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Theories of Child Development


The question about the development of personality and different stages, which each child goes through during the human life, is an object of detailed study of many psychologists. Each respected school of psychology presents the theory of child development. Psychologists present different theories aiming to explain human behavior, factors that form and influence it. There is no agreement on this point of view and new theories appear with the development of the science. Different scientists center on different aspects of human life. In this paper I will compare theory of child developed presented by Bygotsky, Piaget and Erikson.
Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget developed their own theories of child development. They both worked in the sphere of educational psychology and investigated processes and factors that influence cognitive development. Piaget analyzes physical characteristics as the main factors that determine the process of cognition, while Vygotsky sees cognitive development in the context of social interaction.
Piaget was a biologist so his theory of cognitive development is presented taking into account peculiarities of person’s organism. He states that babies are born with special schemes, which he calls “reflexes”. In human beings these reflexes are quickly transformed in the constructed schemes in the process of adaptation to the environment. This adaptation is realized with the help of these schemes – mental organizations. “This adaptation is driven by a biological drive to obtain balance between schemes and the environment (equilibration)” (Bruner, 1966, p.38). There could be two process in the process of adaptation: assimilation and accommodation. People adapt to different situations in different ways. When mental organizations – schemes – become more complex, they are called structures. Accommodation presumes getting something new from the environment due to changing of cognitive structures. Assimilation presumes transformation of the environment, so that it is accepted by cognitive structures. These two processes are used simultaneously during our life.
Piaget defined four stages in the process of cognitive development. The first stage is called Sensorimotor stage or Infancy. At this stage infants develop due to motor activities without the usage of language. Physical development gives them a possibility to develop new intellectual abilities. The second stage is called Pre-operational stage or Toddler and Early Childhood. At this stage children develop memory and imagination. Children start perceiving symbols though their thinking is still non-logical. In this period egocentric thinking prevails. The third stage is called concrete operating stage or elementary and early adolescence stage. Children learn to refer symbols to concrete objects: “In this stage (characterized by 7 types of conservation: number, length, liquid, mass, weight, area, volume), intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects” (Piaget, 1990, p. 81). The fourth stage is called formal operating stage or adolescence and adulthood stage. Behavior at this stage is characterized by the ability to use symbols related to abstract notions. There could be noticed return to egocentric thought at this stage.
Pieget has a number of followers who have developed a number of more experimental theories basing on Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Nevertheless, there are a lot critics who can not accept all the points of his theory. Researches show that most children in the process of their development come through sensorimotor, pre-operational and concrete operational stages (Renner, Stafford, Lawson, McKinnon, Friot & Kellogg, 1976), nevertheless, not all children being biologically ready, come to the next stage of cognition – formal operational stage. Data from adolescent populations indicates that only 30 to 35% of high school seniors attain the cognitive development stage of formal operations (Kuhn, Langer, Kohlberg & Haan, 1977).
Vygotsky is an educational psychologist, who is famous for his theory of cognitive development known also as sociocultural theory. Vygotsky states that social aspect is the most important in the process of cognitive development. Children are able to develop in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). “Zone of proximal development (ZPD) is Vygotsky’s term for the range of tasks that are too difficult for children to master alone but that can be learned with the guidance and assistance of more-skilled adults and peers” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 73). Children learn only through the interaction with other people. Children can achieve more results if they get adults’ assistance. The adults should correctly choose the complicity of tasks for their children. The ZPD identifies the tasks children cannot copy with alone but are able to perform with the adults’ help. ZPD changes because children acquire new skills. For example, a child cannot speak French but repeating French words after teacher, he begins to speak this language. In this example French teacher acts as a scaffold. Scaffolding is the help or assistance provided by a more skilled and experienced person. There are different kinds of scaffolding, which include motivation, tips, feedbacks, advice, own examples and others. Level of child’s performance is of great importance and it should the regulated by the level of adults’ guidance. In our example with the French language the teacher soon will use more complex French structures, till the child understands French without interpretation. “Therefore, scaffolding instills the skills necessary for independent problem solving in the future” (Vygotsky, 1980, p. 76). Vygotsky emphasizes in his theory of cognitive development that interaction with social surrounding identifies the level of cognitive development, so parents should play great attention to this aspect.
Vygotsky’s theory has been also greatly criticized. Psychologists and mythologists state that Vygotsky does not pay enough attention to other aspect of cognitive development, foregrounding only social factor (cited in Moll, 1994).
Erikson developed Eight stages of life theory. His theory is based on basic conflicts or challenges the person faces during his or her life and the way he or she resolves them. He states that the person gets new knowledge and skills in accordance to the conflict, which plays a dominant role during a certain period of life.
The basic task of the first stage, which lasts from one to one and half year, is to develop trust. During this stage parents should help children to develop the trust to the social world, which surrounds them. Children should grow up with the realization that the world around them is safe and people are reliable and loving. If this does not happen the child will develop mistrust. The basic facts which prove that the proper degree of trust has been developed is a child’s ability to wait for satisfaction of his needs. If the child has enough trust for the world, he or she can wait for some time till his needs are satisfied.
The next stage lasts from one year and a half to three years. The feeling of autonomy is developed during this period. During this stage the child investigates the world around him and develops the sense of autonomy and independence. If parents are too controlling and don’t give child enough freedom and independence, the opposing feelings will be developed. This can happen if parents discourage their child or push him too much. Self-respect and self-esteem are also developed during this stage.
