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What were the first theories on childhood development? Here, we will look at Freud’s theory that started it all and examine Jung and Piaget’s theories that followed thereafter.

Freud and the Start of Development Theory

Welcome to the early 1900s and the beginning of the serious study of psychology. Sigmund Freud is pioneering this study of human behavior and examining how counseling can be used to analyze and change people.

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His theory is called psychoanalytic theory, and it states that emotional problems are caused by unconscious issues from childhood. It explains that as children grow, they go through a series of psychosexual stages, or a progressive unfolding of biological instincts and desires.For example, let’s say Maria is a year old. According to Freud, she would be going through the oral stage, which means she would be focused on satisfying oral instincts, like sucking or biting. That would be why she puts toys in her mouth all the time.

When Maria is 3 years old, Freud would assume she is going through the anal stage. This means she has shifted her gratification from the mouth to the anus and develops an interest in resisting or using the bathroom. Freud believed that even into later childhood, Maria would be guided by an unconscious desire for her father, called an Elektra complex.As you can see, Freud believed we are primarily motivated by biological drives and instincts. He saw development as the upward movement through these natural tendencies.Freud is not the only psychologist, however, who explained human development.

There are psychologists who followed him, two that we will delve into here, who had their own ideas on the ways children develop. Rather than focusing on biological instincts, Carl Jung and Jean Piaget focused on the development of higher functioning abilities, like the emotions and mind.

Jung’s Stages of Life

Psychologist Carl Jung was actually a younger colleague and friend of Freud’s when psychoanalytic theory was prominent.

The more he studied the theory and spoke with Freud, however, the more he began disagreeing with him. Jung saw psychoanalytic theory as too focused on sexuality or natural instincts and not enough on free choice or emotional development.Jung began offering another way of understanding human development that became known as the Stages of Life. These stages outline the inner development people undergo through time.

They include: childhood, youth, middle life, and old age. Here is George to illustrate.George is five years old, which means he is in the childhood phase, which lasts from birth to puberty. Since his birth and through the next several years, his ego, or his conscious awareness, will be growing.

This means he will become more and more aware of his own thoughts, feelings, memories, and perceptions. He knows he wants to eat ice cream after dinner, and he knows he doesn’t like his baby sister when she cries.Years later, he is 15 years old and now going through the youth stage. In fact, he will be going through this stage until he is around 35 or 40.

At the start of this time, his sexuality is developing, and when he is 19, he leaves home in an attempt to find more independence. As he ages during this stage, he begins raising a family while his awareness is deepening, and he is realizing the carefree days of childhood are over.When George is 50, he begins considering more seriously the fact that he will not live forever. He is now going through the middle life phase, which takes place from 40-60.

He is challenged to not cling to the youth he so misses. He is becoming more introspective and seeks meaning in his life.Skipping again several years, George is now 75.

The old age stage is taking place and will be for the rest of his life. It means that his consciousness is reduced but also that he has the chance to think of death from Jung’s perspective: as the goal of life and a new beginning. Therefore, George is able to have feelings of hope.

Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

Jean Piaget came along a few decades after Jung. After studying Freud’s theory, he also decided that its belief that biology is the determining factor in development was misaligned. Like Jung, Jean Piaget believed that human development had more to do with higher level functioning than merely one’s sexual nature or automatic instincts.

He developed cognitive development theory, a theory that has become the cornerstone in understanding childhood mental development.Here we have a group of children to demonstrate the stages.

Sensorimotor (1-2 years)

Piaget believed that when a child is a year old, he or she is exploring and getting to know the world through the use of their senses. Baby Micah, for example, loves to suck on the ear of her teddy bear. She also loves to touch her mother’s arm and grab the different cloths in her crib.

Preoperational (2-7 years)

During this stage, the child is going through inquisitiveness, egocentrism, and the use of mental representations for objects.

Barbie is five, and she is always asking her parents questions, like, ‘Why does our doggie bark and our kitty meow?’ She also loves to play pretend. This displays her ability to make mental representations of objects, as she can imagine a tea cup and make a pretend one by cupping her hand and drinking.Barbie is also in the egocentric stage, which means she can only see things from her perspective. When her friend Betsy comes over, she may tell her they are going to play tea party because she can’t put herself in Betsy’s shoes and wonder if her friend wants to play something else.

Concrete Operational (7-11)

Children better understand the nature of their world during this stage. Specifically, they look at matter logically and recognize that objects can be transformed in various ways. If Tom sees that his basketball is deflated, it can be inflated again.

This concept is referred to as reversibility and means that matter that is altered can be brought back to its original form.Tom is also able to understand conservation, which means quantities don’t change just because appearance does. For example, his mother gave him and his sister 10 ounces of apple juice.

When Tom sees his sister with a tall glass of apple juice, he used to think she had more than he did if he got a short glass. Now he knows the type of glass doesn’t change how much juice is in it.

Formal Operational (12-18)

When a child reaches the stage of their teenage years, they are thinking in more complex ways. They are able to think in more abstract and detailed ways as well as to consider varied ideas or perspectives.While 13-year-old Jenny could only see from her own perspective as a child, she is becoming more aware of others’ experiences and unique thoughts about the world. She enjoys coming up with arguments for her debate class and anticipating what her peers will say so she has effective responses. She also has become more self-conscious, or egocentric.

This type of adolescent egocentrism describes a common feeling teens have that all their peers are observing and critiquing them and they are not understood by others.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory was the first theory on human development and stated that children go through psychosexual stages based on the unfolding of natural instincts. Jung and Piaget believed that Freud’s theory was too focused on biology, so Jung created a theory called Life Stages, and Piaget created a theory of cognitive development.Life Stages includes childhood, youth, middle life, and older adulthood.

Cognitive development theory includes the sensorimotor stage, which is categorized using reflexes; the preoperational stage, which is categorized by inquisitiveness and pretend play; the concrete operational stage, which brings a more logical view of objects; and the formal operational stage, in which teens display more abstract thinking and take on the perspectives of others.

Learning Outcomes

The process of reviewing this video lesson could enable you to:

  • Summarize Freud’s psychoanalytic theory
  • List Jung’s Life Stages
  • Detail each stage in Piaget’s cognitive development theory

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