What Factors Affect Motor Development in Early Childhood?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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Several different factors affect motor development in early childhood. The most common is the growth of the child: as his or her body changes, his or her physical abilities typically increase. Encouragement from a parent or caregiver also plays a role in motor development in early childhood. In many cases, genetics may determine how slowly or quickly a child learns to use his or her body, and some research indicates that a child’s gender may also be a factor.

When a child is born, he or she is physically not capable of doing much. His or her neck muscles are not strong enough to lift the head, and the eyes are not developed enough to pinpoint an object so that the hands can grasp it, among other physical limitations. As a child grows, however, the body develops and, in healthy children, becomes capable of performing these tasks. In general, once a child is physically capable of doing something, he or she will either accidentally or purposefully try it, from standing up, running across the backyard, or building a tower from blocks. Health issues, whether damage caused by an illness or physical defects, may delay a child from becoming capable of developing his or her motor skills.


In otherwise healthy and physically capable children, involvement, instruction, and encouragement from a parent or caregiver are the primary factors that affect motor development in early childhood. As with most things, young children learn much of what they know simply by watching adults perform daily tasks. Encouragement from these adults in attempting these skills is often all a child needs to advance. Playing with toys and other items with adults, and receiving instruction on how to manipulate the toys or items, also plays a role in how a child’s motor skills develop. A child who receives little instruction or limited interaction will typically take longer to develop, as he or she generally has to figure things out by accident.

Genetics are also believed to play a role in motor development in early childhood. A child’s genetic makeup can determine how quickly he or she develops physically, and this will determine if he or she is physically capable of completing tasks. His or her natural ability levels and how his or her body is built will also play a significant role in whether a child reaches motor milestones slowly, quickly, or on average.

In some cases, a child’s gender may affect motor skill development, although this will vary drastically by the child, including his or her health, environment, and genetics. On average, boys tend to develop gross motor skills more quickly, while girls tend to develop fine motor skills faster. Due to the physical differences between boys and girls, it is common for boys to be able to advance more quickly in areas that require strength, while girls tend to develop the ability to combine two different skills at once before boys of the same age are able to do so.


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