Child Development Theories
Course Number and Name
Child Development Theories
The Psychology of the development of children has attracted the attention of several scholars and this raises significant debates in academic discourse. The early strategies of humanity play a critical role in the formation of character and behaviors in human beings. The learning theory examines how other individuals in the formative stages of child development influence its attitudes and behavior while psychosexual development connects child development to personality development and conflict resolution among other competencies. The cognitive development theory, on the other hand, explains the knowledge acquisition process of a child from an early age. Scholars who subscribe to the socio-cultural approach examine the impact of the interaction of children with significant others as they grow up. The various theories enable the analysis of the various factors that determine the psychological and behavioral states of human development. Modern psychologists must positively critique these theories based on their observation of child development.
Thesis Statement. Child development theories contribute significantly to human development but none can independently account for all the dynamics of growth at the early stages of life.
Developmental psychology has roots in science where early thinkers developed the initial theoretical concepts based on their observation of scenarios in their times. Charles Darwin, for instance, though renowned for the evolution theory, took a keen interest in the development of his son over three years and developed early developmental concepts in children (Richards & Ruse (2021). Similarly, Wilhelm documented the behavior of his son during the initial three years but from a scientific prism.
Stanley, Hall, who is regarded as the father of modern child psychology was the first to analyze the behavior of children collectively using such diverse variables as age and ethnicity among others (Hembacher & Frank (2020). The concepts developed by Hall were captured in his writings published in the journal of developmental psychology which he founded. Other critical personalities in the early development of developmental thought include Alfred Binet who explored reasons for diversity in intelligence and James Baldwin who elucidated the stages of social interaction. Sigmund Freud’s ideas have also found a critical place in developmental psychology based on his analysis of innate drives as determinants of early experiences in human development (Hembacher & Frank (2020). The various theories of child development are critical to socialization and understanding the various challenges individuals experience throughout their lives.
Cognitive Development Theory
Jean Piaget personifies the cognitive learning theory where he proposed that children pass through several stages of development from birth through adolescence. Piaget’s views outline the critical competencies that children learn at different age groups thus determining their cognitive abilities. According to Piaget, children’s experiences through the various childhood stages determine their ability to think logically and scientifically (Cherry, 2018). Piaget observes that the various stages happen in a logical sequence and that every stage is determined by the previous one. In this regard, Piaget postulates that children pass through the stages of sensorimotor intelligence, pre-operational thinking, concrete operational thinking, and pre-operational thinking (Cherry, 2018). The analysis of these stages enables an investigation into how children learn concepts about the world around them.
The cognitive learning theory, as postulated by Piaget begins its analysis in children from birth to two years. At this stage, children undergo the sensorimotor stage where they comprehend the world around them through the senses of touch, sight, and hearing. The pre-occupation stage comes after the sensorimotor stage and is experienced by children between 2-7 years (Sanghvi, 2020). Usually, children engage in imaginative games as they create scenarios through play. Immediately after this stage comes the concrete operational stage between 7-10 years where children gain the ability to undertake academic tasks. The final stage in Piaget’s postulation is the formal operational stage coming from 11 years and beyond (Sanghvi, 2020). At this stage, the child not only gains the ability to think about tangible things but can also hypothesize abstract ideas.
Piaget’s theory has been very instrumental in developing policy on child development but has been challenged by different scholars. The approach has enlightened teachers, parents, and caregivers on how to effectively communicate with children at various stages. For instance, parents can understand adolescents when they engage in abstractions that seem meaningless to an adult. Instead of condemning such children, they can encourage them to build a sense of self-respect. Hakimzadeh, Xue & Setoodeh (2021) observe that the pre-occupation with stages by Piaget is controversial especially his assertion that they are successive. Child therapists have noted that some of the stages are not very visible in the growth and development of children as postulated by Piaget. Critics have observed that some children do not achieve the formal operation stage. Furthermore, Piaget failed to demonstrate the social impact of the stages on the development of children (Hakimzadeh, Xue & Setoodeh, 2021). The challenge of observation of phenomenon always arises whereby most of the processes take place internally. Based on these limitations, the stages theory of child development has lost some aspects of its acceptability in psychological thought.
