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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.