Developmental Theory

A child coloring on a paper
The various stages of growth are paired with age-appropriate characteristics in a child’s life.

Developmental theories are a part of developmental psychology—a discipline that focuses on understanding the nature and growth sources in children’s cognitive, social, and language skills. In 1877, evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin undertook the first study of developmental psychology, which was on innate communication forms. But it is now understood that growth is not fixed and is ever-changing throughout life.

Developmental theories are about studying human developmental stages, i.e. from infancy to old age, and the various changes humans undergo during this transition. The following essays will help in understanding where the child development theories stemmed.

Developmental Theory Essay Examples

Developmental Theories

There are many types of developmental theories. First being the Psychoanalytic Theory, and the Cognitive Theory.  Within these two types of theories there are several psychologists that have their own theory of development.

Charles Darwin’s Theory Of Personality

Environmental factors interact with genetics to form personality. The biological approach is just one of many that explains why we are the way we are. Some psychologists, such as Carl Jung, Hans Eysenck, and B.F. Skinner developed theories emphasizing the genetic influences on personality.

Sigmund Freud: The Father of Modern Psychology

Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, shaped the course of medicine in many ways such as the treatment of psychopathology and others feats in the neurological field.  In Sigmund Freud a short biography, by Giovanni Castigan,  you get to see Freud in a third person perspective.

Child Development Theory

Play may be best described as a biological state in which fuels healthy, normal development (Committee on Hospital Care, 2000) in both children and adults (Brown, 2008). Brown further indicates that play is a state that we engage in throughout our entire life process

The Four Major Theories Of Human Development

What are the major theories of human development? How does each one of the theories apply to your life and personal experiences? Provide examples. There are six different major theories of human development. Psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, ethological and evolutionary, sociocultural and ecological perspective.

Central Themes of Developmental Theories

A sketch of a child's head highlighting the brain
There are four central themes that are known to affect a child’s development.

Since there are a lot of factors that influence a child’s development, different theories about the same have been postulated over time. These theories pursue four central themes:

  • Nature versus nurture significance, which gives rise to the classic debate of nature versus nurture in shaping child development. It is unclear whether this growth results from hereditary factors or is influenced by the environment (family, school, community, culture, and so on).
  • Developmental stages: These are about whether children’s growth proceeds in a continuous or stage-like fashion. Stage theories, such as those proposed by Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Sigmund Freud, assert that development progresses through maturity-determined stages.
  • The existence of critical or sensitive periods, which focuses on the existence of sensitive periods (time of growth when an organism responds maximally to certain environmental or biological events) in human development.
  • The final theme is the early experience’s impact, which discusses the importance of the early experience of a child in shaping their later growth and development.

Based on the above themes, there are many developmental theories and models. These theories focus on various child growth aspects such as social, emotional, psychosexual, behavioral, and so on. Some of the popular names in the field are Piaget, Erikson, Freud, Bandura, Bowlby, and Kohlberg, whose theories are discussed further in detail.

Themes Of Child Development

Child psychology is a science that gives parents a set of guidelines to which they can refer too if they are experiencing difficulties in raising their child. When a child is ten years old, social development and self-concept are two domains of development that mold a child into an adult.

Sensitive Periods in Development

Sensitive Periods in Development. The child does not grow uniformly and homogeneously like a crystal or a carrot, but by stages or phases, which succeed one another and which, differ from one another.

Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory

A person and a baby reading a book
Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory suggests that a child’s intelligence isn’t constant.

Cognitive developmental theories suggest that each human’s interpretation of events causes their unique reactions toward them. One of the most popular cognitive theories is Piaget’s developmental theory. Piaget was a Swiss psychologist, and his model suggests that children’s intelligence changes as they grow. According to this theory, a child’s life has four stages and each of these stages has a specific developmental goal:

1. Sensorimotor stage: birth to 2 years; the goal of the preoperational stage is symbolic thought (thinking ability to use symbols and images).

