Domains in Human Development

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In relation to human development, the word "domain" refers to specific aspects of growth and change. Major domains of development include social-emotional, physical, language and cognitive.

Kids often experience a significant and obvious change in one domain at a time, so it may seem that a particular domain is the only one experiencing developmental change during a particular period of life. In fact, however, change typically is also occurring in the other domains but it's occurring gradually and less prominently.


The physical domain covers the development of physical changes, growing in size and strength, and the development of both gross motor skills and fine motor skills. This domain includes the development of the senses and using them.

Physical development can be influenced by nutrition and illness. So, eating a healthy diet and regular wellness check-up are key for proper development.


This domain includes intellectual development and creativity. Children develop the ability to process thoughts, pay attention, develop memories, understand their surroundings, make and implement plans and accomplish them.

Creativity is also expressed. Jean Piaget outlined four stages of cognitive development: sensorimotor stage from birth to age two, the preoperational stage from ages two to seven, the concrete operational stage from age seven to 12, and formal operational stage from age 12 to adulthood.


This domain includes the growth of a child in understanding and controlling their emotions. They also identify what others are feeling. The child develops attachments to others and learns how to interact with them. They develop the ability to cooperate, show empathy, and use moral reasoning. Children and adolescents develop many relationships, from parents and siblings to peers, teachers, coaches, and others in the community.

Children develop self-knowledge during this stage and they learn how they identify with different groups. Their innate temperament also comes into play.


Language development depends on other developmental domains. The ability to communicate with others grows from infancy. Aspects of language include phonology (creating the sounds of speech), syntax (grammar -- how sentences are put together), semantics (what words mean), and pragmatics (communicating in social situations both verbally and non-verbally). Children develop these abilities at different rates.

Domain Development in the Tween Years

For instance, tweens typically 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 typically notice major increases in social skills during this time.

On the other hand, language development is less central during the tween years; the major, obvious increases in language development occurred earlier in life. Still, language development continues to occur during the tween years. For example, tweens are acquiring new vocabulary and enhancing their speed and comprehension when reading.

All in all, 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. Thus, development is a multi-faceted process comprised of growth, regression, and change in many different domains.

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Article Sources
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  1. Child Development and Early Learning. In: Allen LR, Kelly BB, eds. Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015.

  2. Houde O. Cognitive Development During Infancy and Early Childhood across Cultures. In Wright JD, ed. International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2nd edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2015:43-50.

  3. Gavin ML. Communication and Your Newborn. KidsHealth. 2019.

  4. Noeder M. Connecting with your preteen. KidsHealth. 2018.

Additional Reading
  • Berger, Kathleen. The Developing Person Through the Lifespan. 2008. 7th Edition. New York: Worth.
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