• See how the interest in the psychology of children today has exploded and given birth to a plethora of various parenting styles!
• Join for a brief tour through the history of child psychology and get the key points of:
Today, more than ever, we are interested in the psychology of children. You may see this in the abundance of readily available child psychology articles on the internet (like this one) and in your local supermarket.
In this way the interest in the psychology of the child is not only reserved for child experts, pedagogues and psychologists anymore, it is also a subject that many parents feel they ought to know just a little bit about in order to provide their child with the best conditions possible.
Many parents feel that knowing how your child's mind - works and when to expect what in terms of psychological child development - is a natural part of raising children: Knowing something about
child psychology is often something we feel is part of our responsibility as parents.
Sure, it may sometimes feel like a pressure - am I doing a good enough job as a mom or dad? However, no matter what we do and engage in, we will always question ourselves.
Also the explosive growth of the internet and free information doesn't strip people of their own will to choose and discard.
If anything, it's the other way around - with all this information available everywhere, we learn to quickly find what we need and agree on and sort out that which we don't.
Saying there is too much information around is actually wanting to strip people of their right to choose while at the same time saying that they are not capable of making the right choice for themselves.
Yes, there is a lot of 'good parenting' discourse floating around in society today - but there is always a discourse about something going on, and we always navigate through it according to our own interests ... no news there.
But that was a brief detour; let's return to the subject of
child psychology in itself.
Today, compared to earlier, if anything we are presented with bits and pieces here and there that try to explain certain aspects of child psychology.
All these different aspects of the psychology of a child are integrated into a plethora of different parenting styles, such as the bonding orientated parenting style of attachment parenting or the positive psychology inspired parenting style of positive parenting and many, many more.
What is typical of the parenting orientated psychology of children today is not so much an interest in preparing the child for the roughness of adulthood but more in raising happy, responsible and conscious individuals.
This tendency is an expression of "We want more for our child that just preparing him or her to do well out in society and fit well into certain roles ... we actually want our child to be happy with who he or she is!"
Positive parenting and attachment parenting is driven by a desire to try to provide the child with the best conditions of having a deeply fulfilling life rather than just a liveable one.
But enough of parenting talk for now, let's return once more to the issue of child psychology:
Historically speaking, just like in the field of traditional psychology theory, the field of the psychology of children has been very concerned with developmental malfunctions and the question: 'What can go wrong?'
Most 'old' theories in the history of child psychology are very preoccupied with neatly squeezing the psychology of a child down into different developmental stages rather rigidly defined by age.
Also, the view on the development of the psychology of a child used to be quite black and white:
Many premises of the early child psychology theories were that the child was very vulnerable.
A prevalent idea was that it only took one bad thing - a particular event or a particular mal-completed stage - to do 'serious damage' to the psychology of a child.
Today, practical child psychology research has fortunately proven that the psychology of a child is much more complex and a lot less fragile.
Now, allow me to give you a brief tour through the fascinating history of child psychology by presenting some of the old high-ups in early child psychology theory.
One of the earliest, but also most controversial theories about child psychology, we owe to our good old friend Freud (1856-1939) and the field of psychoanalysis.
The Freud theory held that a child had to go through certain psychosexual developmental stages in order to develop a healthy personality as an adult.
According to Freud all children are driven by psychosexual energy, the libido, which determines their behavior at different ages and stages.
During each developmental stage the child is driven by sexual instincts to have certain basic pleasure needs fulfilled via the body's erogenous zones and the skin.
Freud mapped out 5 different stages of the psychology of children. Here is a very condensed overview:
If a child did not go through or complete a certain stage, Freud believed that aspects of the child's mentality would get stuck and later in life become 'fixated'.
'Fixated' means regressing to a certain type of infantile behavior that was typical of a certain childhood stage. For instance if you were 'stuck' in the oral stage, as an adult you may be driven by a need to constantly have something in your mouth: a cigarette or a bottle for instance.
First of all, Freud has been criticized for boiling everything down to sexual energy, the libido, saying that if we develop healthily, it's because we got to live out our libido as kids - and if we develop unhealthily, it's because for some reason our sexual energy was blocked or repressed.
Also there's the question of: How do we know that a certain specific deprivation or event is the reason for how we behave today? For instance there's no certain way of knowing whether there's a direct relationship between being a heavy smoker today and having had a traumatic weaning experience as an infant.
