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CHILD DEVELOPMENT and its Various Theories

Prepared by MICHAEL M. MAGBANUA (2010)

CHILD DEVELOPMENT child begins to use symbols to represent

objects. Early in this stage he also personifies
objects. He is now better able to think about
things and events that aren't immediately
Some age-related development periods and present. Oriented to the present, the child
examples of defined intervals are: newborn has difficulty conceptualizing time. His
(ages 0–1 month); infant (ages 1 month – 1 thinking is influenced by fantasy—the way
year); toddler (ages 1–3 years); preschooler he'd like things to be—and he assumes that
(ages 4–6years); school-aged child (ages 6– others see situations from his viewpoint. He
13 years); adolescent (ages 13–20).[1] takes in information and then changes it in
However, organizations like Zero to Three and his mind to fit his ideas. Teaching must take
the World Association for Infant Mental Health into account the child's vivid fantasies and
use the term infant as a broad category, undeveloped sense of time. Using neutral
including children from birth to age 3, a words, body outlines and equipment a child
logical decision considering that the Latin can touch gives him an active role in learning.
derivation of the word infant refers to those
who have no speech. Concrete: (about first grade to early
The optimal development of children is During this stage, accommodation increases.
considered vital to society and so it is The child develops an ability to think
important to understand the social, cognitive, abstractly and to make rational judgements
emotional, and educational development of about concrete or observable phenomena,
children. Increased research and interest in which in the past he needed to manipulate
this field has resulted in new theories and physically to understand. In teaching this
strategies, with specific regard to practice child, giving him the opportunity to ask
that promotes development within the school questions and to explain things back to you
system. In addition there are also some allows him to mentally manipulate
theories that seek to describe a sequence of information.
states that comprise child development.
Formal Operations: (adolescence)
Piaget This stage brings cognition to its final form.
This person no longer requires concrete
objects to make rational judgements. At his
Piaget Stages
point, he is capable of hypothetical and
deductive reasoning. Teaching for the
Sensorimotor: (birth to about age 2) adolescent may be wideranging because he'll
During this stage, the child learns about be able to consider many possibilities from
himself and his environment through motor several perspectives.
and reflex actions. Thought derives from
sensation and movement. The child learns
that he is separate from his environment and
that aspects of his environment—his parents
or favorite toy—continue to exist even though Vygotsky was a theorist who worked during
they may be outside the reach of his senses. the first decades of the former Soviet Union.
Teaching for a child in this stage should be He posited that children learn through hands-
geared to the sensorimotor system. You can on experience, as Piaget suggested. However,
modify behavior by using the senses: a frown, unlike Piaget, he claimed that timely and
a stern or soothing voice—all serve as sensitive intervention by adults when a child
appropriate techniques. is on the edge of learning a new task (called
the zone of proximal development) could help
children learn new tasks. This technique is
Preoperational: (begins about the time the
called "scaffolding," because it builds upon
child starts to talk to about age 7)
knowledge children already have with new
Applying his new knowledge of language, the
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CHILD DEVELOPMENT and its Various Theories
Prepared by MICHAEL M. MAGBANUA (2010)