2. Pre-operational stage: 2–7 years; at this stage, a child’s ability to use mental representations improves greatly.

3. Concrete operational stage: 7–11 years; the goal at this stage is cognitive development.

4. Formal operational stage: 12 years and up; abstract concept characterizes this stage.

The Four Stages Of Piaget’s Cognitive Development

The Main Features of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development: Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss biologist turned Psychologist, has had perhaps the most influential development on the understanding and progression of Cognitive Development. 

Biography of Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland on August 9, 1896. He is the oldest child of Rebecca Jackson and Arthur Piaget.  His father was a professor of medieval literature and showed great dedication to his studies, which was a trait that caught the attention of Mr. Piaget.

Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory

A black and white photograph of Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson’s psychosocial developmental theory explores eight stages of human development.
Image Credits: Rupali.talan / Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Erik Erikson was a crucial figure in the psychoanalytic as well as psychological development fields. As per this theory, human growth has eight distinct stages of a psychosocial crisis, which they face at different ages. These stages have both positive and negative influences on an individual’s life. Each of these stages corresponds with a different period of human development.

  • Stage 1: trust versus mistrust; it coincides with the period of human infancy. At this stage, babies learn to trust, which influences their future relationships.
  • Stage 2: autonomy versus shame and doubt; infancy period where the focus is on developing physical skills.
  • Stage 3: initiative versus guilt; locomotor stage at which a child becomes more assertive.
  • Stage 4: industry versus inferiority; latency stage at which a child learns new skills.
  • Stage 5: identity versus role confusion; adolescence where a teenager achieves a sense of identity.
  • Stage 6: intimacy versus isolation; stage of young adulthood focused on developing intimate relationships.
  • Stage 7: generativity versus stagnation; middle adulthood focused on parenting.
  • Stage 8: integrity versus despair; this is the final and maturity stage, which is about reflection and acceptance in life.

His theory provides a more realistic view of human growth and highlights the importance of adulthood.

Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development

Many psychologists and psychoanalysts have impacted the way human growth and development is viewed today. These psychologists and psychoanalysts developed theories that are being used every day in the health care profession.

Eric Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

According to Eric Erikson, there are eight different social stages a person must go through as they mature. Each stage has a positive characteristic and a negative characteristic. If positive characteristics are fulfilled then their future will look good.

Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental Theory

A black and white photograph of Sigmund Freud holding a cigar
Freud’s psychosexual theory suggests that a child’s experiences influence their sexual development.

Austrian physicist Sigmund Freud came forth with the psychosexual developmental theory. It is one of the most important psychological theories of the 20th century.  Freud studied that a person’s childhood experiences and unconscious desires influence their sexual behaviors

According to this theory, child development occurs in a series of psychosexual stages, each focused on different pleasure areas of the body. These stages are oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital. Freud concluded that it is necessary to complete each stage in order to become a healthy adult. For example, the oral stage corresponds with infancy and is identified by the child’s oral-fixated behaviors such as breast or bottle feeding. People with an oral fixation in adulthood gain satisfaction from oral-stimulating activities such as smoking or nail biting. All stages, thus, influence the sexual maturity of a child.

Sigmund Freud Theory

Of the copious number of topics in the world today, nothing captivated Sigmund Freud’s attention like psychology did. Known as the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud laid the foundations for comprehending the inner workings that determine human behavior (1).

The Psychology of Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is one of the most controversial psychologists in history to this day, yet his theories and ideas are widely known. Freud made a crucial contribution to the study of understanding hidden human motivation (Lippman, 1996).

Bandura’s Developmental Theory

Albert Bandura
Albert Bandura postulated the social learning theory, which suggested that surroundings also influence a child’s development.
Image Credits: Albert Bandura / Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Albert Bandura’s social learning theory states that apart from direct experience, modeling and surrounding observations influence a child’s learning and development. Children learn from their environment and also imitate the behaviors of the people around them. Therefore, this theory considers both cognitive and environmental factors while determining children’s learning and behavior. 

