Many people have largely ignored child development that often occurs from birth to when the child reaches adulthood. Many people in history viewed children as small adults and thus paid little attention to the many changes in children including cognitive abilities, learning and physical growth. People started being interested in the field of child development in the early 20th century after theorists began giving their views. It is important to understand child development in order to determine the cognitive, physical, social, emotional and educational growth that children go through from birth to mature adults. Child development theories provide an important framework for thinking about human development, growth and learning. Child development theories refer to a set of systematized principles designed to explain the development of children from birth to adulthood (Kail, 2009). Over time, psychologists have invented a variety of theories to explain the discoveries and observations about the development of children. This paper describes some of the child developmental theories that psychologists and scientists have developed to explain the development of children.
Erik Erikson pioneered the psychosocial development theory, which is among the best personality theories in psychology. Sigmund Freud influenced Erikson in the development of this theory by describing that personality of a child develops in stages. However, unlike Freud’s psychosocial theories, Erikson’s theory describes the effect of social experiences throughout the lifespan of a child. In his theory, Erikson examined three aspects of identity i.e. the personal identity, the ego identity and the social cultural identity. This theory considers the effects of society, parents and other external factors on the personality development of a child from birth through adulthood.
One of the main aspects of this theory is the ego identity, which refers to the conscious sense of self that a child develops through interaction with the society (Newman & Newman, 2009). This ego identity changes constantly through the daily interactions that children and adults have with other people. In addition to the ego identity, the personal identity distinguishes one child from the other while the social identity refers to the social roles that someone might take part. According to the psychosocial development theory of Erikson, each child must go through a set of eight interrelated steps from birth to adulthood. Each stage of the development involves someone becoming competent in that particular are of life. If a person handles the stage he or she is in well, that person is likely to feel a sense of dominance i.e. ego strength but if the person handles the stage poorly, he or she emerges with a feeling of inadequacy.
Erikson believed that in each stage of the development, a person was going to experience conflict that would determine if a person develops a psychological quality or not. The first stage in development, which is the most fundamental, occurs between birth and around one year. During this stage, the child’s development is based on the caregivers and thus if the caregivers give proper care, the child develops trust, security and confidence. However, if the child does not receive proper care, he or she is likely to develop mistrust to the world, insecurity and fear. The second stage aims at developing greater sense of control for the child and it occurs between age one and three years. At this stage, the child has a chance of developing self-esteem and autonomy if well cared for. However, if not well nurtured, the child will develop a sense of shame (Newman & Newman, 2009). In the third stage, a child often struggles to imitate an adult and this occurs within the age of three and five years. During this stage, children develop an initiative to perform tasks that adults do but for those that do not manage, they develop guilt.
Children in the school going age of six to twelve years characterize the fourth stage of psychosocial development. At this stage, children want to be competent by developing an industrious sense through accomplishing many new skills and knowledge. In this stage, children interact most with their peers and might, on the contrary, experience feelings of inferiority that can lead to low self-esteem and incompetence. The fifth stage primarily depends on what the child does. It is the adolescent stage where the adolescent struggles to discover his or her identity. The adolescents struggle with social interactions and try to fit in them. Unfortunately, those unsuccessful in this stage end up confused without developing a sense of morality.
The sixth stage is for the young adults that tend to seek intimacy and love for themselves. Some young adults in this stage start families and begin to settle in their lives. “Those unsuccessful in seeking affection and fulfilling relationships end up in isolation” (Newman & Newman, 2009, p.45). The middle-aged adult is the seventh stage characterized by careers, work and family. People attempt great responsibilities during this stage and want to generate something that can make a difference to society. Stagnation and meaninglessness are major fears in this stage. The final stage of Erikson’s psychosocial theory is the late adult. This is the reflection stage where a person can look back in life and feel content with a fulfilled life or look back with a feeling of despair hence experience fear for death.
Psychosexual development theory
Sigmund Freud developed the psychosexual child developmental theory. He argued that a child’s personality is known by the age of five. The experiences that a child has during early development have a great impact on personality and they affect the later behavior of a child.
Although it is one of the common theories, the psychosexual development theory is very controversial. Freud argued that personality emerges through a set of childhood stages when energies for seeking pleasure focus on particular erogenous areas. Freud described the psychosexual energy as the driving force implied by the behavior. Further, Freud asserted that if a child completes successfully the psychosexual stages, the he or she is likely to develop a healthy personality. On the contrary, if a person does not resolve certain issues, he or she is likely to experience fixation where the person remains stuck in a former psychosexual stage until the conflict is resolved.
The first stage in this developmental theory is the oral stage where the child develops an oral receptive or oral aggressive personality. In the oral receptive, the child minimizes tension through oral activity such as drinking, eating or biting nails (Shaffer & Kipp, 2010). The oral aggressive is where a person becomes hostile and uses mouth aggression. The second stage is the anal stage where a person can develop an anal retentive or anal repulsive personality. Excessive punishment for the child during toilet training can cause anal fixation. The phallic stage is the third in the psychosexual development. The source of pleasure in this stage is the genitals where boys develop the Oedipus complex whereas girls the Electra conflict. The children learn to identify with parents of same gender. Latency is the fourth stage of the psychosexual development of a child between six years and puberty. The erogenous zone involves dormant sexual feelings and if fixation occurs, it leads to sexual dissatisfaction. Finally, the genital stage begins from puberty to death. During this stage, sexual feelings mature but if fixation occurs, it may lead to impotence and unfulfilling relationships.
