I can’t say that no one ever thought that children were young adults – people very obviously did. But, on the other hand, child development has been a topic of study since ancient times, so there was no certain point in human history that we suddenly realized that children were different than adults. If you go on social and materialistic depravity, you cannot find a distinction between the classes saying that one thought children were little adults and the other did not. Though many times, children of lower class families were expected to take on the roles of adults at an earlier age, you can say that this was not out of lack of knowledge of child psychology, but out of necessity to survive. Work needed to be done. People needed to be fed, clothed, and sheltered. Hands, feet, and whole bodies were needed for that, no matter what size.
For the upper-class, it was a different story. Some children were spoiled and allowed to be idle, while others were forced through severe educational and social structures. Then again, some parents and guardians simply did not have the time, patience, or will to deal with child psychology and adamantly, harshly, or even violently forced adult expectations on children. The field of child psychology and development has been a subject of study for as long as there have been children and, like children, it has gone through many stages in its growth.
Aristotle and Plato played a major role in child development in these times. Plato’s views on infancy (age newborn to three) were very simple: if a baby cries, it wants something. If it quiets down when you give it something, you have found what it wants. If it cries, then it wants something else. Current child psychologists would say that this is certainly an oversimplification.
Plato shared in Aristotle’s fascination with philosophy and his simple view on childhood. He said that until the child develops the right proportions both physically and psychologically, they cannot function as an adult. That is, they cannot walk when born because their heads are too big and their legs are too small. Their brains are not developed, and until they are, they cannot speak, use complex reasoning, or perform other higher functions. But psychologists could not leave it at that.
Child Development in the Early 1900′s
While child psychology has been around since ancient times, most Child Development history classes don’t begin their studies until the early 1900′s as this was the time for the most revolutionary changes in the thought process surrounding this subject. The most famous child psychologists of this time were Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget.
Sigmund Freud: His theory was based on sexually represented stages based on urges and was called Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development. His actually studies were of abnormal subjects, and created his theory through exclusion of the normal versus inclusion. Therefore, whatever was excluded from the normal, or socially unaccepted, was considered normal. In order for an individual to be normal, the subject had to successfully pass through the sexually based stages. If they did not, they got stuck in that stage until they acquired the skills to move on. For example, if the subject did not make it through the Phallic Stage, they will remain arrogant, reckless, vain, and prideful.
Erik Erikson: Erikson proposed stages of psychological development that spanned throughout a person’s lifetime. Each stage comprised of a certain conflict that that the individual had to overcome. If the person did not overcome this conflict, they would be stuck at that stage. His first stage was ‘Trust vs. Mistrust.’ This stage was the fundamental stage of all life. It occurred in the first year of life. Failing to successfully overcome this conflict, the child will remain afraid of and mistrustful of the world around it. The other stage, the last in his stages for early childhood, is referred to as ‘Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt.’ This stage is fairly self explanatory: the child learns control over self resulting in confidence and self-esteem, the failure of this stage results in the opposite.
Jean Piaget: Piaget took a more accumulative approach to child development. He approached development from a cognitive stand point. He stated that children actively seek out ways to learn and interact with their environment and accumulate knowledge and development. He believed those stages of development included: Schemas, assimilation, and accommodation.
Modern Child Psychology
Modern child psychology has concentrated more on social development, the most important of these theories being:
The Attachment Theory (John Bowlby): This theory is based on caregiver relationships from infancy to late childhood. The most important time for this theory is the period after birth. According to this theory, if the child/caregiver has a healthy bond, they feel secure and confident. The key characteristics of attachment include: proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress.
Social Learning Theory (Albert Bandura): This theory reiterated the belief that children learn from observing and external reaction, but it also added a new dimension. She stated that children can also learn through the feelings that actions create within themselves. A child can feel self-pride and self-satisfaction which is also a key in learning and development.
Sociocultural Theory (Leg Vygotsky): This theory states that hands-on learning is the most effective form of learning and that parents, caregivers, and teachers are responsible for this development.
New does not mean better; complex does not mean correct, and vice-versa. When making any decision, this needs to be kept in mind. Unfortunately, parents have been bombarded at every point in time to apply the newest theories in parenting. But parents hopefully made it through the stages of development that helped them stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions. Besides, do these theories necessarily have to be put into words for the ordinary person, or are they simply a vocalization of scientific interest? Do any of these theories and practices that they suggested just come plain naturally? Is common sense still dependable? You make your choice.