During the third stage children learn to show initiative. Is this does not happen, they develop the feeling of guilt. This stage lasts during the period between three and five years. Children should learn to express themselves in the external world. They should learn to express initiative, to be artistic and creative. Children learn how to plan and make projects during this stage. The fourth stage starts at the age of six and lasts about six years. The main challenge of this period is a task to develop the skill of industry. During this period children learn to learn. They study to control their time. They develop the feeling of success and learn how to react to the feedback of others – their parents, teachers, and peers. They adopt social skills and learn to work in groups. If basic skills are not developed, the feeling of inferiority may appear during this stage. Excessive feeling of industry can also be dangerous as it can lead to excessive self-esteem, so the right balance between inferiority and industry is the best variant.
During the next stage, which lasts from 12 to 18 years, people make their journey into adolescence. Developing right social roles, young people get their ego identity during this stage. During this stage teenagers enter the world of adults and learnt to live in this world. Erikson states that those, who successfully pass this stage and overcome the crisis of personality, get the virtue of fidelity or loyalty. The sixth stage lasts from 18 to 30 years. Erikson called this stage “young adulthood”. During this stage people try to get the relations of intimacy with others. If this does not happen, they find themselves in isolation from the rest of the world. Intimacy is an ability to build relations with other people. During this period people most often get married, build family. The main achievement people get passing this stage is the building of loving relationships. Some people experience the fear of commitment during this stage. They are afraid of serious relationship and sharing life with another person. If they do not overcome the challenge of this stage, they will not achieve the necessary degree of intimacy.
The seventh stage describes the period of middle adulthood. The time span of this stage is hard to define as different people can pass this crisis in different age. In modern society people pass this stage between the age of 20 and 50. During this stage people start thinking about things, they can give to the world. Very often people start thinking about the giving birth to children during this stage. If the sixth stage is overcome, people start thinking about giving the future for their love. Bringing up children is a usual way of realization of generativity, which is the main focus during this period, but Erikson also speaks about other ways people can find their realization and bring use to others. This can be achieved through creativity, social activism and other ways to contribute to the development of further generations.
The last stage called maturity starts after 60 years old. Erikson states that the main task of this stage is to develop the ego integrity. If this does not happen, people start feeling despair and senselessness of their existence. This stage is characterized by the reducing of social roles and many people feel their uselessness during this period. Many people get retired and lose their occupation they dedicated their lives to, health problems also make the situation difficult. Grown up children leave their parents. People oftener meet their friends and relatives’ death. If the person achieves ego integrity, he learns how to come in terms with his or her life and obtain the virtue, which Erikson defines as wisdom. “Someone who approaches death without fear has the strength of wisdom. It is a gift to children, because "healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death." (Marcia, p. 555)
Erikson extended Freudian teaching about the stages of development. In contrast to Freudian classification, which described only childhood, Erikson’s stages covered all human life. Being socially directed, he was centered on the functions of ego as main mechanism aiming to develop healthy mechanisms of dealing with the surrounding world.
It goes without saying that Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development are often compared. Piaget insists that the main source of cognition are children themselves, while Vygotsky says that it is social surrounding. Piaget opposes Vygotsky’s concept of the ZPD stating that children being biologically mature are able to develop cognitive skills and adults do not play significant role in this process. Vygotsky, in his turn, emphasizes that social environment helps children to adapt to different life situations. “Piaget emphasized universal cognitive change and Vygotsky's theory leads us to expect highly variable development , depending on the child's cultural experiences to the environment. Piaget's theory emphasized the natural line, while Vygotsky favored the cultural line of development” (Berk, 1994, p. 67). Piaget states that children can act without outside help discovering the world around them, Vygotsky in his Thoughts and Language says that the success of cognitive development depends on social interaction. Children can develop their speech in dialogues with other people and this, in its turn, will develop their human abilities.
Despite all the differences and approaches in Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories, they both had one common aim: to explain the process of cognition when ideas and thoughts in children’ heads transform into speech. Their theories made a great contribution to the theory of cognitive processes.
Though Erikson based his stages of development on Freudian psychosexual theory, he made some changes in basic features of the theory. He didn’t believe sexuality and instincts to be the only factors, which influenced the development of personality. Erikson puts an emphasis on social and cultural factors and their influence on the development of an individual. He believed that each of eight developmental stages contained task of psychosocial nature for an individual to resolve. Erikson called the stages according to qualities, which should have been developed by the personality during passing through them. These stages are: hope or trust, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care and wisdom accordingly. Though Erikson called tasks “crises”, which need to be overcome, he didn’t believe as Freud that not passing any stage made individual stuck in it (Graves, Larkin). He believed that problematic issues could have been worked on any stage in the context of current tasks.

References

Berk, Laura E. (1994). Child Development Third Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. pg. 50, 156-57, 254, 352.
Bruner, J. (1966). Studies in cognitive growth : A collaboration at the Center for Cognitive Studies. New York: Wiley & Sons.
Graves, S. B., Larkin, E. (2006), Lessons from Erikson: A Look at Autonomy Across the Lifespan, Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, V. 4

Moll, Louis C. (1994). Vygotsky and Education: Instructional implications and applications of sociohistorical psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Neisser, U. (1967). Cognitive psychology. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.
Piaget, J. (1972). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1990). The child's conception of the world. New York: Littlefield Adams.
Piaget, J., Gruber, H. (Ed.), & Voneche, J. J. (Ed.). The essential Piaget (100th Anniversary Ed.). New York: Jason Aronson.
Renner, J., Stafford, D., Lawson, A., McKinnon, J., Friot, E., & Kellogg, D. (1976). Research, teaching, and learning with the Piaget model. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Boston: MIT Press.
Vygotsky, L., & Vygotsky, S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

 
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