Developmentrefers to the systematic changes and continuity in an individual thatoccur from birth to maturity. The scientific study of humandevelopment is a multidisciplinary examination that explains how andwhy people change throughout the lifespan from conception to death(Gillbrand, Lam & O`Donnell, 2011). A child’s developmentprocess is measured through the intellectual, physical, emotional,language and social developmental milestones. All children follow asimilar pattern in the development process thus, the order in whicheach child advances from one stage to the other will be roughly thesame. However, the development occurs at a different rate andsometimes the development does not progress similar across all areas(Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2011).
Childrendevelopment process takes place in a predictable order from simple tocomplex skills. The physical development stage involves masteringmovement, balance, and gaining the ability to control the small andlarge muscles, coordination, and overall physical fitness. Thecognitive and social development involves the child’s ability toform and maintain social relationships with other children as well asadults (Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2011). At this stage, the childlearns his or her recognizes and expresses his or her feelingseffectively for other people to understand. Besides, the child canalso understand and respond to emotions expressed by other people.Moreover, the child can comprehend most issues and have the abilityto solve some problems. The language development stage is when achild can express him or herself in an understandable language andcan comprehend what other people are saying. At this stage, the childshould start showing the ability to gain reading and writing skills(Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2011).
Achild is in the process of rapid brain development where the brainforms more connections than it can use (Schaffer, 2004). Therefore,the connections that a child uses form strong connections whileothers are pruned away. The child’s experiences are used to helpmake the determination as to the synapses that will remain and thosethat are pruned away. As such, a child’s environment is crucial asit plays a key role in shaping a child’s experiences because theyhave limited experiences. Thus, the surrounding affects the way achild behaves and thinks (Schaffer, 2004.
Throughouthistory, there have been many theories that describe the variousaspects of child development from one stage to another (Harris,2008). However, some of the most recognized ones include LevVygotsky’s theory of development, which focus on the socialinteractions among children as a significant milestone on thedevelopment process, and Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitivedevelopment.
JeanPiaget’s theory of cognitive development
JeanPiaget’s theory explains that a child’s thinking and mentalcapabilities are different from those of an adult. At a young age, asPiaget explains, children play an active role in learning more aboutthe world (Piaget, 1932). Therefore, children construct their understanding and knowledge of the world. Piaget’s theory wasmainly concerned with children moral reasoning rather than whetherthey follow the societal rules or not. Therefore, he examineschildren’s understanding of rules, moral responsibility, andunderstanding of justice. His theory explains that a child’s notionof rules, moral judgment, and punishment tend to change as the childgrows older. Therefore, the children portray universal stages of themoral development process. He explains the cognitive developmentprocess using two types of moral thinking: autonomous andheteronomous moralities (Piaget, 1932).
Thestage of heteronomous morality or moral realism occurs among childrenbetween the age of five and nine years, which is imposed fromexternal sources. Therefore, it influences children to regardmorality as obeying the rules and laws set by others, which theybelieve, are unchangeable (Piaget, 1932). Consequently, childrenaccept that the rules are created by some authoritative figure thus,breaking them will inevitably result in some form of punishment.Besides, the punishment is meant to make the guilty person sufferhence the severity of the punishment should be equal to the type ofwrong committed. At this stage, the children judge behavior as baddepending on the consequences they observe regardless of the reasonsor intentions that led to that particular behavior. Thus, theheteronomous morality is formed from rules imposed by the adults butfounded on the unilateral respects the children have for the adults.Moreover, the children view collective punishment as acceptable. Forexample, a group of children will accept to take punishment for themisdeeds of one child in the group (Piaget, 1932).
Onthe other hand, autonomous morality is based on personal rules.Piaget explained that this form of morality is common among childrenbetween nine and ten years as they believe that there is no completeright or wrong because morality is simply determined by a person’sintentions and not the consequences. At this age, the children are nolonger governed by their inability to see things from anotherperson’s point of view. Accordingly, they can consider otherpeople’s circumstances and intentions to make judgments that aremore independent. Hence, a child’s ideas on the nature of rules,moral responsibility, punishments, and justice changes and he or shestarts thinking more like an adult(Piaget, 1932). At this stage, thechildren now understand that human beings make the rules and theyhave the ability to change them to suit different situations.However, they acknowledge that these rules are necessary to preventconflicts and promote fairness in the society. Besides, the rules canchange if everyone agrees on it or depending on the situation. Forexample, older children believe more in intention thus when a childdoes something wrong but his or her intention were good, she or hebelieves that there will be no punishment necessary (Kamii &DeVries, 1976). Therefore, the meaning and perception of punishmentchange as they no longer view it as a way to make someone suffer fortheir wrongdoing, but rather as a way to make things right again.Hence, the punishment helps the offender to understand what he or shedid was wrong thus, they will not repeat the crime again.Additionally, the children also recognize that justice is animperfect system in the real world (Gallagher & Reid, 2002).Thus, they accept that sometimes even the guilty can still get awaywith a crime while an innocent person suffers unfairly. Moreover, thechildren would consider it immoral to punish even the innocent forthe wrongs committed by just one child in the group. Piaget describesthe change from heteronomous to autonomous morality as the result ofgeneral cognitive development, which is partly brought about by thereduced egocentrism, and increasing significance of the peer groupamong children (Kamii & DeVries, 1976).
