Early Childhood Theories

An understanding of child development is essential because it allows you to learn about cognitive, physical, language, social and emotional development.  The early childhood theories of child development describe aspects of a child’s development. 

The following are a few child development theories that have been proposed by theorists and researchers. As an early childhood educator, obtaining knowledge regarding child development theories will assist you in planning and implementing developmentally appropriate activities in your early childhood environment.


Psychoanalytic Child Development Theories

Sigmund Freud stressed the importance of childhood events and experiences. He outlined the following series of psychosexual stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital.  

Erik Erikson created a theory of several stages of development, but his theory is based on human growth throughout the entire lifespan. Erikson believed that each stage of development was focused on overcoming a conflict. 


Cognitive Child Development Theories

Jean Piaget created a theory related to the stages of cognitive development. He believed children play an active role in gaining knowledge of their world. 


Behavioral Child Development Theories

Behavioral theories of child development focus on how environmental interaction influences behavior and are based on the following theorists: 

* John B. Watson

* Ivan Pavlov

* B. F. Skinner  

Behavioral theories deal only with observable behaviors. Development is considered a reaction to rewards, punishments, stimuli and reinforcement.


Social Child Development Theories

John Bowlby believed that early relationships with caregivers play a major role in child development and continue to influence social relationships throughout life. 

Albert Bandura proposed what is known as social learning. According to this theory, children learn new behaviors from observing other people such as peers and parents.

Lev Vygotsky believed that children learn actively and through hands-on experiences. His sociocultural theory involved the parents, caregivers, peers and the culture at large as having a role in child development. 


For more information regarding early childhood theorists visit the following websites: 

About.com Psychology

Family Child Care Academy 

Child Development - Wikipedia