An insight into Developmental Psychology

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 Child psychology is one of the important branches of psychology. This specific branch focuses on the mind of children from prenatal development through adolescence. Child psychology deals not only with how a child grows physically, but it emphasize his mental, emotional and social development also. For this reason , nowadays child psychology is also familiar as developmental psychology or child development; which is the study of the psychological processes  of children and specifically, how these processes differ from those of adults, how they develop from birth to the end of adolescence, and how and why one child is mentally or physically differs from another. All these important matters are essential under the developmental psychology.    

                                                                  Developmental psychology is concerned with the study of progressive behavioral changes in an individual from his birth until death. A developmental psychologist always tries to determine the causes of such changes. But, if we thoroughly study the past history of psychology, we can see that child development was largely ignored. That time, children were often viewed simply as small versions of adults and very little attention was paid for their cognitive abilities, language usages and physical growth that occurs during childhood and adolescence.

                                                                  As a scientific discipline with a strong knowledge base, developmental psychology is finally begun to the early period in the 20th century. It was initiated in 1840, when Charles Darwin began a record of the growth and development of one of his own children as a study of an unknown species. After this, a similar, more elaborate study was published by German psycho physiologist William Preyer. In 1891 American educational psychologist G. Stanely Hall established a periodical for the child (the pedagogical seminary) and with this child psychology started its journey.                               

                In this article, I want to explain the importance of child development psychology since an understanding of child development is very essential for us. It helps us to understand the cognitive, emotional, physical, social and educational growth that children go through during birth and early childhood.  According to developmental psychology, development is a process that continues from ‘womb to graveyard'. Childhood is the strangest period of human development because during this phase the foundation of concrete base is laid down for the child over all development. Early childhood is a time of remarkable physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. Infants enter this world with a few skills and abilities then they become matured enough to gain certain skills through their development process. Hence, when a child develops new motor, cognitive, language and social skills are very wonderful thing for parents, teachers and caregivers. For this reason, Blair Jones and Simpson Opine said, "No period during the life cycle is more important than childhood from an educational point of view. Teachers should understand children. Their mental needs, their problems and the forces which modify and produce behavioral change."  


                                                                     Child's development is affected by two factors, heredity as well as environment. Whereas heredity develops basic genetic structure, environment provides nourishment. The quality or virtues acquired both from mother and father are called hereditary and they remain intact from generation to generation. It means they are acquired not only from parents but also from great grandparents.  

                                      Woodworth says that heredity keeps everything intact that a child acquire at the time of being conceived. Another psychologist Douglas has clearly stated that due to heredity a child acquires physical structure, physical characteristics, activities and abilities from his or her ancestor. Many researchers do believe that the proper scientific knowledge of heredity helps teacher to understand a child, recognize his virtues and impart an education. It is also considered to be an important mean to create personal disparities.

                                                                                         On the other hand, environment includes all those elements, which affect the child's behavior. They are physical, social and cultural factors of the child development. According to Woodworth, environment includes all those external elements which affect the child since birth. Douglas and Holland said that environment consist of all those elements, which influences life, nature and behavior, intellect, development and maturity.

                                                          If we want to understand how children move between two stages, then it is important to understand how children take in stimuli from the environment and use it to grow. Children are ready and open to develop during specific stages, but it does not possible without proper environmental stimuli to develop these abilities. So it is very important for parents and caregivers to understand how their children are growing in all ways and channels and to know what stimuli or instruction they need to give their children to help them thrive.

                                                      Though many scientists and researcher have approached the study of child development over the last hundred years, but only few of the theories have taken as widely influential. These theories attempt to describe every aspect of development. They study children rely more upon careful observation in natural ambience than upon laboratory. Now, I want to explain very briefly those six theories which are the basis of the child development. These are,

  • 1. Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory
  • 2. Erikson's Psychosocial stage Theory
  • 3. Kohlberg's Moral Understanding stage Theory
  • 4. Piaget's Cognitive Development stage Theory
  • 5. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth's Attachment Theory
  • 6. Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory

                        Each theory examines and explains child development in different ways. These theories also provide a framework for future research.


  • 1. Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory: Psychoanalytic theory of development emphasizes the role of unconscious impulses and overcoming conflicts. The theory proposed by Sigmund Freud stressed the importance of childhood events and experiences, but almost exclusively focused on mental disorder rather than normal functioning. Freud's strongly believed that the way parents deal with children's basic sexual and aggressive desires would determine how their personalities developed. According to Freud, child development is described as a series of "psychosexual stages', which he labeled oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital.

                                                                       In Freud's view, each stage focused on sexual activity and the pleasure received from a particular area of the body. Moreover it can later play a role in adult personality. If a child does not successfully complete stage, he or she would develop a fixation that would later influence adult personality and behavior.