Sigmund Freud made significant contributions to psychological discourse and examined critical aspects of development in childhood. Freud explored the power of the unconscious by stating that internal processes including thoughts and feelings have a significant impact on human behavior (Lantz & Ray, 2021). Freud identified three elements of human personality i.e., id, ego, and superego. While the id represents the selfish impulses of an individual. The ego acts as a mediator while the superego depicts the sense of morality and responsibility. Freud’s elements of personality have some distant relation with Piaget’s concept of the stages if the strength of each element grows with the stage in the development of a child. Freud opines that at the early stages of development, children mainly demand the gratification of their instincts and care little about the concerns of others (Lantz & Ray, 2021). Nevertheless, as they grow, children begin to exercise some discipline and can allow delayed gratification when the ego plays an intermediary role between the id and the superego (Kesavelu Sheela & Abraham, 2021). The Superego on the other hand represents obedience to authority structures that is most commonly observed in mature stages. In this regard, Freud’s approach to child development remotely resembles Piaget’s theory.
Sigmund Freud further advanced his thoughts on child development by classifying the ego and superego into five psychosexual stages. The oral stage is the earliest and is observed among infants aged between 0-1 year. The major task at the oral stage is weaning (Sukonongpao, 2020). The anal stage according to Freud, takes place between1-3 years and is represented by the erotic focus on the anus and the key task is toilet training. The child then progresses to the phallic stage between 3-6 months where the genitals are the center stage of eroticism. At this stage, an individual mainly identifies with the same-sex parent through the oedipal and Electra complex. Freud identifies age 6-12 as the latency stage which has no distinct erotic focus but where an individual internalizes aspects of social life (Sukonongpao, 2020). Finally, Freud identified the genital stage occurring among children above 12 years. At this stage, children are more aware of family and their sexual feelings become more pronounced.
Analysts of human behavior have faulted Freud’s perspective on human behavior as pessimistic. The three aspects of id, ego, and superego depict man as lacking the freedom to overcome the chains that enslave him through life. The ideas go against the biblical teachings of his time that showman as being in charge of the environment around him. According to van Urk (2020), the Bible presents man as superior to animals and other beings in creation. However, Freud’s conceptualization of human behavior reveals that man is no different from animals as he is controlled by selfish instincts.
Parents and caregivers may experience difficulties applying Freudian concepts in the care of the child based on their highly academic nature. Parents generally seek to understand the motivations of child behavior for effective parenting. However, Freud considers personality as a product of the internal processes taking place in the sub-consciousness of the child (Razak & Hisham, 2013). The analysis of these internal processes is the domain of trained specialists in child behavior, therefore, rendering this knowledge impractical for everyday child handlers. Therefore, Freud undertakes a technical analysis of personality emanating from invisible forces that are difficult to apply in parenting. Critics of the psychodynamic theory have also claimed that it is unscientific and subjective. For instance, Nagel (2020) has questioned how they can test the unconscious mind and the three aspects of the personality as postulated by Freud. Proponents of the humanistic approach challenge the Freudian view that all thoughts and behaviors experienced by individuals in society are products of experiences in childhood. In this regard, Freud diminishes the power of the experiences faced by adults in defining their behavior (Nagel, 2020). Freud thus opines that adults are prisoners of their childhood and they cannot alter their behavior through free will. This perspective raises challenges in social processes like handling criminals. The approach justifies the existence of such anti-social behavior by presenting the individual as a victim rather than a perpetrator.
The proponents of the psychodynamic theory, however, hail it for extensively accounting for the influence of childhood experiences in adult life. Therapists can investigate the root causes of malformed behavior by referring to early childhood. Besides, Freud comprehensively explains the internal processes that influence behavior and enables social institutions to develop programs that suit various ages in development (Bornstein, Maracic & Natoli, 2018). Stakeholders in child development, therefore, find the psychodynamic theory helpful in developing interventions and policies that affect children. Freud’s Psychodynamic theory was well researched based on empirical analysis and forms an important component of child development discourse.
