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Developmental Psychopathology

Developmental Or Stage-salient Tasks

Developmental psychopathologists commonly view development as a series of biological, psychological, and social challenges that become especially important or salient during a certain period of the life span and remain important throughout the individual's lifetime (Cicchetti 1993). Thus, each developmental period (e.g., infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, school-age, early adolescence) is accompanied by important developmental tasks. For example, during infancy, babies are faced with the challenges of managing biological functions (e.g., eating and sleeping routines, distress and arousal) and forming emotionally meaningful relationships, especially with parents. The transition to toddlerhood is characterized by a new set of challenges, including effectively exploring the social and physical worlds, achieving a sense of mastery and autonomy in the face of new problems and tasks, and acquiring a sense of right and wrong.

Although the quality of family relationships plays an important role in the children's achievement of developmental tasks, the relationship between the family and children's developmental tasks is best viewed as reciprocal or bidirectional. In reflecting the influence of parents on children, infants are more likely to form strong, trusting relationships with caregivers when their caregivers are sensitive and responsive to their signals (e.g., accurately diagnosing the source of infant distress and taking action to help manage the distress; carefully timing and pacing interactions with infants). Conversely, in reflecting children's effects on parents, challenges that arise in each developmental period during childhood create new challenges for parenting. Thus, as children reach the toddler years, their emerging sense of autonomy, individuality, and motivation to explore the world generate a new set of challenges for parents centered on developing effective, consistent methods of supervising and disciplining their toddlers and implementing clear, realistic expectations for the child (Cummings, Davies, and Campbell 2000).

Stage-salient tasks in the earlier developmental periods serve as building blocks or tools for successfully overcoming future developmental challenges. For example, developing trusting emotional relationships with sensitive, responsive primary caregivers is accompanied by relatively favorable thoughts and expectancies about the self and larger social world. The resulting self-confidence and social interest may, in turn, increase children's chances of successfully exploring the world and developing a sense of mastery and autonomy. The opposite also applies: Failing to resolve developmental tasks in healthy ways (e.g., insecure, untrusting relations with parents) reduces children's chances of successfully dealing with developmental tasks later in life. Consequently, the study of adaptation and maladaptation is defined by children's history of success in managing and coping with developmental tasks.


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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Health IssuesDevelopmental Psychopathology - Risk And Resilience, The Complexity Of Risk Processes, Resilience And The Role Of Protective Factors