Differences Between Early Childhood & Youth Development

By Martha Holden
Rapid physical changes characterize both the early childhood and youth development stages.
Rapid physical changes characterize both the early childhood and youth development stages.

Although both early childhood and youth development refer to key stages in human life, the two are different because they relate to divergent age groups, and individuals in these stages exhibit distinct characteristics. It is important for parents to know the behaviors that signify normal development in each of these stages and identify those that indicate a problem to find help. The differences in these stages can be categorized as social, emotional, physical and psychological.


Rapid physical changes characterize both the early childhood and youth development stages, but the difference is that those in the latter are highly aware of the changes and often feel a sense of embarrassment -- especially when they develop faster than their peers. Early childhood is the period right after infancy from two to six years. During this period, children grow and become aware of their surroundings -- they learn to walk, talk and use their senses to understand the world. However, they are not self-conscious in the way that youth between the ages of 13 and 18 are. Youths need guidance as their bodies develop so that they can understand and appreciate the changes, and parents need to be careful not to damage their teenager’s self-esteem and personal body image.


Learning how to socialize with their peers is a common characteristic of both young children and teenagers, but the former benefit from direct instructions from their parents while the latter are better off finding their place individually with subtle parental guidance. Youth development is a time of self-discovery, and adolescents usually prefer to spend more time interacting with their peers than their parents. A parent ought to respect her adolescent’s space and advise him when necessary. On the other hand, children in the early childhood stage need to be taught how to interact, communicate, share and play well with others so that they do not develop obsessive, narcissistic or other antisocial tendencies in the future.


Young children need to constantly interact with their parents to share and receive love as they grow so they can develop a positive sense of self. On the other hand, youths focus more on achieving an identity and sense of belonging within their peer groups. Children up to the age of eight years need constant affection, as the emotional bond with their parents is their most important relationship. As they grow, children become more independent and develop many other relationships that are also important to their emotional well-being. Although teenagers are more inclined toward their relationships with peers, they still need affirmation and support from their parents. The difference between the two stages is one of degrees.


Psychological growth is common to both children in the early childhood and youth stages but the difference between them is that the changes in the latter stage are usually long-term. Children develop cognitive skills such as learning how to synthesize new ideas, how to do different things such as ride a bicycle and how to establish the difference from right and wrong depending on the nature of instruction they receive. Although they learn many new things, their interests and capabilities are likely to change as they grow. However, youth development is a time of identity formation, and the psychological changes adolescents make are likely to be permanent. For example, a teenager usually learns how to treat members of the opposite sex from observing his role models, and he is likely to carry the behavior into adulthood.

About the Author

Martha Holden began writing professionally in 2002. She has contributed articles on food, weddings, travel, human resources/management and parenting to numerous publications. Holden holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Houston.