1.5 Characteristics of childhood

As you can see from this study session so far, our understanding of childhood varies significantly from country to country and culture to culture. Similarly, our understanding of what children need in order to experience fulfilling childhoods and to grow up healthy varies across cultures. No universal consensus can be found as to what children need for their optimum development, what environments best provide for those needs, and what form and level of protection is appropriate for children at any specific age. These definitions are influenced by personal experience, working practices, local knowledge, law, and cultural influence.

As you consider characteristics of children, you need to recognise that every child is unique and special in its own way. There are, however, some common characteristics of the period of childhood, which should guide you in the way you look at and work with children. Three of the most important are: dependency, vulnerability, and resilience.


Dependency: having a need for the support of something or someone in order to continue existing or to thrive.

Vulnerability: being more easily physically, emotionally, or mentally hurt, influenced, or attacked.

Resilience: the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.

It is important to recognise that these three characteristics are influenced by both external and internal factors. Children do not just acquire competencies and skills according to pre-determined biological or psychological forces. Of equal significance are environmental factors and the ability of children to make an active contribution to their social environments. And, of course, childhood is not a uniform period. A 17-year-old has profoundly different needs and capacities from a 6-month-old baby.

Responsibility for children

1.6 Dependency