The psychosocial theory, developed by Erik Erikson is a widely accepted approach to the analysis of early childhood. Erikson borrowed much of his ideas from Freud but emphasized the contribution of the social world to the development of the child. His concepts border on the behavioral approaches that attribute human behavior to members of families’ playgroups and other significant aspects of society. According to Erikson, personality development is a continuous process that advances throughout the lifetime of an individual (Darling-Fisher, 2019). The influence of the crises experienced by an individual on his development is crucial for the development of personal identity, according to this theory. In this regard, how an individual resolves the crises determine the achievement of the positive outcomes desired for personal development (Darling-Fisher, 2019). The various stages proposed in the development of the individual represent the crises that individuals confront in their quest for identity.
Erik Erikson explores the behavior of an individual across the lifespan thus enabling a comprehensive view of life. Unlike Freud, Erikson is not limited to the experiences of childhood alone. In this regard, he begins his observation from the stage between birth and one year when a child grapples with trust versus mistrust. Erikson avers that this stage is not a mental construct but a psychological state where the baby responds to external stimuli (Erskine, 2019). The infant at this stage requires the assurance that his needs will be met by mainly the mother. Between ages 1-3 years, the child faces the conflict between autonomy and shame and doubt as he attempts to free himself from dependency on others. Between the ages of three to six years, the child developed the courage to experiment without fear but has to deal with initiative versus guilt.
Children then move to the next stage occurring between 6-12 years where they balance between industry and inferiority. Rather than a cognitive process, this stage is a physically felt sense of safety and self-esteem (Erskine, 2019). At this stage, they have developed the confidence to undertake several tasks. The stage falling between 12-20 years is characterized by identity and role confusion as children seek to establish their place in the world. Individuals at this stage seek significance and freedom to make their decisions and impact the world around them (Dimitrova et al., 2019). Between 20-40 years, individuals seek reciprocal relationships through marriage and other associations thus making them susceptible to the struggles between intimacy and isolation (Erskine, 2019). When they form satisfying relations, individuals enjoy fulfilled lives but this can leave them with feelings of alienation when the relationships do not work. Between 40-65 years, generativity versus stagnation takes center stage as individuals reminisce their life’s journey. The last stage, according to Erikson, occurs between the age of 65 years and above when individuals desire to be at peace and suffer no regrets. Nevertheless, this stage is characterized by the conflict between integrity and despair. Erikson thus walks through the lifetime of an individual and points out the critical conflicts that enable growth and development.
Erikson observed that individuals learned different competencies at every stage thus contributing to their successive development. The skills learned during childhood are critical in this study and form a sound basis for comparison with other theories. In the initial stage that takes place between birth and one year, the child is fully dependent on the mother and is the most fundamental stage. The development of the child, therefore, derives from the degree of trust cultivated by the caregivers (McLeod, 2013). Important qualities that caregivers transfer to the child in this formative stage include love, food, and warmth. Improper care for the child evokes feelings of fear towards other persons in society. The second stage in a child’s development is defined by authority and shame where he strives to acquire personal control. The child emerges from complete dependency on the caregiver and attempts to perform some actions with independence. Parents are advised to allow children to make some decisions to enable them to gain autonomy (Dimitrova et al. (2019). Potty training is a crucial competence in developing independence among children in the second stage. Parents and caregivers who castigate children for their mistakes during this stage trigger feelings of shame while those who affirm their children propagate a sense of independence.
