Children Research Paper

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Although seemingly intuitive, the meaning of the term children depends on the context. From a strict biological perspective, the term children refers to the offspring of a female and male who have mated. However, the term need not refer only to biological offspring, as it also applies to socially defined categories of children including stepchildren, adopted children, and foster children. By law, one is considered a minor until the age of eighteen. However, the law distinguishes children from minors in general. According to the law, a child under the age of fourteen is a “child of tender age.” The term juvenile is used to categorize individuals between fourteen and seventeen years of age, thus distinguishing juveniles from children.

The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) sets forth the universal human rights of children: “the right to survival; the right to develop to the fullest; the right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.” The four core principles of the convention are: “non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and the right to participation.”

Although these meanings are valid, the meaning of the term children extends beyond the concrete terms imposed by legal and biological reality. From a developmental standpoint, the term can be used to describe individuals from infancy through preadolescence (before puberty), thus including the following periods of human development: infancy, early childhood, and middle childhood. Children undergo significant biological, cognitive, and social changes during each of these stages.

Growth during infancy is characterized by rapid changes in height and weight. Children are born with reflexes such as those that enable them to suck and turn their heads. They are also sensitive and responsive to the facial features and vocalizations of others, particularly their primary caregivers. By twelve to eighteen months of age, children are able to share attention between a person and an object, known as “joint attention,” and they use words and gestures such as pointing to communicate. Children also transition through the stages of locomotion, from crawling to independent upright walking and their early fine motor skills develop. Social interactions initially emerge in dyadic turn-taking bouts between caregiver and child and features of temperament (personality) also emerge. By age two, children are able to recognize their reflections (self) in a mirror, combine words to communicate, search for hidden objects, and manipulate objects during play. Early experiences in infancy set the stage for children’s later growth and development. Developmental outcomes during this period are strongly influenced by both nature (genetic influences) and nurture (environmental influences) and risk susceptibility.

Ages two to five mark the early childhood/preschool age period of children’s development. By age three, although children’s body weight is only 20 percent of its adult size, children’s brain size is 80 percent of its adult size. By age five, children’s lexicon contains approximately 5,000 to 10,000 words and the syntactic complexity of their language increases significantly. Further developments in children’s self-concept and increased narrative skills facilitate children’s ability to form and share information about past events (autobiographical memory). Problem-solving skills involving planning and the use of strategies also emerge. Between ages three and five, children’s ability to distinguish their thoughts and beliefs from others, known as “theory of mind,” develops. Young children’s egocentrism affects their view of the world, themselves, and others and is reflected in their inability to effectively coordinate their actions with their peers in play contexts. Play during the early childhood years is “parallel” in nature, defined as two or more children engaged in related activities in close physical proximity to each other. Although parents actively structure and facilitate the social lives and experiences of their children during this period, peers also serve as influential forces.

The hallmark of the middle childhood period is the transition to formal schooling. Although many children attend daycare and/or preschool during the early childhood period, the first day of school marks a cultural passage around the world. Children’s physical growth is slow, yet consistent during this period. Between ages five and seven, children’s thought shifts from egocentric to concrete operational thought—children are now capable of abstract thinking and understanding and interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others. Executive functioning capacities, including their conscious ability to control and inhibit their actions, as well as problem-solving, reasoning, working memory, and attention further develop. The peer group becomes increasingly important, as children spend more than 40 percent of their day with peers. Children are labeled by their peers; categories such as “popular” and “rejected” emerge, as well as the consequences of such social status labels. The development of the self-concept in relation to self-esteem and self-competence as well as moral understanding and beliefs also play integral roles during this period. From a developmental perspective, childhood ends with the onset of puberty.

In addition to legal, biological, social, and developmental definitions of children, one must also consider the impact of the sociohistorical and sociocultural context in which children develop. Children learn by actively participating in cultural activities that promote their growth. Opportunities to learn are embedded in activities at play, school, and work contexts. However, the opportunities afforded to children vary as a function of their cultural upbringing, including the social and economic status of their community and the belief systems regarding their participation in cultural activities.

Children are the product of complex interactions between their genes and the environments in which their development is nested, including, but not limited to, family, school, and community contexts, and the broader cultural belief systems espoused by their nation. Children’s experiences and outcomes set the stage for their future development and adjustment in the next stages of human development: adolescence and adulthood.


  1. Berk, L. E. 2006. Child Development. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  2. Cole, M., S. R. Cole, and C. Lightfoot. 2005. The Development of Children. 5th ed. New York: Worth Publishers.
  3. 1989. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  4. Vasta, R., S. A. Miller, and S. Ellis. 2003. Child Psychology. 4th ed. New York: Wiley.

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