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Posted: January 31st, 2023

Child Development Theories

Child Development Theories
As early childhood professionals, we study theories to understand human behavior. A theory addresses three major components. First, continuity-discontinuity addresses whether humans change gradually or abruptly (Sigelman & Rider, 2018). Second, universality-context specificity discusses whether developmental changes are the same in all humans or are specific to cultural contexts. This is also described as one course or many courses of development (Burke, 2019). Third, nature-nurture considers whether development is primarily driven by biological or environmental factors Second, universality-context specificity debates whether developmental changes are universal in all humans or are culturally specific. This is also known as one or more courses of development (Burke, 2019). Third, nature-nurture considers whether biological or environmental factors are the primary drivers of development. (Sigelman & Rider, 2018).

To prepare for this discussion,
• Read Chapter 1: History, Theory, and Research Strategies
• Read Developmentally Appropriate PracticeLinks to an external site.

For this discussion, you will utilize the case study below:
Case Study
Paul and Amy were recently married. Paul is going to school to obtain his degree in early childhood. He is currently enrolled in a child development course and has been fascinated with all of the different developmental theories and conversations he has been having with his classmates about developmentally appropriate practice. When he returns home from class each night, he is always excited to share with Amy about the new knowledge he has gained regarding child development.

In your initial post,
• Explain if you would choose one single theory or a combination of several different theories to represent your view of child development. Why?
• Discuss how your theoretical approach aligns with your stance on one of the three basic issues of child development (continuous or discontinuous, one course of development or many, influence of nature and nurture.)
• Connect your chosen theories to developmentally appropriate practices in your learning environment.
Berk, L. E. (2022). Infants and children (9th Edition). SAGE Publications, Inc. (US).

Chapter 1 is uploaded below
Child Development Theories
Child Development Theories

For decades, medical and scientific experts have puzzled over how children develop and the best path for healthy development. This fascinating field of study continues to generate numerous questions:

What factors influence child development?
At what ages is development most vulnerable to external influences?
What can be done to maximize child development while minimizing its drawbacks?
Of course, this is just a sampling of what researchers wonder about when studying child development processes. However, because there are so many factors that influence a child’s development and so many questions about what influences child development, many different theories have been proposed over the years. Environmental and genetic factors can both promote healthy development and cause developmental delays. National institutes have conducted extensive research to better understand child development and the factors that influence it throughout a child’s life.

Some child development theories, however, are more widely known, accepted, and used to describe how children learn and grow than others. Five of these theories are discussed in depth below.

Related: 5 Excellent TED Talks on Child Development

Psychosocial Developmental Theory of Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson was a pivotal figure in psychoanalysis and psychological development. He was also well-known for coining the phrase “identity crisis.” Since 1959, his work on child development has been studied and considered.

His theory of psychosocial development (which, unlike Freud’s theory of development, focuses on social development rather than sexual development) was central to much of his work. Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory, as it became known, produced a framework for organizing human growth across all stages of life into eight distinct stages:

Stage 1: Mistrust vs. Trust
Stage 2: Self-determination vs. Shame and Doubt
Stage 3: Responsibility vs. Guilt
Stage 4: Superiority vs. Inferiority
Confusion over Identity vs. Role
Intimacy vs. Isolation at Stage 6
Stage 7: Stagnation vs. Generativity
Integrity vs. Despair, Stage 8
The principles of social interaction and experience are critical to the outcomes of the child stages as well as those that follow.

Each of these stages corresponds to a distinct stage of human development. Trust vs. Mistrust, for example, corresponds with infancy, a period during which babies learn who and what to trust and who and what not to trust. Erikson believed that babies who received good care during this stage would learn to trust others, which would carry over into future relationships and allow for healthy child development.

Babies whose needs are not met by their caregivers, on the other hand, may develop feelings of mistrust and suspicion in future relationships.

In contrast, Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development’s eighth stage, Integrity vs. Despair, corresponds with the final years of life. Unlike the first stage, in which humans learn to trust or not trust others, this stage is distinguished by reflection on what we have accomplished throughout our lives. We will develop feelings of integrity if we can look back with pride on living a good and decent life. However, if we look back on our accomplishments with regret, we may spend the rest of our lives feeling unfulfilled, bitter, and depressed.