The next two stages of child development according to Erikson lead to an increased sense of leadership and industry. The third stage takes place in the pre-school period when children exercise authority over their environment. Usually, children will initiate games among their peers and thereby cultivate their leadership competencies. The fourth stage takes place during the early schooling years between 5years to eleven years. As they interact with others in the school environment, children begin to gain pride in their accomplishments (Erskine, 2019). It is therefore crucial for parents and teachers to commend the children to enhance their self-belief. Children who receive little encouragement from teachers, parents, or peers during this stage are likely to doubt their capabilities. Children step into the critical teenage years in the fifth stage where they pursue self-identity. Dimitrova et al. (2019) define self-identity as feelings and beliefs that determine the behavior of an individual. Erikson borrows from the ideas of Freud when he opines that the teenage years are critical for the development of the ego. The ego, however, changes with exposure to new information and experiences through interaction with others. The stages of growth as postulated by Erikson begin with a sense of complete dependency on a search for identity at the teenage stage.
Erikson developed an elaborate view of human development starting with early childhood. The theory elucidates the importance of personality development through interaction with others (Maree, 2021). Besides, the theory supports the ideas proposed by Freud thus creating advancement in psychological thought. The ideas fronted by Erikson, especially during the teenage years are consistent with other studies that propose that success during this stage contributes to effective character development in adult life. Erikson also authenticates the impact of childhood stages on the successive stages by examining the competencies acquired throughout the whole lifetime of an individual (Maree, 2021). In this regard, Erikson takes responsibility for the observations made about children by connecting them to successive stages. Erikson’s ideas have however attracted criticism for the insufficient explanation of how individuals resolve conflicts. While Erikson describes the various stages of development, he does not show how an individual moves from one stage to the other. Besides, Erikson does not specify the characteristics that indicate successful movement from one stage to the other. In this regard, the stages theory is limited in explaining how the transition from one stage to the next takes place.
The learning theories have a great impact on the development of child development theory. The leading scholars associated with this theory include Isaac Bandura, Skinner, and Ian Pavlov. According to this perspective, character development is established through learning from others in their environment. Isaac Bandura explains how individuals acquire behavior through imitation while Ian Pavlov explores behavior formation through conditioning (Hendricks & Tanga, 2019). Skinner on the other hand elucidated the importance of operant conditioning by demonstrating that behavior can be changed by the stimuli that precede it. The ideas of these scholars have an impact on the behavior of children as they advance into successive stages of growth.
Ian Pavlov was a Russian scholar who gained renown through the conditioning experiment with dogs. Pavlov’s ideas have enabled the influence of stimulus in attaining repeated behavior in human beings. Accordingly, Pavlov postulates that the classical conditioning process involves the pre-conditioned state, the conditioning state, and the post-conditioning state (Eelen, 2018). In the pre-conditioning state, a naturally occurring stimulus triggers a response in a natural flow. During the conditioning stage, however, a stimulus is introduced parallel to the unconditioned stimulus. The natural stimulus is thereafter linked to the unconditioned stimulus thus causing the subject to respond to the conditioned stimulus as it would the unconditioned stimulus. In the post-stimulus stage, the conditioned stimulus alone is capable of triggering the natural response from the subject (Eelen, 2018). The success of the process results when the subject responds to the conditioned stimulus even in the absence of the natural stimulus.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers to promote positive responses can use the classical condition. For instance, parents can treat children to their favorite video once they successfully take up a demanding task like cleaning their room (Mallea et al., 2019). The theory emphasizes the importance of the environment in the development of an individual. Besides, it lays importance on parenting as deliberate actions to promote desirable behavior. Caregivers and parents can thus alter the stimuli to propagate the desired behavior in children. The ideas brought to the fore by this theory can help individuals alter their behavior to suit the outcomes they desire. Individuals who practice drug abuse, for instance, can change their behavior when they see the possible outcomes of this habit. The classical conditioning theory uses simple concepts to teach society about the importance of the environment in behavior formation.
Although Classical Conditioning is accepted as a concept of understanding behavior, it has received criticisms from scholars who fault its applicability. Ferreira de Sá et al. (2019) postulate that classical conditioning diminishes the free will of an individual insinuating that they can change if exposed to certain stimuli. This aspect diminishes human intelligence suggesting that all that is required to change behavior is conditioning. Human beings have a will and often make their decisions independently (Ferreira de Sá et al. (2019). Nevertheless, Pavlov’s ideas depict man as having little willpower against the power of conditioning. Scholars have also observed that the action produced after the introduction of the conditioned stimulus is unpredictable. The result of this scenario emanates from the reality that different triggers determine individual action and that conditioning alone cannot account for human behavior.