Today it is recognized that who we are and how we behave is much more complex.
Like Freud, Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was also interested in putting child psychology neatly into developmental stages.
Piaget developed a cognitive theory to help us understand how the psychology of children works in terms of how children understand and think about the world.
In his developmental theory, Jean Piaget delineated 4 developmental stages a young child goes through chronologically.
He believed that a child had to fully complete one phase before diving into the next. Also he postulated that the ages in the phases were universal and therefore 'applicable' to every culture.
Very briefly put the Piaget stages of child psychology are as follows:
One of the most criticized points in Piaget's theory is his fixation on age.
Recent child psychology research has documented that he often underestimates children's mental abilities. For instance at the preoperational stage children typically have a lot more self-awareness and awareness of other people's thoughts than he gives them credit for.
Even though later child psychology research has undermined some of Piaget's points, the very idea that children simply think differently than grownups, that their minds work in a different way than adults, was new at the time.
Like other early child psychology theorists he wanted to meticulously map out different developmental stages. And he was convinced that one chronologically went from one stage to the next - there is no skipping stages.
Now hold on tight because now we're going down a rather abstract road:
Kohlberg suggests that his theory applies to all cultures. In this way he may be considered 'ethno-centric'.
Ethnocentric is a sophisticated word for applying a western yardstick for all other cultures: What is considered an ideal of morality in the West is not necessarily an ideal to e.g. African Bushmen.
Most likely other cultures have other ways of measuring morality.
Danish-German-American psychologist Erik Erikson (1902-1994) presents us with a psychosocial theory of a whole of 8 developmental stages.
These stages are also characterized by having either a positive or negative outcome.
One of the determining factors in the development of the psychology of a child is support, encouragement and accept by the immediate surroundings, especially the parents.
Like in many of the other theories of child psychology, each stage has to be successfully completed before the child can move on to the next stage.
Just like Freud, Erik Erikson believed that if for some reason a child didn't complete a certain stage, problems were bound to occur later on in life.
Very shortly put the stages are as follows:
If the child feels he or she cannot rely on his or her parents, there is a risk of developing general mistrust in people.
It the parents make too many demands on the child and the child consistently fails - or if the parents make fun of the child's efforts, the child may develop shame and starts doubting his or her own skills.
And if the child doesn't succeed in his or her endeavors, Erikson says the child may feel guilt, which is a new emotion.
If the child is supported positively in this, the child is likely to develop more self confidence which again makes the child want to learn more. If not, the child may feel a sense of inferiority and failure.13-19 years - Identity vs. Role confusion - Strength: Fidelity:
If a person experiences failure, he or she may end up not wanting closeness because of fear of rejection. Such a fear may lead to isolation.
Erikson's theory has gained much approval in the sense that 'finally there is somebody who attach weight to not only childhood experiences but also adult experiences when defining 'who we are'.
Most criticism of the Erikson theory is about the narrow framework of identity formation: 'Does it only happen between 13-19 of age - and what about important events and experiences earlier or later than this?
As you may have noticed, many of the great big theories of the psychology of children had a focus on strict chronological development:
In the latter part of the 20th century the big overarching theories receded into the background and smaller theories based on real life observation came to the fore.
Researchers realized that the idea of having one big child psychology theory to explain it all was way too ambitious and that these 'arm-chair' theories were often too far away from the flux and complexities of real life.
The old child psychology theories simply weren't nuanced enough.
So now child psychology researchers are mostly engaged in studying specific areas in child psychology, not trying to encompass it all.
Fortunately, today the child psychology is not so fixated with labelling a child as either being ill or well.
In the psychology of children there's a lot more space for individuality and differences.
This tolerance as it may be termed is also what makes it difficult to say anything conclusive about child psychology.
Here are some of the things that child psychology researchers can agree on:
Even the child psychology theories by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth has been criticized for placing too much focus on the mother (and not other important caregivers) it does provide us with valuable insights into infant bonding and the importance of basic psychological security.
This means that in order to fully understand a child's psychological and mental development it is not enough to just put on our 'mind-orientated' psychological lenses - we also need to look anthropologically at our values in society which determine what a child will be taught and when, and also understand the extent and effect of a child's entire social network.
Not an easy task, but hey, who said child psychology was easy. However it is very, very interesting indeed!
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