Piagetbelieved that cognitive development in children takes place in fourphases. First, since birth to two years a stage is known assensorimotor where the thinking process involves forming ideasthrough sound, sight smell, taste, and touch. At this stage, a childdevelops the ability to believe that an object exists whether it isperceived or not (Ault, 1977). Besides, the actions to achievecertain goals occur through trial and error process. Thepreoperational stage occurs between two and seven years. Childrenstart to use symbols and internal thought to solve problems at thisstage, but they heavily rely on physical signs and perceptions. Thus,it is very easy to fool a child at this age using the appearance ofthings. The concrete operational occurs among the children of sevento eleven years (Gallagher & Reid, 2002). The child experiencesmajor changes in his or her cognitive development since it marks thestart of logical thoughts (Ault, 1977). Furthermore, he or she cannow apply a more rational thinking when solving problems. Lastly, theformal operational experienced from eleven years all the way toadulthood. As a child enters the adolescent stage, he or she gainsthe ability to think in an abstract manner where he or she cancombine and categorize items in a more complicated manner due to thehigher-order reasoning capacity. For example, a child can manipulateideas in his or her head at the age of eleven without depending onconcrete manipulation (Ault, 1977).
LevVygotsky’s theory of social development
Vygotsky’ssocio-cultural theory also explains that the parents, peers,caregivers, and the society are most responsible for influencing thedevelopment of higher order functions in a child. He explains thatchildren are an apprentice with their parents or other adults intheir lives mentoring them through the developmental process. Hebelieved that children learn actively practical experience of theworld and the people around them (Kozulin, 2003). In Vygotsky’stheory, a child’s thinking is greatly influenced by theirunderstanding of the social community, which they learn from eitherpsychological or technical tools. Additionally, he explains thatlanguage is important for gaining social knowledge. For example, achild can easily learn from other people through language. Beside,children have the ability to learn from instructions given by peoplewho are more knowledgeable than they are such as adults, parents,teachers, and coaches. However, today, this knowledge can also beacquired from other things such as the internet. The key feature ofVygotsky’s theory is the zone of proximal development, which can beattained in two levels.
Thefirst level describes the activities that a child can comfortablycarry out without the help of others. Then, the potential level ofdevelopment defines the second level where the child could be capableof carrying out some activities but with the help of other people(Brain, 2000). The level between the two levels is the zone ofproximal development. Thus, it is a zone where through the help fromother people that a child can gain more knowledge of what theyalready know. Nonetheless, the knowledge the child is gaining must beappropriate for his or her age to allow for comprehension.Consequently, when a child attains their potential knowledge, thenthe change occurs, and now they will be ready to learn things thatare more complex (Kozulin, 2003).
Additionally,Vygotsky also discusses the feature of scaffolding in his theory. Thesituation occurs when an adult provides support for a child and lateradjusts the amount of help they give the child depending on his orher progress (Berk & Winsler, 1995). For example, when an adulthelps a child to move from one place to adult by supporting him orher using both hands, later the adult might change the strategy andsupport the child using one hand. As the child progressively learnsto support his or her weight, then the adult will progressivelylessen the help they are offering the child. Vygotsky’s theorycontributes to the understanding of socio-cultural interactions tothe cognitive thinking and development (Brain, 2000). Therefore, itplaces more significance to the importance of social interaction,language, and the society’s influence in a child’s developmentalprocess as compared to Piaget’s theory. Nonetheless, both help inunderstanding how children are active, constructive beingsindependently and how the participation and interaction with adultsis vital to the cognitive, moral, and social development (Berk &Winsler, 1995).
Riskfactors to development
Theconditions of a child’s environment are a significant determinantof how the child growth and development process progresses (Mitchell& Ziegler, 2007). For example, the way the caregivers and parentstreat a child has an impact on how he or she grows and develops.Besides, the type of environment a child grows up in teaches them howto act and respond to various situations and gain knowledge that theycarry all the way to adulthood. As such, the children will responddifferently to certain situation based on the design of theenvironment. For example, living in a good social environment willincrease the likelihood of a child developing positive socialrelationships (Rolf, 1993).
