It is not only career professionals for children or teachers who should know the different Child Development theories. Understanding the domains of development is paying homage to the developmental theorists who took a lifetime work to understand the cognitive, physical and emotional development of every child.
It is important that the people who are responsible for the children have some understanding of these theories.
- Social Learning Theory by Albert Bandura
Bandura theorizes that children learn by looking at the behavior of adults and other people surrounding them. Imitation is an art for children as they cannot distinguish the concept of “good” versus “bad”. This theory suggests that the children’s social development is affected by what they see other people’s behaviors are. It means that when children see influential people in their lives such as parents, older siblings and teachers, showing desirable behavior such as being kind and generous, they are more likely to show the same behavior themselves. This theory is also used to explain some anti-social behavior such as aggression, stealing or even bullying.
Social learning theory suggests that one way to explain a child’s behavior is by taking a look at its surroundings and the people’s behavior around them including other children. This implies that adults need to be good role models for the children.
- Psychoanalytical Theories of Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson
This theory was formulated initially by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) by basing how the human mind functions and how personalities are formed. Freud believed that there are factors outside of the individual person’s awareness (such as unconscious thoughts, feelings and experiences) that influence their emotions, behavior and actions. He added that the persons’s past experiences also affects his/her future. Freud is interested in the unconscious way people are doing such as sucking of a pen or saying something they did not intend to say in the first place. Children also have instinctive needs. There are different stages in childhood and children also sees pleasure in particular areas of their body. In each stage the child needed to be allowed to experience this pleasure.
Freud believed that a person’s personality is formed throughout the childhood years and that children go through certain stages at certain points of their childhood. The child’s personality will likely depend on how his/her physical needs were met at different stages in childhood and how she/he copes with each of these stages. He warned that adult personality will be affected if she/he did not successfully pass through these stages.
Erikson (1902-94) on one hand, was influenced by Freud’s work. But he made changes saying that stages the children have to pass through were linked to their social development. He believed that the personality is still being developed for the rest of the adulthood. Erikson proposed eight stages through which people need to pass. And at each stage there is a decision or dilemma that a person must face. He further stated that the support given by other people in each stage affects their personality.
- Cognitive Theory by Jean Piaget
Cognitive perspectives was a specialty of the French theorist Jean Piaget. He theorized that learning comes though active involvement in the environment, placing less emphasis on the role adult’s play. He put up Schema which provided a base and provide a useful framework on looking at children’s learning. According to Piaget, children progress through three stages of learning: (1) assimilation when they are absorbing events and incorporating it into existing schemas, (2) accommodation when they are changing existing schemas as a result of taking in these new information, and (3) equilibration when the person seeks that desire to stay in balance and have an understanding of the world. Children, according to Piaget “connect the dots” by connecting these ideas and having a new understanding by forming thoughts and making sense of the new information and knowledge they get.
Then Chris Athey (1990) further moved Piaget’s work by adding that the this schema dominate children’s play and they way they learn. She showed how children’s ‘forms of thought’ was developed through experiences. This framework has been used in teaching which extends schema through curriculum experiences.
- Intellectual Development Theory by Lev Vygotsky
Vygotsky?s (1896-1934) theory explains how children learn to sift what is important through their interaction with the adults around them. Unlike Erikson who put less emphasis on adults, Vygotsky put adults back in the higher importance in imparting to the child the culture, knowledge and language. He believed that learning is a shared undertaking between the child and the adults and other people surrounding them. His main theory was the ‘zone of proximal development’ wherein children work on two developmental levels: their actual level and their proximal (next) level.
The ‘zone’ lies just between these levels where the child is still groping to stretch their abilities and trying to look what is his/her capabilities to today at that moment and on the next level. Every new scene or interaction is a learning experience to children and adults are there to guide the child minimize the risk of failure, to encourage independence and to steer the the child towards the limits of their competence. For example, supporting the the baby on its first steps, the toddler when it tries to climb the stairs and also giving praises for a good behavior. It is called reinforcing good behavior of the child.