knowledge that adults can help the child John B. Watson’s behaviorism theory forms
learn.[4] An example of this might be when a the foundation of the behavioral model of
parent "helps" an infant clap or roll her hands development.[9] He wrote extensively on child
to the pat-a-cake rhyme, until she can clap development and conducted research (see
and roll her hands herself.[5][6] Little Albert experiment). Watson was
instrumental in the modification of William
Vygotsky was strongly focused on the role of James’ stream of consciousness approach to
culture in determining the child's pattern of construct a stream of behavior theory.[10]
development.[4] He argued that "Every Watson also helped bring a natural science
function in the child's cultural development perspective to child psychology by introducing
appears twice: first, on the social level, and objective research methods based on
later, on the individual level; first, between observable and measurable behavior.
people (interpsychological) and then inside Following Watson’s lead, B.F. Skinner further
the child (intrapsychological). This applies extended this model to cover operant
equally to voluntary attention, to logical conditioning and verbal behavior.
memory, and to the formation of concepts. All
the higher functions originate as actual Other theories
relationships between individuals."
In accordance with his view of a basic human
Vygotsky felt that development was a process motivation being the sexual drive, Sigmund
and saw periods of crisis in child development Freud developed a psychosexual theory of
during which there was a qualitative human development from infancy onward,
transformation in the child's mental divided into five stages. Each stage centered
functioning. around the gratification of the libido within a
particular area, or erogenous zone, of the
Attachment theory body. He also argued that as humans
develop, they become fixated on different and
Attachment theory, originating in the work of specific objects through their stages of
John Bowlby and developed by Mary development. Each stage contains conflict
Ainsworth, is a psychological, evolutionary which requires resolution to enable the child
and ethological theory that provides a to develop.[11]
descriptive and explanatory framework for
understanding interpersonal relationships The use of dynamical systems theory as a
between human beings. Attachment theorists framework for the consideration of
consider the human infant to have a need for development began in the early 1990s and
a relationship with at least one caregiver for has continued into the present century.[12]
normal social and emotional development to Dynamic systems theory stresses nonlinear
occur. connections (e.g., between earlier and later
social assertiveness) and the capacity of a
Erik Erikson system to reorganize as a phase shift that is
stage-like in nature. Another useful concept
for developmentalists is the attractor state, a
Erikson, a follower of Freud's, synthesized
condition (such as teething or stranger
both Freud's and his own theories to create
anxiety) that helps to determine apparently
what is known as the "psychosocial" stages of
unrelated behaviors as well as related ones.
human development, which span from birth
Dynamic systems theory has been applied
to death, and focuses on "tasks" at each
extensively to the study of motor
stage that must be accomplished to
development; the theory also has strong
successfully navigate life's challenges.
associations with some of Bowlby's views
about attachment systems. Dynamic systems
Behavioral Theories theory also relates to the concept of the
transactional process,[13] a mutually
interactive process in which children and
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CHILD DEVELOPMENT and its Various Theories
Prepared by MICHAEL M. MAGBANUA (2010)

parents simultaneously influence each other, . Similarly, the theorist of cognitive
producing developmental change in both over development, Piaget, described situations in
time. which children could solve one type of
problem using mature thinking skills, but
The Core Knowledge Perspective is an could not accomplish this for less familiar
evolutionary theory in child development that problems, a phenomenon he called horizontal
proposes "infants begin life with innate, decalage.
special-purpose knowledge systems referred
to as core domains of thought"[14] There are Aspects of child development
five core domains of thought, each of which is
crucial for survival, which simultaneously Child development is not a matter of a single
prepare us to develop key aspects of early topic, but progresses somewhat differently for
cognition; they are: physical, numerical, different aspects of the individual. Here are
linguistic, psychological, and biological. descriptions of the development of a number
of physical and mental characteristics.
Continuity and discontinuity in
development Physical growth

Although the identification of developmental What develops?

milestones is of interest to researchers and to
children's caregivers, many aspects of Physical growth in stature and weight occurs
developmental change are continuous and do over the 15–20 years following birth, as the
not display noticeable milestones of change. individual changes from the average weight of
Continuous developmental changes, like 3.5 kg and length of 50 cm at full-term birth
growth in stature, involve fairly gradual and to full adult size. As stature and weight
predictable progress toward adult increase, the individual's proportions also
characteristics. When developmental change change, from the relatively large head and
is discontinuous, however, researchers may small torso and limbs of the neonate, to the
identify not only milestones of development, adult's relatively small head and long torso
but related age periods often called stages. A and limbs.
stage is a period of time, often associated
with a known chronological age range, during
Speed and pattern of development
which a behavior or physical characteristic is
qualitatively different from what it is at other
ages. When an age period is referred to as a The speed of physical growth is rapid in the
stage, the term implies not only this months after birth, then slows, so birth
qualitative difference, but also a predictable weight is doubled in the first four months,
sequence of developmental events, such that tripled by age 12 months, but not quadrupled
each stage is both preceded and followed by until 24 months.Growth then proceeds at a
specific other periods associated with slow rate until shortly before puberty
characteristic behavioral or physical qualities. (between about 9 and 15 years of age), when
a period of rapid growth occurs. Growth is not
uniform in rate and timing across all body
Stages of development may overlap or be
parts. At birth, head size is already relatively
associated with specific other aspects of
near to that of an adult, but the lower parts of
development, such as speech or movement.
the body are much smaller than adult size. In
Even within a particular developmental area,
the course of development, then, the head
transition into a stage may not mean that the
grows relatively little, and torso and limbs
previous stage is completely finished. For
undergo a great deal of growth.
example, in Erikson's discussion of stages of
personality, this theorist suggests that a
lifetime is spent in reworking issues that were
originally characteristic of a childhood stage

