SUMMARY OF 8 BEST KNOWN THEORIES OF CHILD DEVELOPMENT

child development

Though many scientists and researchers have approached the study of child development over the last hundred or so years, only a few of the theories have been influential and these are:

  • Freud’s psychosexual stage theory
  • Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory
  • Kohlberg’s moral understanding stage theory
  • Piaget’s cognitive development stage theory
  • Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory

Freud’s psychosexual stage theory

In Freud’s view, each stage focuses on the sexual activity of a particular organ of the body and the pleasure received from the same makes the child indulge in the same again and again. For instance, in the oral phase, children are focused on the pleasures that they receive from sucking and biting with their mouth. In the Anal phase, this focus shifts to the anus as they begin toilet training and attempt to control their bowels. In the Phallic stage, the focus moves to genital stimulation and the sexual identification that comes with having or not having a penis.

During this phase, Freud thought that children turn their interest and love toward their parent of the opposite sex and begin to strongly resent the parent of the same sex. He called this phenomenon the Oedipus Complex as it closely mirrored the events of an ancient Greek tragic play in which a king named Oedipus manages to marry his mother and kill his father, as he considered the father as a rival to his mother’s love and affection.

The Phallic/Oedipus stage was thought to be followed by a period of Latency during which sexual urges and interest were temporarily lessened while children develop in all other areas. This is followed by an adolescent stage when sexual urges and interest are at their peak. Finally, children were thought to enter and remain in a final Genital stage in which adult sexual interests and activities come to dominate.

Another part of Freud’s theory focused on identifying the parts of consciousness. Freud thought that all babies are initially dominated by unconscious, instinctual and selfish urges for immediate gratification which he labelled the “Id”. As babies attempt and fail to get all their needs and desires met, they develop a more realistic appreciation of what is realistic and possible, which Freud called the “Ego”. Over time, babies also learn about and come to internalise and represent their parents’ values and rules. These internalised rules, which he called the “Super-Ego”, are the basis for the developing of the child’s conscience that deals with the concepts of right and wrong and works with the Ego to control the immediate gratification and urges of the Id.

By today’s rigorous scientific standards, though Freud’s psychosexual theory is not considered to be very scientific, it is still important and influential today because it was the first developmental theory that considered the development of individuals through stages. This gained real attention and many other theorists used it as a starting point.

Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory

Erik Erikson (1902-1994) used Freud’s work as a starting point to develop a theory about human development through stages from birth to death. In contrast to Freud’s focus on sexuality, Erikson focused on how people’s sense of identity develops. He looked into the facts as to how people develop or fail to develop abilities and beliefs about themselves which allow them to become productive, satisfied members of society.

Because Erikson’s theory combines how people develop beliefs psychologically and mentally with how they learn to exist within a larger community of people, it’s called a ‘psychosocial theory.

Erikson’s stages are eight in number and they are stated in chronological order as they unfold: (1) trust versus mistrust; (2) autonomy versus shame and doubt; (3) initiative versus guilt; (4) industry versus inferiority; (5) identity versus role confusion; (6) intimacy versus isolation; (7) generativity versus stagnation; (8) integrity versus despair.

Each stage is associated with a time of life and a general age span.

For each stage, Erikson’s theory explains what types of stimulation children need to master that stage and become productive and well-adjusted members of society. It explains the types of problems and developmental delays that can result when this stimulation does not occur.

  • Stage 1 (from birth to 18 months)
  • Stage 2 (18 months to 3 years)
  • Stage 3 (3- 6 years)
  • Stage 4 (6-13 years)
  • Stage 5 (13-20 years)
  • Stage 6 (21-40 years)
  • Stage 7 (41-60 years) and
  • Stage 8 (60 and above)

Kohlberg’s moral understanding stage theory

Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) described three stages of moral development pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. It refers to reasons not to achieve or to people which described the process through which people learn to
discriminate right from wrong and to develop increasingly sophisticated appreciations of morality.

He believed that his stages were cumulative; each built off understanding and abilities gained in prior stages. According to Kohlberg, moral development is a lifelong task, and many people fail to develop more advanced stages of moral understanding.

Piaget’s cognitive development stage theory

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1990), created a cognitive-developmental stage theory that described how children’s ways of thinking developed as they interacted with the world around them. Infants and young children understand the world much differently than adults do, and as they play and explore, their mind learns how to think in ways that better fit with reality.

Piaget’s theory has four stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational. During the sensorimotor stage, which often lasts from birth to age two, children are just beginning to learn how to learn. Though language development, and thus thought, does begin during this time, the more major tasks occurring during this period involve children figuring out how to make use of their bodies. They do this by experiencing everything with their five senses.

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory

The developmental theory of Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005) is not a stage theory. He developed the ecological systems theory to explain how everything in a child and the child’s environment affects the growth and development of the individual. All aspects of the environment including the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem affect the child’s growth and development.

For instances, the environment, that is the family or caregivers and their school or daycare. How these interact with the child has an effect on how the child develops and grows. The more healthy and nurturing these relationships, the better the child will be able to grow. Also, how a child acts or reacts to his family members will affect how the latter treat the child. Each child’s biological requirement and personality traits influence how others treat the child.

When babies are in infancy, they are changing from being totally dependent on caregivers to learning to walk, to talk, to play alongside others, and are realising they are their individual selves. When children enter early childhood, they continue to improve their large and small motor skills as they run and move more smoothly.

They also grow mentally and socially as they enter school and other places where they interact with children. During middle childhood, children continue to grow and improve physically, while also growing mentally as they attend school. They
maintain friendships in large same-sex groups and begin forming ideas about gender roles and jobs.

During adolescence, children find themselves growing up and their bodies and physique maturing they become capable of reproduction. Teens attempt to assert their individual identity while still needing rules and limits to continue to help them make good life decisions. During later adolescence, young adults begin the tasks of finding a life calling or job and of finding or creating their own next-generation family. Thus there are many theories that explain child development.

Socio-Cultural Theory

This theory is proposed by Lev Vygotsky is an emergent theory of development social interaction is given the highest importance. The more knowledgeable other (MKO) and the zone of proximal development (ZPD) were the features of this theory.

Behavioural Child Development Theory

These focus on how interaction with the environment brings about a change in the behaviour of the child. The development of the child is concentrate to be the products of interactions with environment stimulus. The main theory under this category includes Ivan Pavlov, B.F Skinner and John Watson.

Social Child Development Theory

According to these theories, early relationship with caregivers plays a major role in child development. Attachment with the mother or caregiver involves an exchange of comfort, care and pleasure.

Also check- 10 significant facts about development

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