- Humanist by Abraham Maslow
Maslow is known for his pyramid on the hierarchy of needs showing the basic needs for a child to have to be able to fulfill his/her own potential. It is not only shelter and clothing but also fulfilling pyschological need like giving warmth, promoting self-esteem and making them feel loved.
- Operant Conditioning by B.F. Skinner
Skinner’s theory is that children use cognitive behavior when understanding and giving communication. Children use trial and error to get the right words out until they succeed. Skinner believed that children observe adults and other children for the correct way to communicate and repeat the actions they have seen until they get it right. It is an add on to Bandura’s social learning and Vygotsky’s positive reinforcement. Skinner posited that ‘operant conditioning’ is needed and this includes not only the positive but also the negative. Praising and rewarding the child for good behavior and through disapproval, time out and ignoring unwanted behavior. This is to implement behavior modifications on a child’s life.
- Behaviourist by John B Watson
Watson was one of the pioneers pushing for the behavioral approach. His work supports the conditioning approach. Watson, working on the animal behavior studies of Ivan Pavlov said that behaviors can be measured or changed. His work has Pavlov has influenced B. F. Skinner’s theory on operant conditioning. Watson believed that any individual can be trained to do tasks by just having the right stimuli or conditioning. His work has influenced on the strategies for positive reinforcements for children. Rewarding or punishing certain behavior will be learned to control certain behavior of the child. He added that giving in to every whim of the child just to make them stop from giving tantrums is not a positive reinforcement but would rather make the child think they can do that anytime and still be rewarded.
- Emotional development by John Bowlby
Bowlby worked on ‘attachment’ theories wherein early relationships play a major role in child development. This has a huge influence on how the child would react to social interactions with other people later on his/her adult life He believes that children who are securely attached to their parents generally have high self esteem and will be able to enjoy intimate relationships as the ability to share feelings have already been developed. These children according to him was able to learn how to seek out social support as they have received it well. This theory is used as a framework in nursery practice wherein children who are still new are being eased in their transition by making adjustments on their visits until they are already comfortable with the setting. This easing in practice is needed in order to prevent separation anxiety and make transitions in their lives. Transitions in life changes are crucial later in adult life, Bowlby added.
- Physical Development by Arnold Gesell
His theory is that most physical skills cannot be taught but is programmed in genetics, which means the child will learn different physical skills when his/her body is ready to. In current setting, children are encouraged but not forced to develop a physical skill. Support such as providing a soft, cushioned area are given so that children can develop themselves physically without risk of hurting themselves. Walking comes at a certain age as well as other physical activities such as running and jumping based on the appropriate age. So long as support is given and their is no disability, then parents should not worry as the child has his/her own “pacing”.
- Psychoanalysis by Susan Isaacs
Isaacs was concerned with psychoanalysis and this impacts on the development of emotions and formation of the child’s identity. She is one of the few women who are credited in psychology for her contribution in symbols and fantasy play. These plays are crucial as it is an avenue to express emotions and release feelings of the child. Hiding emotions is damaging to the child. Encourage children to express their emotion no matter their sex are. Thus, cultural stereotypes of “men not crying as this is for girls” is not very helpful. Isaacs believed in the importance of play especially with other children as play gives confidence in themselves. The friends they gain during play helps the child to feel less suspicious and aggressive to others. By giving delight of action and sharing, it helped the child discover the way in which they can carry out their own practical and imaginative pursuits. Fantasy or make-believe play helps intellectual problem solving. Children can use play to escape into real experiences or out of it. In doing so they learn about reflecting on life, like getting a sense of control over their lives and developing self esteem and freedom of expression in actions and development . This is done in own setting with role play , home corner and asking the children to express their feelings and how to rectify what they are feeling. Using observations as the cornerstone of her work with children, Isaacs supported a ‘free and child centered? environment, developing children’s natural curiosity, their own interest based and lead learning.
The list of child development theories can go on but we think this is one of the most important things to keep in mind especially for first time parents. Knowing these will help you guide how to look into your children’s behavior and how you would also react as an adult. As the old adage said, ‘In the eyes of the child everything is right’. It is the adult’s responsibility to be a role model and you should start by learning and being responsible yourself. We owe that to our children to set a good example.