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Factors that influence growth and development

June 30, 2023
Young female counselor working with teenage boy in office.

Children go through many rites of passage that mark their physical development. Toddlers transition from infant car seats to booster seats, elementary kids finally become tall enough to ride the most intense roller coasters, and teenagers outgrow shoes at an astonishing pace. However, measuring a child’s emotional and mental progress can be more challenging. As a result, it’s helpful for parents and healthcare providers to understand the influences that may cause developmental delays.

What are the factors that influence growth and development? Biology, the environment, relationships, and many other forces shape children. These seen and unseen influences affect identity, personality, physical health, and overall well-being. Explore some of the most significant developmental factors and learn how counselors can help children and teenagers meet milestones.

Defining growth and development

Growth and development may seem like synonyms in most contexts, but they have very different meanings when discussing childhood.

Healthcare professionals use the term ‘growth’ to refer to physical changes that take place inside humans’ bodies from conception to adulthood. Typically, healthy children get taller and gain weight as they age. Other measures of growth include:1

  • Head circumference
  • Limb proportions
  • Skeletal maturity
  • Replacement of primary, or baby, teeth with permanent teeth

By contrast, ‘development’ refers to the advancement of humans’ cognitive and psychomotor abilities.1 Counselors and pediatricians use developmental milestones to monitor children’s progress in these areas. Examples of standard milestones include:2

  • Rolling over by six months
  • Crawling by nine months
  • Obeying basic instructions at twelve months
  • Walking independently by eighteen months
  • Kicking a ball by age two
  • Turning the pages in a book independently by age three
  • Cutting paper with scissors by age four
  • Counting to 10 by age five

Children who don’t meet typical growth and development markers may have conditions that require timely intervention from a specialist.2

What are the two main factors that influence growth and development?

Humans are complex organisms, making it challenging to determine which factors impact development the most. For instance, a child may refuse to learn to swim due to a traumatic experience, parental fears, self-consciousness of their body, or a combination of these influences.3

These two significant factors affect all children to varying extents as they age:

1. Genes

Children inherit genes from their parents, and these microscopic DNA strands can have a considerable impact on physical growth. For instance, genes determine approximately 80% of a person’s adult height, and environmental factors like nutrition affect the other 20%.4 Also, a 2020 study reveals that genes influence head circumference and childhood intelligence.5

Genes also shape children’s physical and mental health. Some infants are born with genetic disorders caused by mutations in their DNA strands. Conditions like Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder, and spina bifida, a congenital spinal disability, significantly disrupt children’s growth and development.6

2. Parenting

Parents or guardians also play a crucial role in children’s growth and development. Parenting styles affect children’s behavior, cognitive processes, and personalities. For example, positive parenting practices like creating mealtime routines and feeding healthy snacks help children self-regulate their diet and weight.7

Similarly, authoritative parents with clear behavioral rules tend to raise confident and independent children. By contrast, kids raised by uninvolved parents may struggle to regulate their emotions and develop healthy social relationships.8

Other significant factors for growth and development

Many other factors influence growth and development from conception to adulthood, such as:

Socioeconomic influences

Family income and level of education contribute to children’s physical and cognitive growth. On average, kids born in families with high socioeconomic statuses grow taller than their lower-status peers.1 They’re also more likely to engage in physical activity and organized sports, boosting their health and social relationships.9

In addition, socioeconomic factors impact mental well-being. A 2020 meta-analysis of population-based studies detected a link between low socioeconomic status and child psychopathology. Children raised in poverty are more likely to experience challenges like housing instability and traumatic experiences. As a result, they develop mental disorders at higher rates than youth from wealthier families.10

Environmental factors

Children grow up surrounded by external influences that impact growth and development in complex ways. Environmental factors include climate, cognitive stimulation, diet, friends, housing conditions, infections, pollution, and stress.11 Many of these forces, like pollution and weather, can negatively affect developing children. For example, a 2022 study reported that air pollutants affect child neurodevelopment, leading to poor academic performance.12

Peer relationships also shape cognitive development. Children who experience bullying perform worse on cognitive tests, have more behavioral issues, and get lower grades than non-bullied children.13

The role of counselors in children’s growth and development

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that around 17% of American children have developmental disabilities or delays. Kids who experience these issues fail to meet one or more developmental milestones on schedule.14

Early intervention by counselors and other professionals can get children back on track. For example, counselors can provide behavioral treatment to help kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) regulate impulsive behaviors and stay on task at school. Counselors can also collaborate with schools to develop reward systems for children with ADHD.15

Further, counselors can support healthy mental and social development. Interpersonal psychotherapy teaches children and teens strategies to handle relationship conflict, while cognitive behavioral therapy enables children to alter negative thought patterns. Counselors may also provide family counseling to help parents better support their children’s development and learn strategies to handle mental conditions.16

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Counselors play a pivotal role in supporting healthy growth and development for children and adolescents as well as adults. An online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University will help you develop comprehensive expertise. The innovative curriculum prepares you to diagnose, treat, and prevent psychopathology in patients from diverse populations. You’ll also sharpen your skills as you participate in clinical training experiences and learn how to advocate for patients. For an exceptional education based in Jesuit values and traditions, speak with a Marquette University Admissions Advisor today to learn more.