Erikson’s theory marked a watershed moment in our understanding of human development. According to some theories, adulthood and late adulthood are relatively meaningless in terms of development, especially when compared to all of the changes that occur during infancy, childhood, and early adulthood.

Erikson, on the other hand, was adamant that developmental milestones occur throughout the lifespan. That is reflected in his theory, which is widely accepted as a more realistic view of human development, emotional growth, and social change.

Related Reading: 10 Excellent Books for Child Psychologists

Attachment Theory by Bowlby
Attachment Theory by Bowlby
John Bowlby was yet another seminal developmental psychologist and theorist. He also developed one of the earliest known child development theories, which is still widely used and cited today.

Bowlby’s Attachment Theory asserted that much of child development is based on children’s innate need to form attachments. These attachments can involve any number of people, places, or things and have a significant impact on the developmental patterns that a person goes through throughout their life.

Bowlby, like Freud, was a psychoanalyst, and as such, he emphasized early childhood and how experiences during that period of life could determine whether or not a child would grow up to have significant mental health problems.

His theory is based on evolutionary psychology, and he believed that humans, like other animals, are biologically predisposed to form attachments to others as a survival mechanism. He believed that children have a two-and-a-half-year window (which he referred to as the “critical period”) during which they can form strong attachments to others and a five-year window during which they are “sensitive” to forming attachments.

Bowlby believed that children who did not form attachments during the critical or sensitive period were less likely to form strong attachments later in life. Furthermore, he proposed that infants who have regular interruptions in their attachment experiences with their primary caregivers may develop significant emotional, social, and cognitive deficits as adults.

In other words, this theory proposes that infants form a working model of themselves, other people, and the world in general based on their relationship with their caregiver, whether that caregiver is their mother, father, or someone else. His seminal work on child development appears to be more popular than ever.

Psychosexual Developmental Theory of Sigmund Freud
Psychosexual Developmental Theory of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud “may justly be called the most influential intellectual legislator of his age,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. While developing the modern field of psychoanalysis, Freud made numerous other significant contributions to science, including the assertion of his Psychosexual Developmental Theory, which addresses the stages of child development.

One of the most influential psychological theories of the twentieth century was Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. Freud explained that childhood experiences, at various ages, directly influence personality and behavior patterns in later life. He explained that childhood experiences are inextricably linked to children’s healthy development. Childhood development, according to Freud, occurs in five distinct stages:

The oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latent stage, and the genital stage are all stages.
Freud’s stages, like Erikson’s theory, correspond to specific developmental stages in the lifespan. The oral stage, for example, corresponds to infancy (birth to one year of age) and is distinguished by the child’s oral-fixated behaviors. Babies use their mouths to explore the world, including breast or bottle feeding.

These stages of a child’s development, according to Freud, are centered on sexual development. As a result, babies in the oral stage get a lot of satisfaction from putting things in their mouths, such as their fingers, toys, and so on. This is because he believed that libido is centered in the mouth at this stage.

When people become stuck in a stage, this is when personality development comes into play. Adults with an oral fixation gain satisfaction from oral stimulation through a variety of activities. They could be habitual smokers, thumb suckers, or fingernail biters. These behaviors are frequently observed when a person is under stress.

If it isn’t obvious, the libido’s focus shifts depending on the stage of development. When children begin to explore their autoerotic desires, it progresses from the mouth to the anus, then to the phallic stage. This is followed by a period of latent motivation to engage in sexual thoughts or activities. Freud’s theory concludes with the genital stage, which he believed occurs from puberty to adulthood and is characterized by people engaging in sexual activities with others.

The development of the id, ego, and superego is another layer to Freud’s theory. Freud considered the id to be instinctual and primitive. It is something that we are born with, and it is the mechanism that regulates our sexual desires. The id is frequently irrational and impulsive.

During the first few years of life, the ego emerges and represents reality. As a result, the id and ego are frequently at odds – the id wants what it wants now, regardless of how realistic or unrealistic it is. The ego, then, serves as a bridge between the iimpulses d’s and the demands of the real world. Freud held that the ego was in charge of decision-making and reasoning.

