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Human Development Theories Essay

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Updated: Apr 15th, 2019


Cherry (2010) asserts that a child development which arises from the time of birth to adulthood was greatly overlooked throughout a great deal of the history of mankind. Essentially, children were appreciated as mare small version of adults and minimal concern was focused on the many improvements in their cognitive abilities, physical growth and language mastery.

Moreover, interest in child development started to crop up the early 20th century, and was aimed at elucidating abnormal behaviors. The proceeding paragraphs, describes just two of the theories on child development.

Stages of cognitive growth based on Piaget’s theory of development. (Atherton, 2010)

1. The sensory-motor stage (birth – 2 yrs):

According to Piaget, a normal newly born baby will reach a point where it will start to distinguish self from objects. This implies that the infant will begin to appreciate self as the mediator of an action, and start acting deliberately. For instance, shaking a rattle to produce a noise or pulling a cord to set an itinerant in motion. At some level, it attains object permanence whereby it starts realizing that things persist even when they are no more conscious of them.

2. The pre-operational stage (2 – 7 yrs):

At the pre-operational stage, the child learns to exercise language and to characterize things by words and images. At this phase, thinking is still egocentric in the sense that he/she has problems with accommodating others’ views. Also, classification of things is by one feature; for instance, grouping all rectangle blocks in spite of color or all blue blocks in spite of their shapes.

3. The concrete operational stage ( 7 – 11 yrs):

By this period, the child is able to think rationally concerning events and objects. He/she attains conservation of number, mass, and weight; at age 6, 7 and 9, respectively. Also, he/she classifies objects based on several features and can sequence them depending on a single characteristics such as size.

4. The formal operational stage (11 yrs and above):

In this period, the child can think logically concerning abstract intentions, and examine hypothesis methodically. Also, she/he becomes apprehensive of ideological, hypothetical, and the future problems.

Stages of cognitive growth based on Freud’s theory of psychosexual development

Freud held the opinion that the development process of individuals constitutes five stages. However, Freud claims that many people fail to complete these stages because they tied up their libido at one stage, thereby hindering them from utilizing the energy at a later stage. Libido, in this context was used by Freud to signify sexual and spiritual energy. These stages include;

a. Oral phase stage (from birth up to 1 year):

At this stage, the mouth acts as the center of attraction of a child’s libido. This stage is characterized by frustration for dependence on someone for something (Crain, 2005). Obsession at this phase may present as an abuse of oral stimulations such as eating, drinking or smoking.

b. The anal phase of development (2-3 yrs):

The individual are introduced to rules and regulations for the first time since they were familiarized with toilet instruction (Crain, 2005). This familiarity period helps determine the person’s future responses to rules and regulations. At this stage of development, the anus acts as the centre of attraction of the libido. In addition, the child is in the process of discovering novel complex motor.

Furthermore, frustrations could result; from cognitive responses. Obsession during this stage translates to orderliness, stinginess, messiness, or stubbornness. Fundamental behaviors characterized by preservation and expulsion may be connected to the experiences during this stage.

c. The phallic phase of development (4-5 yrs):

Several developmentally crucial events, unique to boys and girls, happen during this phase. Below is a description of the aforementioned events:

The Oedipus conflict: the occurrence of this conflict begins at a time when the boy child starts to feel sexually attracted to his mother. As a result, he views his father as an enemy, because he is also competing for the attention of the mother. He starts to dread the father’s suspicion about his lust for the mother and the imminent penalty by him for the lust. Spontaneously, the dreaded penalty is that of castration.

The castration anxiety: – this anxiety drives the boy child to the conclusion that the father hates him, and may ultimately become excruciating leading to his renouncing of the feelings, and decision to compromise to his father hoping that one day he will develop affection with a different woman just like between his parents.

Despite the similarity in the oral and anal phases of growth for both boy and girl (center of attention and affection being the mother), deviation in the focus occurs when the baby girl realizes her lack of penis, a phenomenon referred to as penis envy.