However,children experience various situations that can prove risky to theirdevelopmental process. First, stressful events can affect a child asadversely as they affect adults or even worse. At a young age,exposure to traumatic events causes a high level of stress to thedeveloping brain especially in those areas that are involved inlearning and emotions. Thus, the brain activates the flight or fightresponses while at the same time releasing the stress hormones. Thenagain, because a child’s brain is still developing, the child maybe incapable of dealing with this overwhelming experiences and stresswhich increases fear and anxiety (Rolf, 1993). Consequently,excessive anxiety, fear, and increased amounts of stress hormonesaffect the capacity of a child’s body to regulate the stress anddevelopment and higher functions of the brain. Hence, it can affectthe child’s development and in some cases result in mental andphysical health problems. Besides, a well-tuned response system isespecially important for children because their minds and bodies arestill developing (Rolf, 1993).
Similarly,the loss of a parent can have adverse effects on a child’sdevelopment process. Loss is painful and frightening especially toyoung children. According to research, children mostly assessthemselves negatively after either one or both their parents diessince some of them interpret death as abandonment. Consequently, itmay result in low self-esteem, which negatively affects thedevelopment process. Alternatively, the child may express his or heremotions in misbehavior or angry outburst rather than expressingsadness. Therefore, these behaviors may not be recognized asgrief-related, which makes it impossible to affects theirrelationships with other people. Hence, the lack of understanding mayresult in major developmental consequences, especially emotional andsocial growth (Rolf, 1993).
Althoughthe reactions displayed by children in a stressful situation or whengrieving are similar to those of adults, the effects in children lastlonger which derails their growth and possibly have a negativeimpacts, which are carried into adulthood (Rolf, 1993). Besides,children are still developing their cognitive, emotional, and socialabilities, which make it hard for them to use better copingmechanisms. Moreover, it affects their development since prolongedstress and grief can even hinder mental and physical growth. On theother hand, repeated experiences in the surroundings create a networkof connections within the brain. Thus, when the child is continuallyexposed to stressful and sad situations, their brain might stillrespond to those situations as though the threat is still presentwhich will have an adverse effect in that child’s development(Rolf, 1993).
Roleof protective factors
Conversely,there are protective factors that play a significant role in achild’s development process since they affect the child’sinteraction with the environment (Vygotsky̆ & Cole, 1978). Theprotective factors are significant since they help a child develophis or her resilience where they understand that they are notresponsible for the difficulties their parents are factors. Hence,they can move forward and face life’s challenges. One of the mostsignificant protective facto is parental resilience. The parent’sability to handle challenges with a positive attitude ensures thatthey are less likely to direct their frustrations and anger to thechild (Vygotsky̆ & Cole,(1978). It helps the child feel safeand learns to take things positively, which is useful when they facechallenges. For example, when a child grows up in an environmentwhere the parent creatively solves various problems without showingmuch frustration, then, the child will copy that behavior andimplement it as they grow older (Davies, 2010).
Additionally,social connection is another important protective factor as it helpsa child feel supported and loved (Davies, 2010). Therefore, thechildren can grow mentally, socially, and emotionally without thefear of expressing themselves since they will be emulating the goodexamples laid through their social connections with other people. Theprotective factors are critical for adults regardless of the child’sage as they ensure a child remains resilient in times of stress orloss. Therefore, focusing on the protective factors has proven to bemore advantages as opposed to reducing the risk alone (Mitchell &Ziegler, 2007).
Ault,R. L. (1977). Children`scognitive development: Piaget`s theory and the process approach.New York: Oxford University Press.
Berk,L. E., & Winsler, A. (1995). Scaffoldingchildren`s learning: Vygotsky and early childhood education.Washington: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Brain,C. (2000). Advancedsubsidiary psychology: Approaches and methods.Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.
Davies,D. (2010). Childdevelopment: A practitioner`s guide.New York: Guilford.
Gallagher,J. M. C., & Reid, D. K. (2002). Thelearning theory of Piaget and Inhelder.New York, NY: Authors Choice Press.
GillbrandR. Lam V. & O`Donnell V.L. (2011). Developmental Psychology.Harlow: Pearson.
Harris,M. (2008). Exploring Developmental Psychology: Understanding Theoryand Methods. Sage Publications.
Kamii,C., & DeVries, R. (1976). Piaget,children, and number: Applying Piaget`s theory to the teaching ofelementary number.Washington: National Association for the Education of Young Children.Washington: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Kozulin,A. (2003). Vygotsky`seducational theory in cultural context.New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mitchell,P. & Ziegler, F. (2007). Fundamentalsof Development: The Psychology of Childhood.Hove: Psychology Press.
Piaget,J. (1932). Themoral judgment of the child.London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
Rolf,J. (1993). Riskand Protective Factors in the Development of Psychopathology.Camb. U.P.
Schaffer,H. R. (2004). Introducing Child Psychology. Maiden, Blackwell.
Smith,P. K., Cowie, H. & Blades, M. (2011). Understanding Children’sDevelopment (5th ed.). Malden, MS: Blackwell Publishers.
Vygotsky̆,L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mindin society: The development of higher psychological processes.Cambridge: Harvard University Press.