Psychological Theories for Child Development

Top 7 Child Development Theories to Understand Development in Children

There are several child development theories, each with their own set of beliefs and presumptions. Some theories are backed by scientific evidence, while others are not. Child developmental theories are associated with the study of development of children and properly understanding how they change throughout their childhood. Many such theories have been suggested by psychologists and researchers to describe and explain the steps and processes that children go through as they grow. 

Child development theories focus on the physical, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social growth of a child over time. These theories aid in our understanding of how children develop and learn, as well as the more complex aspects of child development.Each theory has its own unique perspective on child development. Some of the theories about child development concentrate on the developmental milestones that children reach by a certain age. Others place emphasis on specific aspects of childhood development, like personal character, sensory perception, and moral development. The theories provide a framework through which it is possible to understand various aspects of the child development process.

Here are the most popular child development theories.

1. Psychosexual Child Development Theory

  • Sigmund Freud proposed the Psychosexual theory.

  • According to this theory, child development occurs in a series of psycho-sexual stages.

  • Each stage focuses on a particular pleasure zone in the body, and the child drives energy toward satisfaction based on that specific erogenous zone.

For example, during the oral stage, the child derives pleasure from activities involving the mouth. e.g., biting, chewing, etc.

  • The libido"s energy becomes concentrated on a specific area (pleasure zones) of the body at each stage.

  • The child experiences some conflicts (dilemmas) at each of these stages of development.

  • The various developmental stages as per Freud"s child development theory are oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital.

  • To nurture a healthy adult personality, conflicts related to every phase need to be successfully resolved. 

  • Failure to address these conflicts can give rise to fixation at a particular stage of development.

  • If progress in a particular stage fails, it may have an impact on adult behavior and personality later in life.

2. Psychosocial Developmental Theory

  • This theory was proposed by Erick Erikson and talks about the development of an individual for the entire lifespan, from birth to death.

  • Erick believed that changes, growth, and development in an individual take place throughout the lifespan, into old age as well.

  • Psychosocial development talks about human development in eight stages.

  • At every stage, people experience development conflicts, which have an influence on how they operate at a later stage in life and how they continue to progress.

  • Erikson"s theory starts from birth, when children are in the stage of trust versus mistrust. Children require appropriate care during this phase of life so they can develop confidence in the people around them. 

  • As children grow and develop, they face new challenges and learn new skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

3. Cognitive Developmental Theory

Several cognitive developmental theories focus on how a child"s thought pattern changes gradually during the course of childhood. One such cognitive developmental theory was put forth by Jean Piaget.  This theory suggests that children are not just small adults. The thought processes of children are fundamentally different from those of adults. According to this theory of cognitive development, children act as "little scientists" who understand things by exploring the environment. 

The theory outlines four stages of cognitive development.

Sensorimotor stage (0–2 years)

Children start developing an understanding of the world through their motor activities and sensory perceptions.

Pre-operational stage (2–7 years)

Children learn the use of language and develop abstract thought. At this stage, they do not understand solid logic and are not able to intellectually manipulate information.

Concrete operational stage (7–11 years)

Children start developing logical thoughts. They start thinking logically about observable phenomena but find it difficult to comprehend illusionary or fictional concepts.

Formal operational stage (12 years to adulthood)

Develop the ability to comprehend abstract concepts.

4. Attachment theory

  • This child development theory was proposed by psychologist John Bowlby. 

  • It was based on the early attachment (initial relationship) of children with their caregivers. 

  • According to this theory, a child"s relationship with the parents or caregivers impacts emotional and social development throughout childhood. 

  • Furthermore, early attachments continue to have an impact throughout life.

  • According to Bowlby"s attachment theory, children are born with an innate need to connect. Such connections make sure that the child is cared for and protected, which aids in their survival.

  • The attachment ensures the children"s safety and security from the caregivers.

5. Behavioral child development theories

Behavioral child development theories focus on how children learn through their interactions with their surroundings.

John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B. F. Skinner were some of the behaviorists who believed that relationships, rewards, stimuli, punishments, and reinforcement aided learning and development.

The two important types of behavioral processes that influence child development are:

Classical conditioning

It involves developing a connection between a previously neutral stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus that generates a response automatically.

Operant conditioning

It involves making use of reinforcement or punishment to alter behaviors.

6. Social learning theory

This theory was put forth by the psychologist Albert Bandura. According to this theory, children learn new behaviors and skills by observing other people around them. He believed that observational learning did not mean looking at a live model. Instead, learning can also take place by listening to verbal instructions about how to perform a behavior. Observing real or fictional characters displaying behaviors in books or films can also contribute towards learning.

7. Sociocultural theory

This theory was given by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. According to Vygotsky"s sociocultural theory, children learn through social interaction, which involves collaborative dialogue with an individual who is more skilled in the tasks they are attempting to learn. Learning becomes incorporated into an individual"s perception of the world as a consequence of their interactions with others.

The various child developmental theories are very different from each other. They explain how humans learn, behave, and develop. Many of the child development theories are based on cognitive development, emotional and intellectual development, emotional factors, social factors, and various developmental milestones. The theories of child development help us understand the larger picture of human growth and development, right from childhood.