What Is a Child?


A child is a young person, usually between birth and puberty. The word comes from the Old English cild, meaning infant or youngling. Children can be male or female, and the term includes all persons under the age of 18 (or the legal adulthood limit in countries with older laws) except for infants and fetuses. Childish behavior and immaturity can also mark someone as a child. A child may be a member of a family, tribe or clan.

A person who is strongly affected by a place, time or circumstance can be said to be a child of that environment. The phrase can also be applied to a young animal, such as a puppy or kitten.

Stories help children develop empathy and cultivate imaginative, divergent thinking—thinking that generates a range of possible ideas or solutions around story events rather than accepting a single or literal response. They may also help children learn to identify and understand patterns, and they can be used as tools for teaching a variety of skills.

When a child is learning something new, it can be helpful for adults to guide them through the steps until they are confident enough to do the task independently. For example, a parent can help their child with a new physical skill such as getting dressed or using the potty by first putting their hands over the child’s and then gently helping them to move their arms and legs in the correct way. Then, as the child becomes more proficient, the parent can gradually reduce their assistance and allow the child to do the task alone.

Children are often eager to learn, and they can quickly pick up on language, social skills and basic math. However, they also have a tendency to become easily frustrated and discouraged. This is why it is important to keep their interests in mind and be patient with them as they learn.

It’s also important for parents to set consistent boundaries with their children, and to be firm about them. Children are more likely to respect the limits that they see their parents and other adults following, and to feel secure when those rules are respected by all adults who look after them. For example, it’s a good idea for all childminders or nursery staff to follow the same rules about bedtime routines, screen time and discipline.

It’s also important for children to have access to quality education, and to be taught to respect themselves and other people. Many countries have laws that guarantee children the right to protection, care and good treatment. UNICEF works to ensure that these rights are upheld, and to help children recover from war and the effects of violence. UNICEF’s work is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. The Convention has been key in changing the way that children are viewed and treated, from being passive objects of charity to active citizens with a set of rights.