Psychological development refers to reaching psychological, emotional, social, and cognitive milestones as part of an individual's personal growth. Although adults have their own psychological challenges as they move through life stages, psychological development in childhood is a series of particularly intense and rapidly encountered milestones. These processes are also closely related to physical growth and the appearance of physical skills that are necessary for children to reach higher developmental levels. For instance, an infant learning to manipulate toys and other objects helps that baby develop a sense of self as opposed to other. In addition to physical growth, additional factors that influence a child's psychological development include prenatal care and nutrition, childhood nutrition, maternal bonding, and parenting skill and style.
Prenatal care and its subsequent influence on prenatal development can have an enormous influence on the psychological development of a child. Adequate maternal nutrition — as provided by food and supplemental maternal vitamins — supplies the necessary building blocks for a fetus' growth and progress. In addition to a minimal amount of nutrition, there are also foods and substances the a mother should avoid or limit as the fetus' growth continues. Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs and alcohol should be avoided completely and other foods that may allow toxins to accumulate in the body — including tuna and other types of fish — should be limited. Medical monitoring of the pregnancy can also help prevent complications, such as gestational diabetes, from harming the health of the mother and the child.
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Positive psychological development in childhood continues to be strongly related to optimal nutrition after the child is born. An infant's brain and nervous system grows exponentially in the first few years of life and adequate nutrition is necessary to sustain this rapid development. Breastfeeding during infancy is said to promote an infant's immune system, provide excellent nutrition, and promote maternal-child bonding and an infant's sense of security. An infant's first relationship should be based in trust and security as this is thought to promote subsequent positive interactions with people and establish the very beginning of social skills. Continued positive relationships with parents and caretakers help promote continued socialization.
Parenting skill and style is another factor that influences a child's psychological development. Consistent parenting in what the child perceives as a safe environment encourages trust and exploration. Inconsistent supervision or a family atmosphere of constant turmoil and upheaval can lead to anxiety disorders and behaviors related to mistrust and avoidance. Parental limits consistently applied to a child's behavior help to encourage experimentation with novelty within known limits.