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5 Theories of Child Development

Child Development: Five Important Theories

  • Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory
  • Bowlby’s Attachment Theory
  • Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental Theory
  • Bandura’s Social Learning Theory
  • Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory

Experts in medicine and science have marveled for decades over the ways in which children develop. This fascinating area of study continues to yield many questions: “What affects child development?”, “At which ages is development most susceptible to external effects”, “What all can be done to maximize child growth and minimize detriments to it?”, and many more like these. In response to such questions, many theories have abounded. The following five child development theories are among some of the most expertly recognized and utilized today.

1. Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory

Erik Erikson was an important figure in the fields of psychoanalytics and psychological development. He was also the famous coiner of the popular phrase “identity crisis”. Central to much of his work was his theory on psychosocial development. As it became known, Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory produced a framework for organizing human growth, through all stages of life, into eight distinct stages. Key to the outcomes of the child stages as well as those afterward are the principles of social interaction and experience.

2. Bowlby’s Attachment Theory

John Bowlby was another groundbreaking psychologist and theorist in matters of development. He also crafted one of the earliest known child development theories which still sees prominent use and citation today. In Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, he asserted that much of child development is based on the innate need of children to form attachments. These attachments may involve any number of people, places, or things and ultimately have a substantial effect on onward development patterns throughout life.

3. Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental Theory

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Sigmund Freud “may justly be called the most influential intellectual legislator of his age.” While creating the modern field of psychoanalytics, Freud also went on to make many other significant contributions to the sciences including the assertion of multiple, important theories. Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental Theory was one of these important products in which Freud explained that child experiences, experienced at different ages in childhood, directly go on to dictate personality and behavior patterns in the later adult. This general theory has since birthed virtually countless studies, disciplines, and other academic and business establishments.

4. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory is commonly relied upon today across many industries and professions. This theory states that while much child learning and development does come from direct experience, much also comes from modeling and simple observations. Bandura himself is another important and very pioneering figure in psychology who is currently the Professor Emeritus at Stanford University.

5. Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory

Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory states that children, quite simply, think differently than adults. While this may seem obvious to some, this was a revolutionary theory that went on to provide the foundations for several other theories to come. Essentially, this theory divided the child life into four separate categories, or stages, each of which carries its own important qualities and vulnerabilities. Jean Piaget, the theory’s author was a notable psychologist and scientist of his time.

Related Resource: 10 Most Affordable Online Developmental Psychology Online Programs

The study of child development is a vastly important one that helps us today to understand the greater human development process itself. Just like in many other scientific disciplines, theories themselves are some of the critical pillars of the science and study of child development. These five above-mentioned theories are among some of the most pertinent in the field to date.