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4 Child Development Theories That Can Help You Better Care for Children
Have you ever wondered what motivates children’s thoughts and behaviors? Our understanding of human nature and child development is continually advancing, but all children are different and no one has all the answers. However, several recognized theories can provide useful insights into early development to help you better care for children.
During the early years from infancy to childhood, we develop the foundation of our intelligence, personality, social behavior and learning abilities. Four theories are worth considering and include attachment, psychosocial, cognitive development, and sociocultural theory.
1. Attachment theory (Bowlby): This theory focuses on strong emotional and physical bonds that create a sense of security in the child. Relationships are established with caregivers who are available and responsive to the child’s needs. Thus, the infant knows that the caregiver is reliable, which creates a secure base for the child to explore its environment.
Example: Six-month-old Jordan enjoys baby toys and interacting with others. Convinced that crying brings help, Jordan responds to everyone and gets upset when someone stops communicating with him.
2. Psychosocial Development Theory (Erikson): In this theory, social development occurs in stages based on milestones in a person’s life including hope (birth to 2 years), will (2-4 years), purpose (4-5 years), competence (ages 5-12), fidelity (ages 13-19), love (ages 20-39), care (ages 40-64) and wisdom (65+).
Example: Two-year-old Jennifer recently started squirming and saying “no” when her babysitter tried to strap her into her car seat. Jennifer began to develop a sense of self, separate from her caregivers. Her babysitter must consistently set boundaries and follow her with Jennifer to keep her safe while riding in the car. The sitter can increase Jennifer’s willingness to comply by giving special praise while allowing Jennifer to choose a special toy to hold whenever she sits in the car seat without resistance. Choosing her own clothes will also help Jennifer gain more independence.
3. Cognitive Developmental Theory (Piaget): This theory is based on a four-stage model that describes how the mind processes new information. The stages are sensorimotor (from birth to 2 years), pre-operational (2-7 years), specific operational (7-11 years) and formal operations (12+).
Example: Five-year-old Zachary is still self-centered and struggles to see others’ perspectives, but he is beginning to think symbolically and use words to represent objects. Zachary loves to read and is building a language foundation. At this stage, caregivers should continue to read books daily, encourage pretend play, share logical thinking. Explaining that winter is like grandma’s house and therefore a coat is needed will help Zachary, who lives in Texas, understand why a coat is packed in a suitcase.
4. Sociocultural theory (Vygotsky): This developmental theory evolves from children’s interactions with tools and other people in their social environment. Community, culture and interactions are key to a child’s development and learning.
Example: Seven-year-old Alex is struggling to solve a puzzle. In interaction with an adult, Alex learns how to separate edge pieces, assemble edges and sort interior pieces by color or design. Working with an adult, Alex develops skills that can be applied to future puzzles.
There are other theories of childhood that can help parents and other caregivers by teaching them how to spend more enjoyable time with their child, strengthen positive skills, monitor behavior and set limits, and reduce the use of harsh disciplinary methods. These basic caregiving skills help children develop prosocial behavior, self-regulation, and other skills they need to be successful at school and at home.
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