Cognitive child developmental theory
Jean Piaget spent his lifetime observing and documenting the intellectual abilities of children and adolescents and developed the cognitive child developmental theory. Piaget concluded that child development involves a set of four stages during which new abilities are gained in each new stage. Each of the stages in cognitive child development prepares the child for the following levels. The sensorimotor is the first stage in cognitive development that occurs between birth and the age of two. During this stage, the child develops an understanding of himself or herself through relating with the environment. The child learns through assimilation and accommodation in this stage and has the ability to distinguish between it and objects.
The next stage is the preoperational stages, which occurs in children aged two to four. The child begins to apply his new skills of language, uses symbols to identify objects and may personify objects. The child at this stage still needs definite physical situations because he or she is not able to form ideas abstractly (Keenan & Evans, 2009). The third stage involves concrete operations and it occurs between the age of seven and eleven. The child begins to think concretely, form ideas and create reasonable structures that make clear the child’s physical experiences. Accommodation increases during this stage with the accumulation of physical experiences. The final stage involves formal operations and it occurs within the ages of eleven and fifteen. Cognition reaches its last form at this stage and the child no longer needs abstract objects to make rational judgments. The child thinks like an adult through hypothetical and deductive reasoning.
Behavioral child development theory
The behavioral theories of child development concentrate on how the relationships with the environment affect behavior dealing only with observable behavior. The major contributors to these theories include B.F. Skinner, Ivav Pavlov and John B. Watson. These theorists consider development as a result of reinforcement, stimuli, rewards and punishments. Unlike other theories of child development, this theory does not consider internal thoughts and feelings but it focuses on how behavior shapes persons.
Skinner’s most recognized work in this theory includes the operant behavior and conditioning, which is based on a set of negative and positive reinforcement. In the operant behavior and conditioning, not only do consequences affect behavior but the process of conditioning requires instant reactions to a known stimulus. Children learn through rewards and punishment in operant conditioning. “Operant conditioning involves making a relationship between behavior and consequences for the behavior” (Kail, 2009, p.67). Reinforcement is a key element of operant conditioning, which can be positive or negative reinforcement. The aim of reinforcement is to enhance or strengthen the following behavior. Positive rein forcers are in form of rewards presented after a good behavior. Negative rein forcers on the other hand, involve the withdrawal of unfavorable results after a behavior. In both negative and positive reinforcement, behavior increases. On the contrary, punishment refers to an adverse result that decreases behavior following the punishment. Positive punishment deals with presenting an unfavorable result to weaken the behavior that comes after. Negative punishment is aimed at removing a favorable event after occurrence of behavior.
Classical conditioning is another element of behavior development theory advanced by Ivav Pavlov. Classical conditioning refers to a process of learning, which occurs through interactions between stimulus in the environment and stimulus that occurs naturally. Classical conditioning entails a person introducing an impartial sign before a naturally occurring stimulus. Classical conditioning involves several principles such as the unconditioned stimulus. It occurs automatically and unconditionally to trigger response (Keenan & Evans, 2009). Someone responds to the unconditioned stimulus through the unconditioned response. On the other hand, conditioned stimulus is usually a former neutral stimulus that eventually precipitates a conditioned response. Therefore, these behavioral theories determine the behavior of children as they develop from childhood to adulthood.
Social child development theory
Leo Vygotsky pioneered the social development theory and explained that social interactions influence the learning process in a child. This theory tries to clarify consciousness as the outcome of socialization. Vgotsky argues that socialization precedes development and this theory involves three major themes. The first concept is the role of social relations in the process of cognitive development. Unlike Jean Piaget’s theory of child development where development comes before learning, Vygotsky argued that social interaction precedes learning. Vygotsky asserted, “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first on the social level and later on the individual level. First, between people (inter psychological) and then inside the child (intra psychological)” (Kail, 2009, p.232).
The second aspect of the social development theory is the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO), which refers to a person with a clearer understanding of a certain task than the learner. The MKO could be peers or a younger person but most of the time this person is older than the child and he or she could be the teacher, an older adult or a mentor. The child learns from this person because he or she teaches him well. The final aspect of this theory is the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) (Kail, 2009). This refers to the distance between which a child can perform a task or solve a problem independently and the ability of the child to solve tasks under the guidance of older adults or peer collaboration. According to this theory, learning occurs in this zone. Vygotsky concentrated on the relationships between people and their social cultural environment in which they interact. Children develop tools such speech to serve in the social environment and internalizing these tools leads to greater thinking skills. This social theory encourages learning through an active participation of children in the learning process unlike the traditional role of teachers transmitting information to students. The teacher collaborates with students in this theory and learning becomes a reciprocal experience.
The child developmental theories enable people to understand the stages that children go through from birth to adulthood. From the psychosocial theory to the social development theory, the stages in child development are well outlined. In my opinion, the theories hold a lot of truth and I would support them because they explain the child developmental stages. These theories enable people to appreciate the cognitive abilities of children, their physical, educational, emotional and social growth from childhood to adulthood. Further, the theories assist in understanding the learning and behavior of people in different circumstances.
Kail, R.V. (2009). Advances in child development and behavior. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.
Keenan, T. & Evans, S. (2009). An introduction to child development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Newman, B.M. & Newman, P.R. (2009). Developmental through life: A psychosocial approach. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
Shaffer, D.R. & Kipp, K. (2010). Developmental psychology: Childhood and adolescence. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.