Bandura built his theory on the foundation of classical and operant conditioning. For example, if a child exhibits a behavior that is met with a reward, they are more likely to behave the same way in the future. Following are some essays that detail his social learning theory.

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura (1977) defines social learning theory as behavior that is learned through observation in the individual’s environment (McLeod, 2011).  This process is called observational learning that usually involves a model that is demonstrating certain behaviors that others can pick up (Cervone & Pervin, 2013).

Compare And Contrast Classical And Operant Conditioning

From the time humans are born, they begin the process of learning and trying to understand the world. Conditioning is one way of learning in which a response becomes more frequent as a result of reinforcement. We can also learn through associations and punishments.

Bowlby’s Developmental Theory

Bowlby was a psychoanalyst and believed in the influence of early childhood experiences on development. His attachment theory asserted that much of a child’s growth depends on the innate need of children to form attachments. These attachments could be to people, places, or things and have a substantial effect on the later developmental stages of a child.

His theory is strongly rooted in evolutionary psychology; he believed that humans are biologically predisposed to form attachments as a survival mechanism.

Bowlby’s Attachment Theory

Bowlby’s attachment theory has greatly influenced practice. His theory of attachment explains the importance of having a figure that the child shares a strong bond with. Having an attachment can significantly support a child’s development

Kohlberg’s Cognitive Developmental Theory

Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory focuses on a child’s understanding of gender and how it develops with age. He believed that this understanding occurs in three stages:

  • Gender identity, which involves a child recognizing their gender (male or female).
  • Stability, which refers to a child’s understanding that their gender is fixed.
  • Constancy, which is about a child’s realization that any cosmetic changes will not alter their sex.

As children perceive the gendered world around them, their thinking about gender changes in qualitative ways.

Developmental theories aim to understand the origins of creativity, but they also often suggest how to design environments to fulfill creative potential. The modern-day approach to developmental psychology includes sub-fields of positive psychology. This discipline has helped with understanding children’s motivations, social and emotional contexts, and strengths and weaknesses. The knowledge of these theories helps children reach their maximum potential.

Lawrence Kohlberg: A Brief Biography of Him and his Theory

He was a very intelligent man, and taught many people about his theory.  Although he has done many other things in his life besides working on his theory. Lawrence Kohlberg was born on October 25th, 1927. He grew up in Bronxville, New York. Kohlberg was a volunteer sailor in World War ll.

Gender Identity, And Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory Of Gender Development

Gender identity refers to self-identification, whether an individual identifies themselves as either male or female. Gender identity is not always congruent with biological sex, which refers to anatomy including chromosomes, sex organs and hormones.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are child development theories?

    Child development theories are a part of human development and explain a child’s journey from infancy to old age. They focus on their children’s aspects, such as emotional, social, and logical growth.

  • What are the key elements of Bandura’s social learning theory?

    Albert Bandura’s social learning theory asserts that humans behave by replicating the actions of others. The key elements in this theory are modeling, observation, and imitation. Humans observe model behavior and try to imitate it based on the rewards they receive.

  • What is the most important stage in Freud’s psychosexual developmental theory?

    Freud’s psychosexual developmental theory has five stages. The phallic stage is the most critical one as it brings sexual conflict. In this stage, the child's erogenous zone is the genital region.

  • How does Erikson's psychosocial theory differ from Freud's psychosexual theory?

    Erikson's psychosocial theory is focused on social and environmental factors, and it concerns adulthood. Freud's psychosexual theory emphasizes biological forces and sexual desires and concerns the early child development stages.

  • Why is Piaget's theory significant?

    Piaget's theory of cognitive development concerns a child’s intelligence. It explains how children are curious and intellectual and constantly experiment based on their interpretation of the surrounding world.