Isaac Bandura’s contribution to child development discourse has gained acceptability among psychologists. Basing his thoughts on the impact of environment on behavior, Bandura identified observation, imitation, and modeling as forms through which people learn. Bandura demonstrated the strength of observation in determining behavior in children through the Bobo experiment. In the study, the scholar exposed children to two forms of dolls; a violent one and an aggressive doll (Bandura & Hall, 2021). The children were then placed in a room by themselves without the dolls and an observation was made on their behavior. The study found out that the children imitated the behavior they had seen even without any motivation. The experiment revealed critical aspects of learning aggressive behavior that can apply to the exposure of children to diverse phenomena.
The Bobo experiment yielded several results that have enabled a deeper investigation of the role of observation in determining behaviors. The distinction between gender was visible and it was observed that boys are more aggressive than girls (Telzer et al., 2018). Furthermore, children who observed an adult displaying aggressive behavior were highly likely to display aggressiveness even in the absence of the model. The study also established that children were more susceptible to influence dolls of the same sex rather than those of the opposite sex (Telzer et al., 2018). The other observation is that children exposed to less aggressive models mostly depicted less aggressiveness. The place of cognition in observation also featured prominently in Bandura’s ideas. In this regard, expectations of the future and the vicarious experiences of others had a great contribution to the adoption of behavior. In addition, the expectation of future consequences determines how individuals navigate through the cognitive process (Telzer et al., 2018). Furthermore, while expectations determine the readiness to engage in behaviour, non-occurrence of the consequences also bears on future behavior.
The social learning theory is highly acceptable because of its comprehensive view of the environmental factors that determine children’s behavior. Although exposure to undesirable environments leads to negative behavior. Children can change their behaviors if exposed to better environments (Bandura & Hall, (2021). The theory gives hope to parents and caregivers who worry about the negative behavior of their children. Bandura also notes that children learn through different forms including direct observation and participation in conversations.
Critics have however pointed out systemic weaknesses in the social learning theory. The greater weight placed on the power of societal influences on the child’s behavior, for instance, diminishes the accountability of the child. Scholars who challenge Bandura’s approach opine that the child is part of society and must be held responsible for his action to stimuli (Stewart, 2021). Besides, the theory does not indicate how children at different stages respond to stimuli. Bandura presumes that all children respond similarly to societal influences which are not practical. Researchers generally agree that while the development of every child is unique, some standard milestones exist. Despite the weaknesses of the social learning theory, it is widely accepted as a critical reference point for the development of children.
Psychologists can enrich child development knowledge by picking out crucial points from the various theories. Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual and Erikson’s psychosocial approaches examine how internal processes influence behavior in children. These theories prepare caregivers for milestones in children but do not comprehensively illustrate how the various changes take place. The theorists examine behavioral traits beyond childhood and provide the required continuity. The behavioral theorists, on the other hand, show the influence of the environment on behavior. Pavlov illustrates the formation of behavior through his social conditioning concept and enables an understanding of influencers of behavior (Mallea et al., 2019). The theory, however, fails to account for individual responsibility for the actions taken following a stimulus. Piaget adds his contribution to the child development discourse by specifying the learning that takes place through each stage. Although the different theories tackle specific components of child development, the behavioral theories best capture issues that affect a child’s behavior that appeal to the general population.
The discourse on child development has attracted vibrant scholarly debate and enabled parents and caregivers to understand early childhood. Scholars must initiate further studies to address the various omissions noticed by early theorists. It is also imperative to examine the approaches keenly in light of the current developmental realities. The ongoing discussion points to the need for a balanced approach to child development as a critical stage in human development. The psychosexual and psychological theories attribute child development to unconscious aspects but fail to demonstrate the place of willpower in the decision-making process. The behavioral approaches, on the other hand, examine the role of the environment in shaping character but do not explain how individual differences determine how an individual responds to stimuli. Stakeholders in the field of child development must examine the concepts developed by the theorists and investigate their practicality in raising children for a better society. Further research is needed to ascertain indicators to show how a child moves from one stage of development to another.