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CHILD DEVELOPMENT and its Various Theories
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Mechanisms of developmental change Motor development

Genetic factors play a major role in What Develops?

determining the growth rate, and particularly
the changes in proportion characteristic of Abilities for physical movement change
early human development. However, genetic through childhood from the largely reflexive
factors can produce the maximum growth (unlearned, involuntary) movement patterns
only if environmental conditions are of the young infant to the highly skilled
adequate. Poor nutrition and frequent injury voluntary movements characteristic of later
and disease can reduce the individual's adult childhood and adolescence. (Of course, older
stature, but the best environment cannot children and adolescents retain some reflex
cause growth to a greater stature than is movements in addition to developing
determined by heredity. voluntary movement.

Population differences Speed and pattern of development

Population differences in growth are largely The speed of motor development is rapid in
related to adult stature. Ethnic groups that early life, as many of the reflexes of the
are quite tall in adulthood are also longer at newborn alter or disappear within the first
birth and throughout childhood, as compared year, and slows later. Like physical growth,
to groups that have short adult stature. Males motor development shows predictable
are also somewhat taller, although this is patterns of cephalocaudal (head to foot) and
more apparent in ethnic groups with strong proximodistal (torso to extremities)
sexual dimorphism in adulthood. Populations development, with movements at the head
that are characteristically malnourished are end and in the more central areas coming
also shorter throughout life. However, there under control before those of the lower part
are few population differences in growth rates of the body or the hands and feet. Types of
or patterns, except that poor environmental movement develop in stage-like sequences;
conditions may delay puberty and the for example, locomotion at 6–8 months
associated growth spurt. The markedly involves creeping on all fours, then proceeds
different age at puberty of boys and girls to pulling to stand, "cruising" while holding on
means that boys and girls of age 11 or 12 are to an object, walking while holding an adult's
at very different points in maturation and hand, and finally walking independently.
may reverse the usual sex difference in Older children continue the sequence by
physical size walking sideways or backward, galloping,
hopping, skipping with one foot and walking
Individual differences with the other, and finally skipping. By middle
childhood and adolescence, new motor skills
Individual differences in height and weight are acquired by instruction or observation
during childhood are considerable. Some of rather than in a predictable sequence.
these differences are due to family genetic
factors, others to environmental factors, but Mechanisms of motor development
at some points in development they may be
strongly influenced by individual differences in The mechanisms involved in motor
reproductive maturation. development involve some genetic
components that determine the physical size
of body parts at a given age, as well as
aspects of muscle and bone strength.
Nutrition and exercise also determine
strength and therefore the ease and accuracy
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CHILD DEVELOPMENT and its Various Theories
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with which a body part can be moved. Individual differences

