What is Child Development Theory
Introduction and Background
Child development encompasses the physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth of children from infant to adolescent stage. The child growth process was previously ignored in the history of human development, and toddlers were viewed as mini adult versions. Minimal attention was paid to the advances they made in language use, physical growth and cognitive abilities until the early 20th-century era (Crain, 2015). However, the studies focused more on abnormal behavior in children than their overall growth, but more researchers eventually began focusing on the process and factors influencing development. Understanding the various changes children undergo is essential in appreciating the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical milestones as they are ushered into adulthood.
A living being’s lifespan is the period over which it is expected to live or survive according to biology and under normal functioning circumstances (Santrock, 2013). This perspective studies how people grow, develop, and decline over the years by placing multiple factors in different frameworks to understand the human entity and biology. Most of the existing structures are designed according to the growth stages as described below:
a) Birth- two years
At this stage, the infant is wholly dependent on its parents or caregivers for most of its needs. The child also develops psychological characteristics including bonding with the caregivers which is significant for emotional development (Santrock, 2013).
b) Two- ten years (childhood)
At this point, the young ones are slowly becoming independent and learn to do things independently. They also develop cognitive skills, self-control, and a conscience that distinguishes right from wrong (Santrock, 2013).
c) Adolescence (teenage)
This stage comprises of children aged 13 to 19, also known as the teenage. Adolescent is marked by puberty, which is characterized by physical, cognitive, and emotional development (Santrock, 2013). Children who have hit the puberty stage are dominated by the need to be independent of their parents and seek their identity. An adolescent’s thoughts are more complex, logical, and idealistic.
Theories of Development
The presence of a wide range of factors and their interactions that influence growth and development in human beings provides room for scholars to come up with several theories explaining human development. The grand theories explain all aspects of growth using various stages, whereas other mini-theories focus on specific parts such as the social, psychological, or cognitive characteristics.
Examples of these theories include Freud’s psychosexual stages concept, Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory, Kohlberg’s moral understanding stage, Piaget’s cognitive development, and Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems (Crain, 2015). Other mini ones include the attachment, cognitive tools, separation-individuation, and objects relation theories.
a) Sigmund Freud Psychosexual Development Theory
Psychoanalytic concepts in infant and toddler growth focus on a child’s mental ability and conscience mind.According to Freud’s theory, each stage represents a child’s fixation on a different body part (Crain, 2015). He also based his argument on the idea that caregivers play a significant role in determining the toddlers’ sexual aggression during their prime years to nurture their development. There are five stages namely the oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital stages. His model also states that individual personality consists for three working parts namely the id, ego, and superego. For proper development, the child’s needs must be met at each stage an lack of proper care during the specific stage may lead to fixation.
Child Development Stages
Stage 1: Mouth (birth to one year)
A freshly born infant interacts primarily through the mouth thus creating the rooting and sucking reflex. A baby derives pleasure from oral stimulation through eating, tasting, and suckling. The baby also wholly relies on its caregivers making this stage vital for developing trust and comfort through oral stimulation. Conflict occurs during the weaning process because the child is conditioned to become less dependent on the caregivers. Children who are not breastfed enough develop oral fixation at this point. According to Freud, they later become aggressive or develop dependency issues. He further states that oral fixation is manifested in adults through drinking, smoking, eating, and nail biting.
Stage 2: Bowel and bladder control (1-3 years)
Toddlers between one and three years focus on controlling their bladder and bowel movements. In toilet training, the child is taught on how to manage the physical needs creating conflict between previous freedom and the need to learn control. When they become self-sufficient in toilet training, they develop a sense of accomplishment. The key point in ensuring a successful transition lies in how the parents approach the process. Using praise and rewards motivates productivity and positive outcomes while punishments and ridicule inspire shame and disappointment. When a parent is too lenient while training, Freud states that the child is likely to become messy, wasteful, or destructive through the anal-expulsive personality approach, and being too rigid or strict makes the child rigid, obsessive, and stringent through the anal-retentive personality. Proper toilet coaching results in competence, creativity, and productivity.
Stage 3: Genitals (3-6 years)
Also known as the phallic stage, the primary focus of toddlers at this age is on their genitals. They make discoveries about gender differences and begin competing for affection. Sigmund claims that boys compete for motherly love with their fathers through the Oedipus complex syndrome while girls compete for fatherly affection with their mothers through the Electra complex. Sigmund also states that the children fear punishment for their feelings, terming the sense as castration anxiety in boys and penis envy in girls. This view has been challenged severally by other scholars who call out its inaccuracy.
Stage 4: Latent period (6 years- puberty)
This is a period characterized by suppressed libido interests in children. Freud’s theory suggests that people in this phase undergo development of their personalities. Even though sexual energy is present, it is redirected to other activities such as sports, education, and socializing. Children are more concerned with exploring their hobbies, making new friends, and pursuing other interests. Through these activities, they develop confidence, social, and communication skills.
Stage 5: Sexual interests (puberty to death)
This step marks the last stage in psychosexual development among individuals. Right from adolescence to adulthood, human beings develop strong sexual interests in each other. It also involves being concerned about the welfare of others. Sigmund asserts that if an individual successfully goes through all stages without fixation, he or she becomes a reliable, warm, and caring person who can balance all life’s aspects.
Freud’s theory has been discredited for several reasons. First, many scholars believe that it focuses more on male than female development. Secondly, concepts such as libido cannot be measured hence are difficult to test scientifically. His predictions are also counted as vague because several other factors can influence the outcome of an individual from childhood to adulthood. Finally, his psychosexual analysis data was gathered from his adult patients and not an empirical research conducted on children.