Child development refers to changes that take place in human beings from childbirth to adolescent stage, involving emotional, biological, as well as biological transformations, while progressing from a stage of dependence to independence (Kail, 2011). Blades et al. (2011) points out that a meaningful and satisfactory life is a product of competence in two major areas.
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These include the capacity to develop persevering interpersonal associations and the ability to be productive. It is expected that by early adulthood, children should have attained the ability to develop relationships that are stable, mutually supportive, as well as cooperative with fellow human beings. The developmental features that lead to positive results in people are manifest in 10-12 years of age (Blades et al., 2011).
Many theories have been postulated to explain the process of child development, and this paper seeks to tackle three major theories: Cognitive, socio health and behaviorist theory. Theories on development provide an understanding on how children grow and how they acquire knowledge. These theories can be handy in making decisions and understanding of the strategies to promote the development of a child (Blades et al., 2011).
This theory seeks to explain how one’s thoughts and perceptions develop, and how these thoughts affect the way one understands and interacts with the surrounding. Generally, the cognitive theory explains that children build up skills and abilities in a predictable series. Jean Piaget first postulated the cognitive theory in the 1980s.
Cognitive development involves distinct stages: Qualitative change holds that children of varied ages think in varied ways. The other stage is broad applicability, which argues that thoughts at each particular stage encompass topic and content areas.
Thirdly, there is the brief transition stage, which states that there is no substantial necessity to have higher-stage transitions. The invariant sequence stage argues that at all times, the series of stages in human beings are constant (Sternberg & Zang, 2001).
Children think differently depending on age difference; children increasingly develop the capacity to tackle more intricate and abstract ideas as they age. Younger children, for instance, are bound to have trouble in understanding figurative language. In the early years of school, children undergo fast developments in conceptual and language aspects as they learn to read and write.
Cognitively, therefore, they tend to be more literalistic as they gradually acquire the capacity to think abstractly. Children between four to nine years possess high energies and will have trouble concentrating on senseless or uninteresting things as far as they are concerned (Blades et al., 2011).
However, through the adolescent stage, they begin to interpret problems that are more sophisticated. In advanced years, children experience qualitative transformations as they tend towards abstract thinking, systematic, hypothetic, as well as deductive thinking. By the time children get to adulthood, they have fully acquired the capacity to manifest full, adult and abstract reasoning (Holland, 2008).
Meaning is actively constructed in the development of children. Cognitive theorists have unanimously agreed that children do not passively acquire knowledge, but they actively take part in its acquisition. In other words, information will not simply percolate into the brain of a child.
Children are always actively digesting new ideas, classifying them, interconnecting, and relating them to other information already familiar, and asking questions to come up with and make interpretations of their surroundings (Sternberg & Zang, 2001).
By handling objects physically, children discern relationships that exist between them. Therefore, it is not surprising that children would like to experiment virtually anything, regardless of the knowledge they have passively acquired before about it (Holland, 2008).
A child usually builds on the knowledge acquired previously. Cognitive theorists have argued that little, if any, knowledge is built on blank minds (Holland, 2008). Thus, later cognitive development can be influenced from schooling, which will build on prior skills like recognition of visual objects, knowledge of sounds and speech (literacy) and quantity estimation, individuation of objects, as well as learning of number words (numeracy) (Sternberg & Zang, 2001).
Children mentally arrange what they perceive in the surrounding. In case of new information, children adapt it to include these perceptions in their thoughts. An imbalance occurs when information fails to fit, which can be countered by assimilation or accommodation. In assimilation, new knowledge is added to existing one while, in accommodation, what is known is adjusted to fit the new one.
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The cognitive development of a child is better promoted by encounters with challenging thoughts. Thus, the more a child is exposed to more challenging thoughts, the better the cognitive development (Holland, 2008).
Mental health treatment
Therapy based on the cognitive theory can be used in management of mental health of children; cognitive therapy has been used particularly in the treatment of depression. This treatment is not only active, but also structured, time-bound and problem-focused.
It is based on the fact that depression is sustained by information processing, as well as dysfunctional beliefs that are negatively biased. The treatment aids patients to learn and imagine more adaptively, thus improving motivation and behavior (Beck, 2011).
The approach entails guiding patients through numerous learning experiences that are structured. In the first place, the patient is taught how to track his negative beliefs and mental imaginations. This helps in pinpointing the link between the established mental images and thoughts and the characteristic behavior and body functioning.
Patients also learn how to recognize and validate the cognitive characteristics. They as well acquire training on how to change dysfunctional beliefs. The cognitive therapist goes further to subdivide the problems into manageable issues as a way of helping the client cope well with the problem. Moreover, the client is taught how to make decisions by evaluation the possible benefits and costs of making a given decision (Beck, 2011).
A cognitive therapist evaluates the symptoms of a depressed patient as the first therapeutic step. Thereafter, an agenda is set up, followed by a revisit of the last session. The issues that arise are discussed, and the patient is given new homework. Finally, the session is concluded and the therapist awaits feedback from the patient. Patients need about eight therapy sessions (Beck, 2011).
The social theory of child development states that social interaction comes before development; consciousness and cognition result from socialization and social behavior. The theory focuses on the relationship between individuals, as well as the sociocultural context where these individuals are interacting and sharing experiences (Fararo, 2001).
Vygotsky coined this theory that has been largely expounded since then. Culture presents individuals with features such as speech to help individuals cope with their social environment. This is how a child picks up the cultural features and uses them as avenues to voice their needs (Blades et al., 2011).
Since each developmental stage is unique, and presents different circumstances to the child, the child ends up forming new relations with the presenting social situation. This happens at every stage of development. This is representative of all the dynamic transformations taking place in development at a particular age. This indicates the path along which the child will develop newer personality features by deriving them from social reality (Winegar & Valsiner, 1992).
