Child development theorists

Bernice Vidal

A theory is an orderly, integrated set of statements that describes, explains, and predicts behavior (Berk, 2004, p. 6). In child development you can find a few different theorists that have their own theories of what leads to a child’s stages of development. Some of these people are Jean Piaget, Sigmund Freud, and Erik Erickson. Though they have different ideas there are some similarities as well.

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Some theories that come up is the Psychoanalytic perspective. The two people that worked on this is Freud and Erikson. This theory through Freud is psychosexual, this depends on how a child’s parent handles their child’s sexual and aggressive drive and will determine if they have a healthy personality development. Freud says there are three parts of personality. The id, ego, and superego and then five stages, oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. These leading to the stages of a child crying and wanting something to then learning to get it on their own. These stages go from birth to adolescence. Freud’s theory that through family relationships and early experiences is what helps a child’s development may be considered accurate to some, but he had never studied children to know if this is correct and he did not take into consideration the family’s cultures or backgrounds. Erikson expanded on Freuds theory and came up with psychosocial theory. His theory was from birth all the way through old age, stating how each stage acquires attitudes and skills that make the individual an active, contributing member of society (Berk, 2004, p.16). Erikson differed from Freud because he considered culture and one’s society in development. These theorists though tried different approaches still faded because they were focused on a clinical approach more than a social approach. Behaviorism and social learning theory are more about observing and learning through doing. Through this theory they learned that the environment a child is in can change a child’s development. This then connected to the social learning aspect, seeing if a child’s behavior changes based on what they have seen or learned. This is known as modeling. When a child does what they have learned either at home or by another child and do it themselves. Bandura changed the name from social-learning to social-cognitive because he felt that if a child who received positive feedback and saw a parent who was positive in their own actions the child would learn and strive to see this in themselves as they get older.  To this day behavior and social learning are theories used for understanding children that are unable to express their anger or fears but does not cover the cognitive side of a child’s development.

Piaget came in with the cognitive- developmental theory. This is where we see more of the cognitive stages, such as sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. This theory is where children learn through exploring and manipulating things. In the beginning stages as an infant, they start using their senses to explore and then they change and go into make believe play from ages 2-7, then as they get older, they use more logic and understanding of things to come up with more outcomes and problem-solving skills. All this is through learning of the child’s environment but just like Freud they do not think of a child’s cultural background or take into consideration how the family may impact an infant more in one family then another by practicing a skill over and over. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory took from Piaget’s and added these factors of how a child can take a skill and learn them with using assistance from a way an adult teaches them. This theory mainly focuses on the culture aspect and how a child’s skill can grow quicker based on their cultural background but misses out on the biological aspects of development. Though a child make master a skill it may not explain why they cannot read or write, which is more of the cognitive role in development. Lastly there is the Ecological systems theory, which shows how a child’s whole surroundings can influence a child’s development growth. There is the microsystem which consists of the child’s immediate surroundings then leads into the mesosystem, which are the connections of home, schools, or child’s neighborhood and then flow into the ecosystem, which is made up social settings that do not contain children but affect their experiences in the immediate settings (Berk, 2004, p. 28). These are things like extended family and community and workplace. This then roles into the last level which is the macrosystem. The macrosystem is the laws, values, and customs in the child’s environment in which affects support the child may get through development.

Through the many theories of how a child develops, I think that child development is a mixture of a few theories. I agree with behaviorism, social learning, Piaget’s cognitive, Vygotsky’s sociocultural and Ecological theory. A child’s development comes from all the areas they cover, when a child is born, they learn from hands on activity, people around them and model behavior, but they also learn based on their culture and social background. We need the mixtures of theories to understand that it takes many areas to understand a child’s development or behavior.


References: Berk, L. (2004) Infants and Children Prenatal Through Middle Childhood (5th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.



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