earth phase, transition to Metal phase in middle age, Water phase (old age)



The Waldorf Temperaments


Rudolf Steiner say’s that a child’s temperament “is connected to a remarkable degree, with the whole life and soul of a persons’s previous incarnation”. In the Waldorf Education model, temperament is a means to evaluate, educate, and relate to the whole being of a child. 


Waldorf teachers know through experience that not every child can be approached in the same way, and each child may respond differently to external stimuli.


According the Steiner, there are 4 primary “types” of children. waldorf-temperaments-pic

  • Phlegmatic Children : value safety, order, and comfort
  • Sanguine Children: want to know everything and everybody
  • Choleric Children: fiery, hard working, and passionate
  • Melancholic Children: thinkers, planners, and compassionate

Like sowing seeds within a garden each child’s potential can be cultivated in light of their unique, complete, and spirited personality.



Positive Discipline Model


As explained by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D. in her book Positive Discipline: The Classic Guide to Helping Children Develop Self-Discipline, Responsibility, Cooperation, and Problem-Solving Skills, the Positive Discipline (PD) Model of childhood psychology strives to help parents, teachers, and healthcare providers understand:

  • the reasons why children “misbehave”
  • more about human behavior
  • why PD methods help children develop important life skills and attitudes to become happy & constructive adults

The work of PD is built around the concepts of prominent 20th century psychologist Alfred Adler. He developed several core theories that describe the landscape of childhood behavior & development. Alderian psychology believes that:


  1. Children are social beings

2. Behavior is goal oriented

3. A child’s primary goal is to belong and feel important

4. A misbehaving child is a discouraged child

5. People enjoy being socially responsible

6. All people deserve respect and dignity

7. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow


The Positive Discipline way of doing things has completely transformed families, and can give voice to the needs, wants, and desires of children.

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