This causes her to despise her mother on realizing the lack of penis on her mother, while she becomes attracted to her father on the ground of his possession of the penis. Similarly, girls start to be suspicious of her mother’s (same sexuality) knowledge of her attraction towards her father and that the mother hates her for that. These feelings persist for sometimes until it reaches a point where she resents her feeling and chooses to side with the mother.

d. The latency phase (7 yrs – puberty):

This period encroaches following the resolution of the Oedipus conflict and suppression of the feeling that developed during that episode. This phase is characterized by rest devoid of any developmental incidences.

e. The genital phase:

This phase of development starts from puberty and is characterized by development of the genitals and adaptation of libido to its true sexual purpose. Nevertheless, the feelings for the inverse sex cause anxiety since they remind them of the undesirable feelings they possessed towards their parents and the distress associated with them.

Contrast and comparison between Piaget’s and Freud’s developmental theories

Piaget’s theory describes a child development from the cognitive view point. He proposes that children patterns of thought differ from those of an adult. This he described in his stage theory on cognitive development.

On the other hand Freud’s theory explains the child developmental stages from a psychosexual analytic perspective. Based on this theory a child development is explained as sequence of psychosexual phases; oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Every stage concerns the satisfaction of a libido and later determines the adult’s individuality (Cherry, 2010).

A Piagetian –based education syllabus emphasizes a learner centered educational philosophy, which does not fit with the contemporary American school educational system including programmed instruction, teaching machines, tutor lectures, audio visual presentation, and demonstration.

On the contrary Piaget advocates dynamic discovery learning atmosphere in education system. According to the theorist, children should be allowed to search out answers for themselves through questions, experiments, manipulation, and exploration (Wanda, 1988).

Nevertheless, children should not be left to do as they please, instead teachers should be in position to evaluate the child’s current cognitive progress, including their strength and weakness. This theory commends for the personalization of the instructions for each student and the opportunity to debate and argue problems.

He perceived tutors as the facilitators of knowledge by guiding and motivating the learners. The tutor should provide the students with resources, situations and occasion which help them to discern novel knowledge. Eventually, the teacher should express confidence in the child’s capability to learn by self (1988).

According to Cherry (2010), Sigmund Freud’s theory produced shocking reactions following its introduction, and it continues to create debate and controversy particularly on the discipline of art, literature, psychology, anthropology and sociology. The terminology psychoanalysis refers to various aspects of Freud’s research and work including the Freudian therapy, and the methods he employed in his studies.


These theories sometimes are not a perfect match of the real life experiences a child passes. Besides, they do not sometimes accurately describe the exact events which happen in children lives. For instance according to a2zpsychology.com (2006), some limitations to Freud’s psychosexual development theory exist.

The theory cannot be tested with ease, and the evidence collected to proof it is invalid. Additionally, the crucial events such as how the libido is applied lack makers and are not measurable. Again, a long period between the onset of the underlying stimulus and the supposed consequence; weakness and inconsistency between early events and the future traits undermines the theory. Finally, the theory was developed from the studies of psychotic persons while not from studying children.

Similarly, gathered evidence on Piaget’s theory depicts it as overly rigid, since many children have been proven to attain actual operations earlier than theorized, and some individuals completely may fail to attain recognized operations. However, Piaget’s theory forms the foundation for the school of cognitive constructivism where it seem more relevant (Atherton, 2010).

Reference List

Atherton, J. S (2010). Learning and Teaching; Piaget’s developmental theory Piaget’s Developmental Theory.

Cherry, K. (2010). Child development theories: major theories of child development.

Crain, W. (2005). Theories of development: Concepts and application (5th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, (2010).

Stevenson, D. B. (2001). Freud’s psychosexual stages of Development.

October 19, 2010, from The Victorian web; literature, history, & culture in the age of Victoria

Wanda, G .Y. (1988). Jean Piaget’s –Intellectual development.

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