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4 Child Development Theories That Can Help You Better Care for Children
Have you ever wondered what drives thoughts and behaviors in children? Our understanding of human nature and child development is continually advancing, but all children are different and no one has all the answers. However, there are a few accepted theories that can provide useful information about early development that will help you better care for children.
During our early years from infancy to childhood, we develop the basis of our intelligence, personality, social behavior, and ability to learn. Four theories are worth considering and include attachment, psychosocial development, cognitive development, and sociocultural theory.
1. Attachment Theory (Bowlby): This theory focuses on strong emotional and physical ties that create a sense of security in a child. Connections are made with caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant’s needs. Thus, the infant knows that the caregiver is reliable, which creates a safe base for the child to explore his environment.
Example: Jordan, six months old, likes baby toys and interacting with others. Convinced that crying helps, Jordan responds to anyone and gets upset when someone stops interacting with him.
2. Psychosocial Development Theory (Erikson): In this theory, social development occurs in stages based on turning points in a person’s life, including hope (birth to 2 years), will ( 2-4 years old), purpose (4-5 years old), skill (5-12 years old), fidelity (13-19 years old), love (20-39 years old), attention (40-64 years old) and wisdom (65 years and older).
Example: Two-year-old Jennifer has recently started squirming and saying “no” when her nanny tries to secure her in her car seat. Jennifer began to develop a sense of self, separate from her caregivers. Her nanny must constantly set boundaries and keep track of Jennifer, to keep her safe when she’s in the car. The nanny can increase Jennifer’s willingness to comply by giving specific praise while allowing Jennifer to choose a special toy to hold each time she gets into her car seat without resistance. Choosing her own clothes will also help Jennifer gain independence.
3. Cognitive development theory (Piaget): This theory is based on a four-stage model describing how the mind processes new information. The stages are sensorimotor (from birth to 2 years old), preoperative (2 to 7 years old), concrete operational (7 to 11 years old) and formal (12 years old and over).
Example: Five-year-old Zachary is still self-centered and has trouble seeing others’ points of view, but is beginning to think symbolically and use words to represent objects. Zachary enjoys reading and is building a language base. At this stage, caregivers should continue to read books daily, encourage pretend play, share logical thinking. Explaining that it’s winter as Grandma’s house and therefore a coat is needed will help Zachary, who lives in Texas, understand why a coat is packed in the suitcase.
4. Socio-Cultural Theory (Vygotsky): This theory of development evolves from children’s interactions with tools and other people in their social environment. Community, culture and interactions are essential to a child’s development and learning.
Example: Alex, 7 years old, is having trouble solving a puzzle. By interacting with an adult, Alex learns to separate the edge pieces, assemble the border, and sort the interior pieces by color or pattern. By working with an adult, Alex develops skills that can be applied to future puzzles.
There are other childhood theories that can help parents and other caregivers by teaching them how to spend more enjoyable time with their child, reinforce positive skills, monitor behavior and set boundaries, and reduce the use of harsh disciplinary methods. These essential caregiving skills help children develop prosocial behavior, self-regulation, and other skills they need to succeed in school and at home.
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