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Physical Development

A child’s physical growth provides the most obvious sign of development.

  • During the first year of life, children typically triple their birth weight, height increases by approximately 50%.
  • Rapid growth slows as the child grows older; the relationship of the size of various body parts to one another changes dramatically with age.

Physical and motor development follows several biological principles:

  • Cephalocaudal principle: Reflects the tendency for development to proceed in a head-to-foot direction.
    (The head of an infant is disproportionately large because physical growth concentrates first on the head.)
  • Proximodistal principle: Development begins along the innermost parts of the body and continues toward the outermost parts. (Thus a fetus’s arms develop before the hands and fingers.)

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1926- 1977) spent over 50 years exploring how a child’s thought processes develops.


Cognitive Development: Information Processing Theory

Information processing: The way in which people take in, use, and store information.

  • To many developmental psychologists, changes in information processing account for cognitive development. (Sielgler, 1998; Lacerda, von Hofsten & Heimann, 2001; Cashon & Cohen, 2004.)
  • According to this approach, quantitative changes occur in children’s ability to organize and manipulate information.
  • Children may become increasingly adept at information processing, similar to a computer program becoming more sophisticated as a programmer modifies it on the basis of experience.

Cognitive Development: Vygotsky’s Theory

According to Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the culture in which we are raised significantly affects our cognitive development.

  • Cognitive development occurs as a consequence of social interactions in which children work with others to jointly solve problems.
  • Children’s cognitive abilities increase when they encounter information that falls within their zone of proximal development (ZPD).
  • ZPD: The level at which a child can almost, but not fully, comprehend or perform a task on his or her own. When children receive information that falls within the ZPD, they can increase understanding or master a new task.

Stages of Language Development

As the children’s cognitive development grows, so does their memory and verbal skills which greatly contribute to language development.

  • By age 4 children start to use basic prepositions, adjectives and adverbs, and simple time concepts like today, tomorrow, and yesterday.
  • This development continues up through, and beyond age 8 where they begin to talk and relate in terms of “adult” language skills.

Erickson’s First Four Stageserikson chart

  • 0-1 year, Basic trust vs. Mistrust:
    Child learns to feel comfortable and trust parents care; or develops a deep distrust of the world that is perceived to be unsafe.
  • 1-3 years, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt:
    Learns sense of competence by learning to feed self, use toilet, play alone; or feels ashamed and doubts own abilities.
  • 3-5 years, Initiative vs. Guilt:
    Gains ability to use own initiative in planning and carrying out plans; or cannot live within parents’ limits, develops a sense of guilt over misbehavior.
  • 5-11 years, Industry vs. Inferiority:
    Learns to meet the demands imposed by school and home responsibilities; or comes to believe that he or she is inferior to others.

Gender Roles

Starting from the moment of birth, with blue blankets for boys and pink ones for girls, most parents and other adults provide environments that differ in important respects according to gender.

The placement of toys in toy stores according to gender was commonplace until protests forced a nationwide chain to discontinue the practice.

Boy’s World: action figures, sports collectibles, Tonka truckstonka

Girl’s World: Barbie, baby dolls, play kitchens, jewelry, cosmeticsbarbie

Culture’s Expectation: For Male and Female Behavior

Gender-role socialization provides us with gender schemas, organized mental structures that contain our understanding of the attributes and behaviors that are appropriate and expected for males and females (Bem, 1981).

Theories of Children Learning Gender Roles

Social-learning theory:

  • Gender differences are learned through a society’s division of labor and the social roles established for men and women.

Gender schema theory:

  • Within a given culture, gender schemas tell us what the typical man or woman should be like.
  • In Western cultures, men tend to prize attributes related to achievement, emotional strength, athleticism. Women prize interpersonal competencies, kindness, and helpfulness to others (Beyer, 1990; Marsh, 1990).


Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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