Opportunities to carry out movements help
establish the abilities to flex (move toward There are normal individual differences in the
the trunk) and extend body parts, both ages at which specific cognitive abilities are
capacities being needed for good motor achieved, but schooling for children in
ability. Skilled voluntary movements develop industrialized countries is based on the
as a result of practice and learning. assumption that these differences are not
large. Atypical delays in cognitive
Individual differences development are problematic for children in
cultures that demand advanced cognitive
Normal individual in motor ability are skills for work and for independent living.
common and depend in part on the child's
weight and build. However, after the infant Social-emotional development
period, normal individual differences are
strongly affected by opportunities to practice, What develops?
observe, and be instructed on specific
movements. Atypical motor development may Newborn infants do not seem to experience
be an indication of developmental delays or fear or have preferences for contact with any
problems such as autism or cerebral palsy. specific people.By about 8–12 months, they
go through a fairly rapid change and become
Cognitive/Intellectual development fearful of perceived threats; they also begin
to prefer familiar people and show anxiety
What develops? and distress when separated from them or
approached by strangers. The capacity for
The capacity to learn, remember, and empathy and the understanding of social
symbolize information, and to solve problems, rules begin in the preschool period and
exists at a simple level in young infants, who continue to develop into adulthood. Middle
can perform cognitive tasks such as childhood is characterized by friendships with
discriminating animate and inanimate beings age-mates, and adolescence by emotions
or recognizing small numbers of objects. connected with sexuality and the beginnings
During childhood, learning and information- of romantic love. Anger seems most intense
processing increase in speed, memory during the toddler and early preschool period
becomes increasingly longer, and symbol use and during adolescence.
and the capacity for abstraction develop until
a near-adult level is reached by adolescence. Speed and pattern of development