  • 2. Erikson's Psychosocial stage Theory: Erik Erikson (1902-1994) used Freud's work as a starting place to develop a theory about human stage development from birth to death. But Freud's focus mainly sexuality, there Erikson focused on how peoples sense of identity develop; 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.


             Erik Erikson first introduced his famous ‘eight stage theory of human development' in his book ‘Childhood and Society' (1950). The chapter featuring the model was titled ‘The Eight Ages of Man'. He expanded and refined his theory in later books and revision also. Erikson's psychosocial theory of the ‘eight stages of human development' drew from and extended the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Freud's daughter Anna Freud's ‘Psychosexual Stages'.  These eight psychosocial stages according to Erikson's are 1. Trust v Mistrust, 2. Autonomy v shame and Doubt. 3. Initiative v Guilt, 4. Industry v Inferiority, 5. Identity v Role-confusion, 6. Intimacy v Isolation, 7. Generativity v Stagnation and 8. Integrity v despair. Each stage is associated with a time of life and a general age span. For each stage, Erikson's theory clearly explains what types of stimulation children need to master that stage and become productive and well-adjusted members of society. This theory essentially states that each person experiences eight psychosocial crises which help to define his or her growth and personality.



  • 3. Piaget's Cognitive Development Stage Theory: Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget's (1896-1990) Cognitive Theories of Development emphasize the role of mental processes such as thinking, recalling and analyzing. This theory 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. According to Piaget, all development emerges from action.


                                 Piaget's theory has four stages: 1.Sensorimotor, 2. Pre-operational stage, 3.Concrete operational stage and 4. Formal operational stage. During the sensorimotor stage, which often lasts from birth to age two, children are just beginning to learn how to learn. Piaget believed that much of a baby's is triggered by certain stimuli, in that they are reflexive. A few weeks after birth, the baby begins to understand some of the information it is receiving from its senses, and learns to use some muscles and limbs for movement.


                                                              Paget's second stage of development was the pre-operational stage. Children usually go through this stage between the ages of two to seven years old. During this stage, children thought process are developing. The vocabulary of a child is also expanded and developed during this stage, as they change from babies and toddlers into ‘little people'.


                                                           The concrete operational stage was Piaget's third stage of cognitive development of children. Here the children aged seven to eleven. During this stage, the thought process becomes more rational, mature and ‘adult like' or more ‘operational'.


                                                         The formal operation stage which is final stage begins around and is fully achieved by age 15, bringing with it the capacity for abstraction. This is the stage of adolescence.


  • 4. Kohlberg's Moral Understanding Stage Theory: Moral development of the children is a major topic of interest in both psychology and education. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927- 1987) described three stage of development which described the process through which people learn to discriminate right from wrong and to develop increasingly sophisticated appreciations of morality.


                                                            Kohlberg based his theory upon research and interviews with groups of young children. A series of moral dilemmas were presented to these participants and they were also interviewed to determine the reasoning behind their judgment of each scenario.    


  • 5. Attachment Theory: Attachment is the two-way process through which infants from emotional bonds with another person- particularly a parent, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth were the pioneers of attachment theory.


                                                                John Bowlby devoted extensive research to the concept of attachment, describing it as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." Bowlby shared the psychoanalytic view that early experiences in childhood have an important influence on development and behavior later in life. Our early attachment styles are established in childhood through the infant/caregiver relationship. In addition to this Bowlby believed that attachment had an evolutionary component, it aids in survival.


                                                              After Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth expanded this theory of attachment. Ainsworth defines attachment as "an affectional tie that one person forms to another specific person, binding them together in space, and enduring over time........[It] is discriminating and specific." It is not present at birth but is developed gradually.


  • 6. Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory: According to this theory of child development, children learn new behaviors from observing other people. Albert Bandura (1977) states that behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning. Children observe the people around them behaving in various ways. Individuals that are observed are called models. In society children are surrounded by the many influential models, such as parents within the family, characters on children's TV, friends circle and teacher at school. Bandura also believed that not only external reinforcements but also intrinsic reinforcements (such as a sense of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment could lead to learning) are the way that people learned new things.


                                                 Hence, we can see that development psychology is apparently divided between two different aspects, some theorists emphasize on intellectual and linguistic development and others are personal- social (emotional) development. Although there is a small but growing interest is overlapped between these two aspects. At last of this article, I want to say that true knowledge of development psychology is very essential not for only parents, teachers, caregivers but whole society also. The developmental psychologist concern about the developmental differences between the children. They also study elaborately about the critical stages of child- development and want to explain every aspect of human development.

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