The study of the sequential physical, cognitive, emotional, and social changes a child undergoes between birth and adolescence or adulthood.
Landmark publications on child development include:
The first detailed scientific study of child development was probably Biographical Sketch of an Infant (1877), which was written by English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882). He based this publication on a log he had kept on the development of his eldest child. In this work, Darwin advanced the hypothesis that each individual's development from birth to adulthood parallels or recapitulates the phylogenetic development (the evolutionary history) of the human species as a whole. In fact, he had made a similar observation about the development of the fetus. Darwin's ideas influenced the early study of child development, also known as the child-study movement, which arose in the late nineteenth century.
In the United States, the most famous figure associated with Darwin's evolutionary approach was American educator and psychologist G. Stanley Hall (1846–1924), who was labeled “the father of child psychology in America” and became the first president of the American Psychological Association in 1892. In the next couple of decades, researchers developed intelligence testing, including the Binet-Simon Scale in France and the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, which was became the standard intelligence test in the United States. Intelligence tests directed attention to the intellectual development of children, especially those considered either gifted or mentally disabled.
As the century progressed, emphasis shifted from the study of children as a source of scientific knowledge to a more altruistic endeavor aimed at improving their welfare. From Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), known as the father of psychoanalysis, and Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980) to American pediatricians Benjamin Spock (1903–1998) and T. Berry Brazelton (born in 1918), researchers, psychologists, and others have studied and written about child development to improve understanding, to promote well-being during the various stages of childhood, and to help children mature into healthy adults.
Freud developed many theories about the enormous influence of childhood experiences on adult behavior and also proposed a five-stage chronological model of childhood psychosexual development
American psychologist Arnold Gesell (1880– 1961) was among the first to undertake a thorough quantitative study of normal human development from birth through adolescence. Based on his work, Gesell produced reports that had a widespread influence on both parents and educators, and also created the Gesell Development Schedules, a tool used to assess motor and language development, adaptive behavior, and personal-social behavior in children between 4 weeks and 6 years of age. The Gesell Development Schedules are still used today.
Probably the most famous theory of child development is the cognitive development model pioneered by Piaget. He divided child development between birth and late adolescence into four stages of increasingly complex and abstract thought, each qualitatively different from the ones preceding it, but still dependent on them:
Another well-known development theory that is structured in stages is one proposed by developmental psychologist and neo-Freudian Erik Erikson (1902– 1994) in Childhood and Society, which was published in 1950. His eight-stage theory encompasses the entire human lifespan, but much of it centers on childhood and adolescence. Each developmental stage in Erikson's scheme is concerned with a central conflict that encompasses trust versus mistrust in infancy; autonomy versus doubt and shame in early childhood; initiative versus guilt in the preschool period; and industry versus inferiority during the early school years. The goals of the first four stages create the foundation for the successful negotiation of the fifth stage, in which the adolescent must form a stable identity and achieve a sense of self.
American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1927– 1987) considered the development of moral reasoning from a different perspective. After studying the ways in which children aged 7 through adolescence respond to moral dilemmas, Kohlberg determined that moral development has several universal stages. Like the cognitive stages delineated by Piaget, these universal stages differ from each other qualitatively:
In recent years, researchers in child development have focused increasingly on the developmental patterns and needs of minorities and women. American psychologist Carol Gilligan (1936–), for instance, found fault with her colleague Kohlberg's exclusive focus on white males in his initial research. In her own study, In a Different Voice, Gilligan differentiated between male and female moral development. In contrast to the male problem-solving approach to moral dilemmas based on an “ethic of justice,” she described a female “ethic of care” that is based on empathy and involves the perception of moral dilemmas in terms of conflicting responsibilities rather than competing rights.
Much work has been done and will continue on child development. This has become a thriving area of study, because the early years of a child's life are key to his or her psychological health and overall development.
Berk, Laura E. Child Development, 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2012.
Feldman, Robert S. Child Development, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2012.
Santrock, John. Child Development. 14th ed. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013.
Shelov, Steven (ed.), and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. 6th ed. New York:Bantom Books, 2014.
Mayo Clinic, “Child Development: Know What's Ahead.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/child-development/art-20045155 (accessed August 24, 2015).
MedlinePlus, U. S. National Library of Medicine, “Child Development.” https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childdevelopment.html (accessed August 24, 2015).
PBS, “Child Development.” http://www.pbs.org/parents/child-development/ (accessed August 24, 2015).
University of Michigan, “Developmental Milestones.” http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/devmile.htm (accessed August 24, 2015).
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Child Development.” http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/ (accessed August 24, 2015).
Zero to Three/National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, “Behavior & Development.” http://www.zerotothree.org/child-development/ (accessed August 24, 2015).
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 50 Church Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge, MA, 02138, (617) 496-0578, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://developingchild.harvard.edu/ .
Foundation for Child Development, 295 Madison Avenue, 40th Floor, New York, NY, 10017, (212) 867.5777, email@example.com, http://fcd-us.org/ .
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1313 L St. NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC, 20005, (202) 232-8777, (800) 424-2460, http://www.naeyc.org/ .
Zero to Three/National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, 1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC, 20037, (202) 638-1144, http://www.zerotothree.org/ .