Mechanisms of cognitive development Some aspects of social-emotional

development, like empathy, develop
Cognitive development has genetic and other gradually, but others, like fearfulness, seem
biological mechanisms, as is seen in the many to involve a rather sudden reorganization of
genetic causes of mental retardation. the child's experience of emotion. Sexual and
However, although it is assumed that brain romantic emotions develop in connection with
functions cause cognitive events, it has not physical maturation.
been possible to measure specific brain
changes and show that they cause cognitive Mechanisms of social and emotional
change. Developmental advances in cognition development
are also related to experience and learning,
and this is particularly the case for higher- Genetic factors appear to regulate some
level abilities like abstraction, which depend social-emotional developments that occur at
to a considerable extent on formal education. predictable ages, such as fearfulness, and
attachment to familiar people. Experience
plays a role in determining which people are
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CHILD DEVELOPMENT and its Various Theories
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familiar, which social rules are obeyed,and Grammatical rules and word combinations
how anger is expressed. appear at about age two. Mastery of
vocabulary and grammar continue gradually
Individual differences through the preschool and school years.
Adolescents still have smaller vocabularies
Individual differences in the sequence of than adults and experience more difficulty
social-emotional development are unusual, with constructions like the passive voice.
but the intensity or expressiveness of
emotions can vary greatly from one normal Babies from one month old can produce "ooh"
child to another. Individual tendencies to sounds which appear to grow out of
various types of reactivity are probably pleasurable interactions with caregivers in a
constitutional, and they are referred to as mutual "dialogue". According to Stern, this
temperamental differences. Atypical process is communication of affect between
development of social-emotional adult and infant in a mutual, rhythmic
characteristics may be mildly unusual, or may interaction. The attunement and "gaze-
be so extreme as to indicate mental illness.[15] coupling" in which infant and adult take
Temperamental traits are thought to be stable different roles is thought to anticipate the
and enduring throughout the life span. give-and-take of later dialogue.[25]
Children who are active and angry as infants
can be expected to be active and angry as From about 6 to 9 months babies produce
older children, adolescents and adults. more vowels, some consonants and
"echolalia", or the frequent repetition of
sounds like "dadadada" which appear to have
some phonetic characteristics of later speech.
It is thought that a crucial part of the
Language development of speech is the time caregivers
spend "guessing" what their infants are trying
What develops? to communicate thus integrating the child into
their social world. The attribution of
In addition to acquiring a large spoken intentionality to the infant's utterances has
vocabulary, there are four main areas in been called "shared memory" and forms a
which the child must attain competence, complex series of actions, intentions and
regardless of the language or dialect spoken. actions in response in an improvised way.[3]
These are referred to as phonology or sounds,
semantics or the encoded meanings, syntax It has been argued that children's
or the way in which words are combined and phonological systems develop in ways that
pragmatics or knowledge of how language is are parallel to adult languages, even if they
used in different contexts. are using unrecognisable "words".[26] First
words have the function of naming or
Speed and pattern of development labelling but also condense meaning as in
"milk" meaning "I want milk". Vocabulary
Receptive language, the understanding of typically grows from about 20 words at 18
others' speech, has a gradual development months to around 200 words at 21 months.
beginning at about 6 months. However, From around 18 months the child starts to
expressive language, the production of words, combine words into two word sentences.
moves rapidly after its beginning at about a Typically the adult expands it to clarify
year of age, with a "vocabulary explosion" of meaning. By 24–27 months the child is
rapid word acquisition occurring in the middle producing three or four word sentences using
of the second year. This vocabulary expansion a logical, if not strictly correct, syntax. The
is closely linked to the ability to repeat theory is that children apply a basic set of
spoken words as they enables the rapid rules such as adding 's' for plurals or
acquisition of skill in their pronunciation.[23][24] inventing simpler words out of words too
complicated to repeat like "choskit" for
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chocolate biscuit. Following this there is a multi-route model in which it is argued that
rapid appearance of grammatical rules and context-bound words and referential words
ordering of sentences. There is often an follow different routes; the first being mapped
interest in rhyme, and imaginative play onto event representations and the latter
frequently includes conversations.[3] Children's onto mental representations. In this model,
recorded monologues give insight into the although parental input has a critical
development of the process of organising role,children rely on cognitive processing to
information into meaningful units.[27] establish subsequent use of words.[31]
However, naturalistic research on language
By three years the child is beginning to use development has indicated that preschoolers'
complex sentences, including relative clauses, vocabularies are strongly associated with the
although still perfecting various linguistic number of words addressed to them by
systems. By five years of age the child's use adults.[32].
of language is very similar to that of an adult.
From the age of about three children can There is as yet no single accepted theory of
indicate fantasy or make-believe linguistically, language acquisition. Current explanations
produce coherent personal stories and vary in emphasis from learning theory, with
fictional narrative with beginnings and its emphasis on reinforcement and imitation
endings.[3] It is argued that children devise (Skinner), to biological, nativist theories, with
narrative as a way of understanding their own innate underlying mechanisms (Chomsky and
experience and as a medium for Pinker), to a more interactive approach within
communicating their meaning to others.[28] a social context (Piaget and Tomasello).[3]
The ability to engage in extended discourse Behaviorists argue that given the universal
emerges over time from regular conversation presence of a physical environment and,
with adults and peers. For this the child needs usually, a social environment, any theory of
to learn to combine his perspective with that language must account for the effects of the
of others and with outside events and learn to contingent relations of these on an individuals
use linguistic indicators to show he is doing development of language behaviour.[33][34][35]
this. They also learn to adjust their language Pinker argues that complex language is
depending on to whom they are speaking. universal and has an innate basis. Pinker's
Typically by the age of about 9 a child can argument is partly based on the development
recount other narratives in addition to their of creole languages from pidgins. The children
own experiences, from the perspectives of the of parents who communicate, without
author, the characters in the story and their grammatical structures, in pidgin, develop a
own views. creole language of their own accord, complete
with standardised word orders, markers for
Mechanisms of language development present, future and past tenses and
subordinate clauses.[36] There is some support
Although the role of adult discourse is for this from the development of sign
important in facilitating the child's learning, language amongst deaf children thrown
there is considerable disagreement amongst together at a young age in special schools in
theorists about the extent to which children's Nicaragua who spontaneously developed a
early meanings and expressive words arises pidgin which was then developed into a creole
directly from adult input as opposed to by a younger generation of children coming
intrinsic factors relating to the child's into the schools,
cognitive functions. Findings about the initial
mapping of new words, the ability to
decontextualise words and refine meaning are
diverse.[3] One hypothesis is known as the
syntactic bootstrapping hypothesis, referring
to the child's ability to infer meaning from
cues, using grammatical information from the
structure of sentences.[30] Another is the
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adolescence, as the individual progresses