Every phase of development presents the child with an opportunity to understand how needs are met in life. To be able to meet the needs of the developmental stage, the child is forced to use his/her abilities to meet the given needs. Therefore, the main force that drives social development is the predicament that rises as a result of a gap between the child’s needs and the currents way of meeting the needs socially (Fararo, 2001).
As the social development of the child progresses, contradiction sets in; while the needs of this child have been met hitherto by the existing situation, new needs crop up that presuppose the new role of the kid and a corresponding social situation change.
The development is in fact actualized by the struggle to take this new role (Fararo, 2001). In a stable developmental stage, central neoformation (mode of interaction with the social environment of a child) differentiates progressively and drives restructuring of behavior of the child, eventually creating a social circumstance of development.
During critical developmental times, the central neoformation compels a break from old relationships and provides a foundation for new ones; negativism may set in at this period (Winegar & Valsiner, 1992).
Mental health treatment
Behaviors are learnt; therefore, treatment is founded on unlearning the behavior considered inappropriate and replacing it with new desirable behaviors. Based on classical conditioning, there are behaviorist therapies that can be employed to treat phobias. In this case, it involves the patient training to associate their stimulus of phobia with relaxation.
The therapy follows the following procedure: First, the patient is trained the technique of muscle relaxation and breathing exercises. The patient then is made to create a hierarchy of fear, beginning from the stimuli causing each anxiety up to images that provoke fear. Thirdly, the patient is made to work their way up from least unpleasant and applying the relaxation technique progressively, and only proceed when they feel comfortable (Holzman & Mendez, 2003).
The Behaviorist Theory
Behaviorism is a theory that focuses on the behaviors that are observable in the development of a child. The theory is based on the argument that the brain is accustomed to respond in a particular way; it is a behavior that is learnt and keeps repeating itself. The theory originated from John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner expounded the theory later. The theory is broken down to classic and operant/behavioral areas (Grace 2013).
It is commonly known that the behavior of a person is influenced by its consequences. This theory further cements that repeated efforts are not necessary in this process, but an instant response to a familiar stimulus is necessary.
Therefore, a child’s behavior can be modified by reinforcement that may be negative or positive; in this case, the child is passive. Studies have indicated that a child learns verbal behavior from the verbal community. Verbal processes can be used to create a sense of who we are by behavioral actions like control by stimulus (Blades et al., 2011).
Rewarding behavior appears to breed positive results; normally people give rewards for behaviors that are desirable. Sometimes people reward both negative and positive behavior; for instance, if a child performs well he is rewarded and if he complains in a supermarket, he is given a sweet to stop crying. This makes a child learn that the outcome is the same through her behavior.
The child’s behavior ends up being consolidated. Just knowing what is bound to happen because of a particular behavior is enough to make people behave in a certain way, even without experiencing. Nevertheless, many lessons are learnt through experience.
Children are likely to enjoy engaging in rewarding behaviors, and they enjoy the freedom of doing such things. On the other hand, they may behave in a particular way because they have had a negative experience. They will feel enslaved, when in reality their freedom still exists (Grace, 2013).
Modification of behavior entails the change of the repercussions of a particular behavior and/or applying new repercussions to direct actions. Offering incentives to encourage good behavior modifies a child’s behavior. Adults should avoid giving incentives unnecessarily or praising overly. A specific praise is more effective. In handling behaviors, it is important to have regular and realistic consequences since learning is spurred (Grace, 2013).
Mental health treatment
Developing positive associations with others is very crucial in an individual’s mental health. Social therapy is used to aid children acquire strategies of creating friendships as they get older. This is important in reducing a sense of loneliness, stresses, as well as a sense of isolation. Children are naturally eager to seek companionship, and social therapy takes advantage of this need.
This intervention is group-centered, but also considers the role of an individual in that particular group. The therapy is particularly used to manage psychological issues/ anxiety by controlling emotions and creating links to others. This is done by the patient taking part in group therapeutic settings. Social therapy focuses on the health and welfare of an integral part of a group.
The therapy involves training children to learn via interactions with other people, promoting positive social associations, assisting children develop confidence, creating sustainable social surrounding for children, and empowering children to make contributions to the group.
Social therapy can be conducted in many ways, but a therapist first learns predisposing behaviors, breaks them down to manageable levels, arranges intricate behavior and emotions in a particular order to tackle them singly, identifies behaviors that work and those that do not, and finally implements and trains the alternative behaviors (Sprandlin, 2003).
Similarities in the theories
All the theories attempt to describe the development of behavior in human beings. The theories seem to agree that development is influenced by stimuli. The theories share the belief that learning ought to be objective and be founded on the findings of empirical research.
All the theories recognize the responses that individuals make towards stimuli. Finally, the theories are founded on feedback and generally describe the effect that the environment has on an individual (Weegar & Pacis, 2012).
Differences in the theories
Behaviorism and social theories are more concerned with more visible behavior, while cognitive theory is based less on visible behavior and focuses more on the thought process behind behavior, which the other two do not explain (Harland, 2012). The cognitive theory tries to explain behavior development from a purely biological perspective, while the others blend perspectives.
The three theories also differ on the question of whether mental representations (as argued by the cognitive theory) have a role in development of behavior. The behaviorist theory and the social theory bring out the learner as a passive participant in the learning process. The cognitive theory, on the other hand, presents the learner as an active participant (Weegar & Pacis, 2012).
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Grace, E. (2013). B.F. Skinner’s behavioral theory. Kid’s development. Web.
Harland, B. (2012). Difference between social learning and behaviorism. Web.
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