Bandura, A., & Hall, P. (2021). Albert bandura and social learning theory. Learning theories for early years practice, 78.
Bornstein, R. F., Maracic, C. E., & Natoli, A. P. (2018). The psychodynamic perspective.
Cherry, K. (2018). Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development explained. Available at https://www.verywellmind.com/piagets-stages-of-cognitive-development-2795457
Darling-Fisher, C. S. (2019). Application of the modified Erikson psychosocial stage inventory: 25 years in review. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 41(3), 431-458.
Dimitrova, R., Hatano, K., Sugimura, K., & Ferrer-Wreder, L. (2019). The Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory in adolescent samples: Factorial validity and equivalence of identity as measured from the United States and Japan. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 35(5), 680.
Eelen, P. (2018). Classical conditioning: classical yet modern. Psychologica Belgica, 58(1), 196.
Erskine, R. G. (2019). Child development in integrative psychotherapy: Erik Erikson’s first three stages. International Journal of Integrative Psychotherapy, 10, 11-34.
Ferreira de Sá, D. S., Michael, T., Wilhelm, F. H., & Peyk, P. (2019). Learning to see the threat: temporal dynamics of ERPs of motivated attention in fear conditioning. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(2), 189-203.
Hakimzadeh, A., Xue, Y., & Setoodeh, P. (2021). Interpretable Reinforcement Learning Inspired by Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. arXiv preprint arXiv:2102.00572.
Hembacher, E., & Frank, M. C. (2020). The early parenting attitudes questionnaire: Measuring intuitive theories of parenting and child development. Collabra: Psychology, 6(1).
Hendricks, E. A., & Tanga, P. T. (2019). Effectiveness of child protection services rendered to children in need of care and protection: a study of Childline South Africa. Ubuntu: Journal of Conflict and Social Transformation, 8(2), 31-52.
Kesavelu, D., Sheela, K., & Abraham, P. (2021). Stages of Psychological Development of Child-An Overview. Int J Cur Res Rev| Vol, 13(13), 74.
Lantz, S. E., & Ray, S. (2021). Freud Developmental Theory. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
Mallea, J., Bustamante, J., Miguez, G., & Laborda, M. A. (2019). Classical conditioning. Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior, eds J. Vonk and TK Shackelford (New York, NY: Springer Nature).
Maree, J. G. (2021). The psychosocial development theory of Erik Erikson: critical overview. Early Child Development and Care, 191(7-8), 1107-1121.
McLeod, S. (2013). Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.
Nagel, E. (2020). Methodological issues in psychoanalytic theory. In Psychoanalysis Scientific Method and Philosophy (pp. 38-56). Routledge.
Richards, R. J., & Ruse, M. (2021). Debating Darwin. In Debating Darwin. University of Chicago Press.
Sanghvi, P. (2020). Piaget’s theory of cognitive development: a review. Indian Journal of Mental Health, 7(2), 90-96.
Stewart, M. (2021). Understanding learning:: Theories and critique. In University teaching in focus (pp. 3-28). Routledge.
Sukonongpao, C. (2020). The “Naughty but Nice” Conflict Between the Id and Super-Ego in Young Persons Consuming Packaged Snacks in Bangkok, Thailand. ABAC Journal, 40(1), 142-164.
Telzer, E. H., Van Hoorn, J., Rogers, C. R., & Do, K. T. (2018). Social influence on positive youth development: A developmental neuroscience perspective. Advances in child development and behavior, 54, 215-258.
van Urk, E. (2020). Public Theology and the Anthropocene: Exploring Human-Animal Relations. International Journal of Public Theology, 14(2), 206-223.