from dependency to increasing autonomy.
Because these developmental changes may
be strongly influenced by genetic factors and
events during prenatal life, genetics and
Individual differences prenatal development are usually included as
part of the study of child development.
Slow Expressive Language Development Related terms include developmental
(SELD) a delay in the use of words coupled psychology, referring to development
with normal understanding, is characteristic throughout the lifespan, and pediatrics, the
of a small proportion of children who later branch of medicine relating to the care of
display normal language use. children. Developmental change may occur as
a result of genetically-controlled processes
Dyslexia is a significant topic in child known as maturation, or as a result of
development as it affects approximately 5% environmental factors and learning, but most
of the population (in the western world). commonly involves an interaction between
Essentially it is a disorder whereby children the two.
fail to attain the language skills of reading,
writing and spelling commensurate with their There are various definitions of periods in
intellectual abilities. Dyslexic children show a child development, since each period is a
range of differences in their language continuum with individual differences
development, from subtle speech regarding start and ending.
impairments to mispronunciations to word-
finding difficulties. The most common *******
phonological difficulties are limitations of
verbal short-term memory and phonological
awareness. Such children often have
difficulties with long-term verbal learning
such as months of the year, learning Child Development Theories
tables,late 1980s the phonological deficit
hypothesis has become the dominant Major Theories of Child Development
explanation. The difficulties in early
articulation, basic phonological skills and By Kendra Cherry, Guide
acquiring basic building blocks means that
dyslexics have to invest too many resources Child development that occurs from birth to
in just coping with the basics rather than adulthood was largely ignored throughout
acquiring new information or skills. Early much of history. Children were often viewed
identification enables children to receive help simply as small versions of adults and little
before they fail.[3] attention was paid to the many advances in
cognitive abilities, language usage, and
Atypically delayed language development may physical growth. Interest in the field of child
be diagnostic of autism, and regression of development began early in the 20th-century
language may indicate serious disabilities like and tended to focus on abnormal behavior.
Rett syndrome. Poor language development
also accompanies general developmental The following are just a few of the many child
delays such as those found in Down development theories that have been
syndrome. proposed by theorists and researchers. More
recent theories outline the developmental
******* stages of children and identify the typical
ages at which these growth milestones occur.
Child development refers to the biological
and psychological changes that occur in
human beings between birth and the end of
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Psychoanalytic Child Development Behavioral Child Development Theories

Behavioral theories of child development
Sigmund Freud focus on how environmental interaction
influences behavior and are based upon the
The theories proposed by Sigmund Freud theories of theorists such as Watson, Pavlov,
stressed the importance of childhood events and Skinner. These theories deal only with
and experiences, but almost exclusively focus observable behaviors. Development is
on mental disorders rather that normal considered a reaction to rewards,
functioning. punishments, stimuli, and reinforcement.
Learn more about these behavioral theories in
According to Freud, child development is these articles on classical conditioning and
described as a series of 'psychosexual stages.' operant conditioning.
In "Three Essays on Sexuality" (1915), Freud
outlined these stages as oral, anal, phallic,
latency period, and genital. Each stage
involves the satisfaction of a libidinal desire Social Child Development Theories
and can later play a role in adult personality.
Learn more in this article on Freud’s stages of There is a great deal of research on the social
psychosexual development. development of children. John Bowbly
proposed one of the earliest theories of social
development. Bowlby believed that early
Erik Erikson relationships with caregivers play a major role
in child development and continue to
Theorist Erik Erikson also proposed a stage influence social relationships throughout life.
theory of development, but his theory Learn more in this overview of attachment
encompassed development throughout the theory.
human lifespan. Erikson believed that each
stage of development is focused on
overcoming a conflict. Success or failure in
dealing with conflicts can impact overall
functioning. Learn more about this theory in
this article on Erikson’s stages of psychosocial Your Task:
Try to expand this research from other
sources and then, present these theories
through tabular format considering the
Cognitive Child Development Theories following:

Theorist Jean Piaget suggested that children 1. Stage

think differently than adults and proposed a 2. Stage name
stage theory of cognitive development. He
was the first to note that children play an 3. The Proponent
active role in gaining knowledge of the world. 4. Areas or Domains of Development
Learn more in this article on Piaget’s stages of
cognitive development. 5. Characteristics of Development
6. Relevance to child’s learning
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