During the phallic stage, the superego develops and is the source of morality. According to Freud, we learn our morals from our parents or other caregivers. Because the superego’s purpose is to control the id and ego, it aids in taming the idesires d’s while also assisting the ego in recognizing moral goals rather than constantly striving for perfection.

Similarly, the superego can be viewed as our conscience. It is what makes us feel guilty when we do something wrong and what makes us feel proud or happy when we do something right. Freud’s work and theories on child development are revered and studied throughout the world.

Related Article: 10 Things to Know About School Psychology for Children

Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning
Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning
Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory is widely used in many industries and professions today. According to this theory, while direct experience is important for child learning and development, modeling and simple observations of people around you are also important.

Furthermore, Bandura proposed that the modeling we do of others extends beyond behaviors to include attitudes and emotional reactions in various situations. As a result, this theory considers both cognitive and environmental factors when determining how children learn and learn to behave.

Modeling is a straightforward process. Children observe how their parents and other significant figures in their lives act and encode that information. Children may later imitate the behavior that has been modeled. So, if a child witnesses their parent striking the family dog for barking, the child may encode that behavior, believe it is acceptable to hit others when they are angry, and exhibit a similar behavior in the future.

Bandura’s theory was founded on classical and operant conditioning. For example, if a child exhibits a behavior encoded from a model and is rewarded for it, the child is more likely to exhibit that behavior in the future. A caregiver who claps and baby talks to a crawling infant reinforces that behavior with positive reinforcement.

On the other hand, if a child engages in a behavior that results in a punishment (e.g., a parent yelling at them for striking the dog), they are less likely to repeat that behavior.

Bandura differed from strict behaviorist approaches in his belief that the environment was only one factor influencing how we learn and behave. Instead, Bandura proposed that our intrinsic motivations, as well as our current mental state, have a significant impact on our ability to learn and how we behave.

5 Developmental Psychology Podcasts to Check Out

Cognitive Developmental Theory of Piaget

According to Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory, children simply think differently than adults. While this may seem obvious to some, it was a revolutionary theory that laid the groundwork for several other theories to follow. Piaget’s theory on a child’s development being linked to developmental milestones has gone on to become one of the world’s top theories.

Essentially, this theory divided the child’s life into four distinct categories, or stages, each with its own set of important characteristics and vulnerabilities:

Sensorimotor development: from birth to two years
Preoperative period: 2 to 7 years
7 to 11 years of concrete operational stage
Ages 12 and up for formal operational stage
Each of these stages, according to Piaget, was distinguished by a distinct developmental goal. The sensorimotor stage’s goal is object permanence (the ability to understand that an object that is out of sight still exists). Meanwhile, symbolic thought, or the ability to think using symbols and images, is the goal of the preoperational stage.

The third stage, concrete operational, aims to help children develop logical thought. This is distinguished by the ability to solve problems in a more mature, logical manner. Children at this stage, however, may still struggle with abstract thought and be able to solve problems with concrete meaning.

The ability to engage in abstract thought does not emerge until the formal operational stage. Similarly, Piaget considered the formal operational stage to be the beginning of one’s ability to use logic to test hypotheses.

Which Child Development Theory Is Correct?

These child development theories are all very different and take different approaches to explaining how we learn, behave, and develop. Children are born with genetic factors that may influence their cognitive and emotional development. Whether or not their guardians were the ones who passed on these genes, their roles as guardians may be more important than they realized. Children respond to the emotional factors around them as they begin to see, hear, understand, and interact. While all of these theories are based on developmental milestones, key areas of early childhood, and factors to which we can all likely relate, we may all have a different belief system.

While it may be tempting to ask which one is correct, that is not a question that can be answered because each theory has many useful applications for studying human behavior in its own right. One theory may be more appropriate for a given situation than another. Multiple theories may be used concurrently to explain how children develop.

The study of child development is crucial because it helps us understand the larger process of human development. Theories like these are critical pillars of psychology and the study of child development, just as they are in any other scientific discipline.

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