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Home » Developmental Stages – The equilibrium and disequilibrium that children experience

Developmental Stages – The equilibrium and disequilibrium that children experience

1 step forward 2 steps backward

Developmental Stages
equilibrium and disequilbrium

1 step forward 2 steps backward

A Child’s growth can be referred to as the physical growth in terms of an increase in height and weight including other body changes that happens to a child from the time of birth until the child matures.

The process of change is complex sometimes the child’s growth may not be an easy ride and smooth or calm behaviour can alternate with unsettled or uneven behaviour. Experts refer to this state as going through equilibrium and disequilibrium periods. This is a period when a child is happy and a joy to be with versus a period when a child’s behaviour turns out to be a challenge.


Development stages - children's growth

All children go through these stages regardless of culture and follow the same unchanging order although not at the same rate. During these phases, the children are seen as taking two steps back before taking a huge leap forward development-wise. The child goes through predictable cycles and they take time to incorporate what they have learned and practice the new skills until they master them.

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The difference between equilibrium and disequilibrium



The child has smooth and calm behavior

A period of unsettledness and uneven behavior

Practices skills already learned until they master

Takes time to learn new skills and abilities

Slow development

Quick development

The child is at peace with self and the world

The child is uneasy with self and the world

The child is more confident

More anxious, stressed, and less confident

It is a period of stability and consolidated behavior

There is struggle and breaking of behavior

The child is easier to live with

It is a challenge to live with the child

Both the equilibrium and disequilibrium phases begin at birth and go through into teenage years. Infants usually alternate these phases of calm and disorder weekly. On the other hand, when children reach the age of 18 months, the stages of the developmental cycle become less frequent and changes after every six months. The six months interval continues until the child is 6 years and the cycle changes to one-year intervals.

Stages of Child Development

Point to Note

All children go through these developmental stages as individuals in their own unique ways and the rate at which the processes occur is also different. Nevertheless, knowing about the developmental stages helps one to understand and cope with the situations at hand especially when the children feel short-tempered and out-of-touch.


Equilibrium and disequilibrium phases are important for the child’s growth and development and parents should know that the challenging behaviors are part of their growth process. Therefore, parents should not blame their children or become hard on them when they act differently since each child has his or her own twist of events during these phases. It is important not to introduce major changes during the disequilibrium phase, for instance, teaching how to use a potty, but rather wait until the child shifts more towards the equilibrium phase.

The Cycles of Development and how they work at different Ages

1 ½ – 4 ½ years

At 1 ½ years, parents complain of children going through the “terrible 2”s but what is really happening is that the children enter a period of disequilibrium where they have broken behaviour and feel out of touch with lots of tantrums.

Age 2: As the children get to two years, the behaviour begins to become smoother and calmer but takes a turn when they get to the age of two and a half years.

Age 2 ½: At this stage, the tantrums return with rigid and demanding behaviour commonly referred to as the “terrible twos” phase.

Age 3: As noted earlier, the development stages continue to cycle at about six months intervals. From age two and a half, the children enter the equilibrium phase at age three where they become more easygoing and cooperative. They seem to have acquired a certain level of maturity than in the previous stages.

Age 3 ½: This stage is marked by a state of disequilibrium where the behaviour tends to be more difficult and quite challenging for the parents. The stage can be described as a period when the child is taking steps backward accompanied by temper tantrums all over again.

Age 4: Children enter a phase of equilibrium with stable and consolidated behaviour.

Age 4 ½: Children enter a phase of disequilibrium where they become more physically, emotionally, and verbally out-of-bounds

5-8 Years

Parents can assume that years 5 to 8 are easy compared to the previous years marked by tantrums. This stage is prior to the difficult time of adolescence, and the children are supposed to be having fun playing with friends, entertaining themselves, and are basically less difficult. Nevertheless, they are still experiencing development changes as they continue to grow.

Age 5: The children enter a phase of equilibrium are a joy to live with since they are more positive, optimistic, and cheerful.

Age 5 ½: Children enter a phase of disequilibrium.

Age 6: They are still in the phase of disequilibrium where they are tenser, negative, and more likely to disobey. It may be seen as to having gone a few steps backward.

Age 6 ½: The behaviour smooths out.

Age 7: The disequilibrium phase sets in again. Children become moody, melancholy, fearful, and critical. They may cry easily as they perceive others do not like them, therefore, they tend to be self-critical of and dissatisfied with life in general.

Note that from age seven, the cycles begin to last almost a year.

Age 8: The behaviour becomes smooth and the children are more energetic and outgoing making them a joy to be with.

9-17 Years

Age 9: Children at this age exhibit many worries and anxieties. They become more demanding as the cycle turns into disequilibrium.

Age 10: The behaviour improves and becomes more predictable and comfortable where they seem to be good doing the right things.

From age ten, parents are able to predict their children’s behaviour as they enter disequilibrium during the odd years and equilibrium during the even years. Basically, children aged 11, 13, 15, and 17 are at the odd years and at the disequilibrium phase characterised by being negative, more oppositional, less confident, shier, and less happy with themselves, parents, peers, as well as their life in general.

On the other hand, children aged 12, 14, and 16 are normally in the equilibrium phase where they are more likeable, more energetic, positive, cooperative, friendly, and more confident.

Knowing this information helps you to support your children’s growth and maturity even when parenting seems to be a challenge.


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