Physical Development and Health

Physical health is an important prerequisite for infants’ growth and development in all domains. Any disruption to normal growth patterns or the development of physical and sensory-motor skills has a profound effect on children’s general well-being as well as on the development of specific competencies. Infants and toddlers depend on their caregivers to promote their healthy development and to help them learn how to make healthy choices such as selecting food. Caregivers must be observant of infants’ signals of hunger and fullness and respond to these cues in predictable ways. Attending to such signals not only supports the development of a trusting relationship but also support the infant’s emerging development of self-regulation and healthy nutrition.

Caregivers need to monitor babies’ health, physical development, and behavioral functioning for any red flags that may point to a potential health or developmental concern. Early screening for issues such as hearing and vision problems or communication concerns will ensure timely intervention that may prevent more serious conditions from developing. Observations about a child’s health should be continually communicated to the other adults who provide care.

Research indicates that infants’ physical development is propelled forward by a combination of maturation of the body—both brain and physical capacities—and support from the environment, including the kinds of objects the child can interact with. Make sure that the environment supports infants’ and toddlers’ growing physical abilities and provides opportunities to develop gross motor and fine motor skills. For example, providing a stimulating environment that encourages infants to move and explore affects the rate of motor skill development. Other environmental factors that can affect motor skill development include the way an infant is held; how much time she spends in infant seats, swings, and walkers; the amount of time an infant spends on her stomach during play; and the toys she plays with. Higher levels of physical activity in late infancy and toddlerhood have also been associated with healthier weight and lower rates of chronic diseases in adulthood. Engaging infants in fun activities that involve movement will not only help them develop these skills but will also help them develop healthy habits, laying the foundation for a healthier lifestyle.