Child development involves both reactive and self-regulatory mechanisms that children develop in conjunction with social norms. A half-century of research has uncovered aspects of the physical basis of attentional networks that produce regulation, and has given us some knowledge of how the social environment may alter them. In this paper, we discuss six forms of developmental plasticity related to aspects of attention. We then focus on effortful or executive aspects of attention, reviewing research on temperamental individual differences and important pathways to normal and pathological development. Pathologies of development may arise when regulatory and reactive systems fail to reach the balance that allows for both self-expression and socially acceptable behavior. It remains a challenge for our society during the next millennium to obtain the information necessary to design systems that allow a successful balance to be realized by the largest possible number of children.