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What Are the Major Developmental Tasks?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A developmental task is a skill that needs to be acquired at a particular stage in life in order for development to continue. The major developmental tasks are physical, motor or cognitive skills that are considered vital to physical and mental health. Failure in their acquisition may mean that developmental milestones are not being met, and that happiness and success in later tasks may become more difficult. There are several different sets of major developmental tasks.

Developmental stages can come from three different sources. There is physical maturation, which includes learning to sit, crawl and walk; cultural expectations, which usually have an influence during middle childhood and include cooperation and socialization; and individual ideals and ambitions, which include the development of skills important in the adult world of work and responsibility. The first outline of major developmental tasks originated in the 1930s and was an extension of Freudian psychology. While they are set according to age, the completion of these tasks depends on genetic and environmental factors.

The first major developmental tasks begin in infancy and early childhood. Basic tasks like walking, eating solids and being toilet trained are among the first physical milestones. Learning to talk and bonding with people are some of the first motor, cognitive and social tasks. In middle childhood, socialization and learning how to play both alone and with others are of importance, as are developing skills such as reading and writing.

In adolescence, the focus becomes less on what is being done and more on what individuals do to influence and change their world. Personal independence and becoming more mentally mature are important major developmental tasks, as is finding intimacy in relationships. The adult stages are broken into early, middle and old age, with tasks centering on family, work and psychological adjustments to each stage, particularly the acceptance of old age.

A developmental milestone is the reaching of a point where one stage ends and the next begins. These points are not always clear, as one stage often overlaps with the next. Erik Erikson was the first to organize life into eight stages that cover the entire lifespan rather than focus on biological stages of childhood development. Other theorists before Erikson such as Piaget and Vygotsky were more concerned with the childhood phases of development only. There is a wide variation in what is considered normal, and tasks should only be seen as a guide rather than a bible of what is acceptable and what is not.

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Discussion Comments
By oasis11 — On Jul 07, 2011

@Cafe41 -You do have to give children this age a little more freedom because they are developmentally getting themselves ready to become adults. I think that there has to be some middle ground because they are not yet adults.

For example, I was watching a television program about a lady that allowed her ten year old son to ride the subway alone and get home alone.

I don’t know about you, but that would scare me to death. I don’t think that a child this age should be allowed to get on a subway alone. I think that allowing the child to make some small decisions is okay, but we always have to have our parent hat on.

I think that raising independent kids is important and the key ingredient in fostering self reliant children, but we still have to remember that they are kids. I think that giving them more freedom as they get older is important, as long as they follow the rules.

I also wonder what happens to kids when they are not allowed to be kids. It is like a form of arrested development. Take Michael Jackson, for example. He was a man but had many child like tendencies and even had a carnival atmosphere in one of his homes, and I read that many psychologists felt that this was a form of arrested development because he did not have the chance to have a developmentally normal childhood because allegedly his father was really driven and controlled him and he always had to work.

By cafe41 — On Jul 06, 2011

@Sneakers41 - That happens a lot. I remember when my kids were little; the pediatrician would always ask me questions pertaining to the developmental milestones that they should be reaching. For example, by age two, if a child has not spoken any words they might suggest taking the child to a specialist that can do some testing to see if the child might be in the autistic spectrum because developmentally children should be speaking by this age.

I think that as a parent, what really concerns me is when my children reach the stages of adolescence. It makes me cringe. My daughter is a preteen and approaching this stage and I can already see a difference in her behavior. I read that major development theories surrounding kids in this age group explain the beginning separation from the parents as a way of staking their independence. This is the time that you really have to choose your battles carefully.

By sneakers41 — On Jul 06, 2011

@greenweaver - That is so true. I know as parents we want to make sure that our children are doing the things that they are supposed to be doing. Most kids in kindergarten are really just starting to learn how to read, so they really should not worry.

I also wanted to add that my kids go to a pretty competitive school and even in preschool parents were comparing their children to other kids in the class. For example, some of the kids were potty trained, but others weren’t and many parents had anxiety over it.

I think that children sometimes regress when there is a new sibling and this may affect their potty training success. For example, when my son was born my daughter was only two and a half and I was in the process of potty training her.

As soon as my son was born, she regressed and started to act more like a baby and the doctor told me to hold off for a little while because she was not ready. This was probably because she wanted the same attention that my son was receiving.

By GreenWeaver — On Jul 05, 2011

@b707 - I know what you mean. I have to say that many parents worry about the development tasks of children, mainly if they are meeting certain milestones or not. I remember when my daughter was in kindergarten a lot of parents were worried when there were children already reading at a second grade level at the beginning of the school year.

I know that this is a source of worry for some parents, but many of the kids that were in my daughter’s kindergarten class are now approaching fifth grade and they are fantastic readers. I think that the thing to remember is that everyone develops at their own rate.

Some children may not even have an interest in reading but that has nothing to do with their intellect. It has more to do with their maturity.

By B707 — On Jul 05, 2011

I've taken child psychology classes in college, have been a teacher to children in the elementary grades and adults. I have raised two children and have read many books on children development and adult stages of life.

The first milestones in the development of skills by young children, like crawling, walking, and talking are innate - and come with encouragement and love. But there is still some differences in mastering these skills.

Then there are skills that depend on physical development and those that have to be taught. I saw this with my two children - one could do fine motors skills early, while the other one excelled in large motor activities. Teaching social skills, cooperation, and self-control takes a long time with steps backward at times.

In my opinion, so much is involved in developing and learning, the ages and stages have to be very general to be of any use.

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