4 Child Development Theories That Can Help You Better Care for Children

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4 Child Development Theories That Can Help You Better Care for Children

Have you ever wondered what motivates thoughts and behavior in children? Our understanding of human nature and child development is continually advancing, but all children are different, and no one has all the answers. However, a few recognized theories can provide useful insights about early development that will help you better care for children.

During our early childhood through childhood, we develop the foundations of our intelligence, personality, social behavior and capacity to learn. Four theories are worth considering and include attachment, psychosocial, cognitive development, and sociocultural theory.

1. Attachment theory (Bowlby): This theory is centered around strong emotional and physical bonds that create a sense of security in a child. Bonds are established with caregivers who are available and responsive to a baby’s needs. This way, the child knows that the caregiver is trustworthy, which creates a secure base for the child to explore their environment.

Example: Six-month-old Jordan enjoys children’s toys and interacting with others. Believing that crying brings help, Jordan responds to everyone and gets upset when someone stops interacting with him.

2. PsychoSocial Development Theory (Erikson): In this theory, social development occurs in stages based on turning points in a person’s life including hope (birth to age 2), will (age 2-4), purpose (age 4-5 ), competence (ages 5-12), faithfulness (ages 13-19), love (ages 20-39), care (ages 40-64), and wisdom (ages 65+).

Example: Two-year-old Jennifer has recently started fussing and saying “no” when her Nanny tries to secure her in her car seat. Jennifer has begun to develop a sense of self, separate from her caregivers. Her Nanny needs to consistently set and follow limits with Jennifer, to keep her safe and secure while driving in the car. The Nanny can increase Jennifer’s willingness to comply by giving specific praise along with choosing a special toy for Jennifer to hold when she gets into her car seat without resistance. Selecting her own clothes will also help Jennifer gain more independence.

3. Cognitive development theory (Piaget): This theory is based on a four-stage model that describes how the mind processes new information. The stages are sensorimotor (birth to age 2), preoperative (age 2-7), concrete operational (age 7-11), and formal operations (age 12+).

Example: Five-year-old Zachary is still egocentric and has difficulty seeing the perspective of others, but is beginning to think symbolically and use words to represent objects. Zachary loves to read and is building a foundation of language. If this stage, caregivers should continue to read books every day, encourage pretend play, share logical thinking. By explaining that it is winter time when grandma’s house and therefore a coat is needed will help Zachary, who lives in Texas, understand why a coat is packed in the suitcase.

4. Sociocultural theory (Vygotsky): This developmental theory arises from children’s interactions with tools and other people in their social environment. Community, culture and interactions are key to child development and learning.

Example: Seven-year-old Alex is struggling to solve a puzzle. By interacting with an adult, Alex learns how to separate the border pieces, assemble the border and sort the interior pieces by color or design. By working with an adult, Alex develops skills that can be applied to future puzzles.

There are other child theories that can help parents and other caregivers by teaching them how to spend more enjoyable time with their children, reinforce positive skills, control behavior and set limits, and reduce the use of harsh discipline methods. These essential caregiving skills help children develop pro-social behavior, self-regulation, and other skills they need to be successful at school and at home.

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