Is Child Development Best Described as Gradual Change, or as a Series of Stages? Essay

By submitting this work I acknowledge that I am its author, that all sources consulted in its preparation are referenced appropriately in accordance with the referencing guide, and that I have not copied from any source. The development of children occurs from birth to adolescence. Children start developing their physical, intellectual, social, and emotional senses at an early age and while people change throughout their lives, the developmental changes occur mostly during childhood.

All the way through this stage, the infant becomes someone who can control his language, he becomes self-aware, and he can think and socialize with others. Child development is studied for several reasons. The first one being that it provides practical guidance for parents, teachers, child-care providers and other people who cater for children. The second reason is that it allows the population to maintain a healthy growth. Also, studying development of children supports them in understanding themselves and others. We know ourselves better by recognizing the influences that have made us who we are today.

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There are multiple aspects affecting child development and these features are nature and nurture, continuity versus discontinuity and stages of development. These features will be evaluated throughout this essay. Whether child development is a gradual change or stages of development, researchers are still discussing about it. But obviously, we can observe that it is both of it, that is, child development occurs through a set of stages but it is also a gradual change throughout the lives of the children. A debate persists among researchers concerning child development as being a radual change or consisting of different stages of development. However, obviously, one can observe that child development can be both of them, which means that it occurs through set of changes and is also a gradual change through the lives of children. It is commonly known today that aspects of child development are a product of both nurture and nature (Bee, 2004)1. The nature versus nurture disagreement present evidences of how each factor impacts on development. Nature, also known as heredity, is the genetic code of birth, which was passed on to by our parents.

An example of the impact of nature on the development of children is the adoption of babies. Families with adopted children have the same environment, but do not share the same genes. (Myers, pg. 139)2 There are little similarities between adopted children and their family, and greater similarity between adopted children and their biological parents. Nurture, also known as the influence of environment on our development is an accepted factor on the development of children. Environment plays a significant role in the development of humans. After considering a person’s environment in influencing ability, nutrition plays an important role.

For example, in the study of a group of children, the latter were provided vitamins and mineral supplements for eight months and they had to pass intelligence tests after the eight-month treatment. It was seen that these children had improvements in scores as compared to another group whom we not given vitamin and mineral supplements (“Nature vs. Nurture”, 2001)3. Therefore, the results put forward the fact that environment helps in the intellectual ability of people. But as we continue asking ourselves, where nature and nurture comes in the gradual change or stages in the development of children, we come to continuity and discontinuity.

There are two major ways in which development progresses. There is the continuity process, where the children are constantly developing, where children gather skills, awareness, knowledge and behaviours. On the other hand discontinuity is the development of children at different stages and different times, here the development cannot proceed if not at an earlier stage, and the child does not acquire a specific skill. For instance, if a child has not started babbling at the first stage, then it would be difficult for him to start talking.

There are some theories of development that argue that changes are just an affair of quantity; that is; children display more certain skills as they grow older4. Other theories outline a series of sequential stages in which skills emerge at certain points of development. One theory is the Psychoanalytic theory, influenced by Sigmund Freud (1900), who believed in the importance of the unconscious mind and childhood experiences. Freud’s contribution to developmental theory was his proposal that development occurs through a series of psychosexual stages, where the pleasure-seeking energies of the id become focused on certain erogenous areas.

This energy, also known as libido, was described as the force acting on the behaviour. 5 Theorist Erik Erikson (1963), developed in depth Freud’s theory by stating that child development involved stages where he put emphasis on clashes that arise at the different stages of development. But unlike Freud’s theory, he believed that development occurred throughout gradual change. Erikson said that our ego identity constantly evolves in regards to new experiences and knowledge we attain daily when interacting with others. He also believed that capabilities motivate behaviours and achievements.

Each stage in Erikson’s theory is concerned with becoming competent in an area of life. If the stage is handled well, the person will feel a sense of mastery, which he sometimes referred to as ego strength or ego quality. If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of failure6. Finally, we have Jean Piaget (1920) who suggested that children construct their understanding while interacting with the world; they experience spurts of change, followed by greater stability as they move from one cognitive plateau to another. (Myers, pg. 81) He viewed these plateaus as stages. Piaget proposed that children grow through fours stages; the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and formal operational stage; all divided between birth and adulthood. By observing the three previous paragraphs, the readers may conclude that these three theorists have come far in the development of children and we can understand that they are all right in their theories. 7 After reading the different sections of this essay, we may note that child development is a mixture of gradual change and different stages.

We observed that each theorist concluded that their theories are the best, nevertheless by looking deeply, Piaget, Erikson and Freud’s theories complete one another and child development can therefore be described as such. We can also see that nature and nurture have also an impact on child development and that it is not only a continuous development, but also if the children do not develop properly at each specific stage, going on to the next level would be a problem for the children since they would have not achieved the required level and therefore the continuity of their development is interrupted.

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