Child psychology is more complex than you might imagine; there’s no one way of studying a child’s mind. A new-born baby is different to a 7-year-old, who is different again to a 12-year-old or a 17-year-old – and yet the study of all of them comes under the umbrella of “child psychology”. Nature versus nurture is incredibly influential; how much is the world influencing a teenager’s perceptions of everything around them, and how much does their biology dictate their drives and urges.
Because child psychology is so vast and tries to answer so many questions, researchers often separate their work into different segments; a child’s physical, cognitive (thinking, learning, memory), and social and emotional development. Psychologists try to understand each part of a child’s development, including how children learn, think, interact, and respond emotionally to those around them, make friends, understand emotions and their own developing personalities, temperaments, and skills.
Jean Piaget, a Swiss biologist, began using IQ tests to check childrens’ intelligence. One thing he discovered was that children of the same age often made the same kinds of mistakes in consistent ways. This make him think that children might think about the world in a significantly different way from adults – more than could just be explained by having less experience of the world. Piaget developed a theory that predicted childhood behaviour based purely on biology; that all children across the world should go through these stages in the same order and around the same time, regardless of any differences in environment.
Not everyone agreed with Piaget, however; many people believed that he ignored the influence of culture and society in shaping how a child develops. A researcher called Lev Vygotsky, also working shortly after WW1, was one of these critics, He believed that adult and peer relationships was a much more important contributor to child development. Vygotsky concentrated more on children’s social and cultural environment, and their interactions with adults and peers. He argued that a child’s brain development occurred first through social interactions, and then moved to the individual level like an apprentice.
I don’t know whether I am typical of my own generation, or whether my son is typical of his – but I see him develop and wonder how he will end up as an adult. What will be remember from his children, and what unconscious work will shape his attitudes towards life? He has already told me that he is going to be a single parent like me, and that some of my parenting techniques (he didn’t use that term) will be ones he uses for his own children – and he surprised me when he offered a nuanced view as to why he wouldn’t use a couple of others. Children really are more intelligent than we give them credit for. Whether their biological impulses or their surroundings are more powerful, we must ensure they have the freedom to explore their world – and their own potential.