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Child Development Theorists: Major Theorists Of Child Development

Child Development Theorists...

Changes of development that occur from birth to adulthood were largely ignored throughout much of history.

Child Development theorists, Jean Piaget

Children were often viewed simply as small versions of adults and little attention was paid to the many advances in intellectual abilities, language development, and physical growth.

The following are just a few of the many child development theorists with their different contributions.

Jean Piaget

Piaget was a French speaking Swiss theorist who posited that children learn through actively constructing knowledge through hands-on experience. He suggested that the adult's role in helping the child learn was to provide appropriate materials for the child to interact and construct.

He would use Socratic questioning to get the children to reflect on what they were doing. He would try to get them to see contradictions in their explanations. He also developed stages of development.

Click here to learn more about Jean Piaget. [Opens in new window]

Sigmund Freud

In accordance with his view of a basic human motivation being the sexual drive, Sigmund Freud developed a psychosexual theory of human development from infancy onward, divided into five stages.

Each stage centered on the gratification of the libido within a particular area, or erogenous zone, of the body. He also argued that as humans develop, they become fixated on different and specific objects through their stages of development.

The first stage is the oral stage exemplified by an infant's pleasure in nursing and where gratification of needs centers around feeding.

The second is the anal stage (toddlerhood), which revolves around interest in bodily functions and gratification of need by retaining or expelling faeces.

Third is the phallic stage which lasts for about three years and it is during this stage that the oedipal conflict arises wherein a boys desires for his mother are in conflict with his fear of castration by the rival father.

Freud argued that children pass through a stage in which they fixate on the mother as a sexual object (known as the Oedipus Complex) but that the child eventually overcomes and represses this desire because of its taboo nature.

Freud's attempts to formulate a comparable process for girls fixating on fathers, the lesser known Electra Complex, was less successful.

The fourth stage is the repressive or dormant latency stage of psychosexual development. This is followed by a genital stage during which the properly developing human should mature from pleasure seeking infant into the sexually mature, genital stage of psychosexual development.

In Freuds theory, each stage contains conflict which requires resolution to enable the child to develop.

Click here to learn more about Sigmund Freud. [Opens in new window]

Erik Erikson

Theorist Erik Erikson also proposed a stage theory of development, but his theory encompassed development throughout the human lifespan.

Erikson believed that each stage of development is focused on overcoming a conflict. Success or failure in dealing with conflicts can impact overall functioning.

Click here to learn more about Erik Erikson. [Opens in new window]


Confucius, a Chinese teacher and educator, believed that moral principles, virtues and discipline should be the very first lessons taught to a child, and that children need to practice them daily.

It was most important to the ancient Chinese parents that their children learned moral principles and virtues first - before any other subjects, because without these as a foundation, the learning of all other subjects would be futile.

Di Zi Gui, an ancient book based on the teaching of Confucius, had been for thousand of years, the recommended standards for child moral development.

Di Zi Gui in English, means Standards for being a Good Student and Child. When a child is instilled with those values outlined in the book at a very young age, he will develop into a respectful and virtuous person.

Lev Vygotsky

He believed children learn through hands-on experience, as Piaget suggested. However, unlike Piaget, he claimed that timely and sensitive intervention by adults when a child is on the edge of learning a new task... called the Zone of Proximal Development... could help children learn to do new tasks.

This technique is called "scaffolding" because it builds upon knowledge children already have with new knowledge that adults can help the child learn. An example of this might be when a parent "helps" an infant clap or roll his hands to the Pat-a-Cake rhyme, until he can clap and roll his hands himself.

Vygotsky was strongly focused on the role of culture in determining the child's pattern of development. In 1978, he argued "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).

This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.

Click here to learn more about Lev Vygotsky. [Opens in new window]

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