Domains in Human Development

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When used in relation to human development, the word "domain" refers to specific aspects of growth and change. The major domains of development are physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional.

Children often experience a significant and obvious change in one domain at a time.

It might seem like a particular domain is the only one experiencing developmental change during a particular period of a child's life, but change typically occurs in the other domains as well—just more gradually and less prominently.


The physical domain covers the development of physical changes, which includes growing in size and strength, as well as the development of both gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

The physical domain also includes the development of the senses and using them.

Physical development can be influenced by nutrition and illness. A healthy diet and regular wellness check-ups are key for proper child development.


The cognitive domain includes intellectual development and creativity. Kids gain the ability to process thoughts, pay attention, develop memories, understand their surroundings, express creativity, as well as to make, implement, and accomplish plans.

Jean Piaget outlined four stages of cognitive development:

  • The sensorimotor stage (birth to age 2)
  • The preoperational stage (age 2 to 7)
  • The concrete operational stage (age 7 to 11)
  • The formal operational stage (age 12 and up)


The social-emotional domain includes a child's growing understanding and control of their emotions. They also begin to identify what others are feeling, develop the ability to cooperate, show empathy, and use moral reasoning.

The child also begins to develop attachments to others and learns how to interact with them. Children and adolescents develop many relationships, from parents and siblings to peers, teachers, coaches, and others in the community.

Children develop self-knowledge during the social-emotional stage. They learn how they identify with different groups and their innate temperament will also come into play in their relationships.


Language development is dependent on other developmental domains. The ability to communicate with others grows from infancy. Children develop these abilities at different rates.

Aspects of language include:

  • Phonology (creating the sounds of speech)
  • Pragmatics (communicating verbally and non-verbally in social situations)
  • Semantics (the rules of what words mean)
  • Syntax (grammar, how sentences are put together)

Domain Development in the Tween Years

Tweens demonstrate significant developments in the social-emotional domain as peers become more central to their lives and they learn how to carry out long-term friendships. Parents will typically notice major increases in social skills during this time.

Language development is less central during the tween years, as the major and obvious increases in language development occurred earlier in life.

Still, language development continues during this period. For example, tweens are acquiring new vocabulary and enhancing their speed and comprehension when reading.

A Word From Verywell

A chid's development is a multi-faceted process comprised of growth, regression, and change in different domains. Development in certain domains may seem more prominent during specific stages of life, yet kids virtually always experience some degree of change in all domains.

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Article Sources
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