Child psychology is one of the many branches of psychology and one of the most frequently studied specialty areas. This particular branch focuses on the mind and behavior of children from prenatal development through adolescence. Child psychology deals not only with how children grow physically, but with their mental, emotional, and social development as well.
Historically, children were often viewed simply as smaller versions of adults. When Jean Piaget suggested that children actually think differently than adults, Albert Einstein proclaimed that the discovery was “so simple that only a genius could have thought of it.”
Today, psychologists recognize that child psychology is unique and complex, but many differ in terms of the unique perspective they take when approaching development. Experts also differ in their responses to some of the bigger questions in child psychology, such as whether early experiences matter more than later ones or whether nature or nurture plays a greater role in certain aspects of development.
Because childhood plays such an important role in the course of the rest of life, it is little wonder why this topic has become such an important one within psychology, sociology, and education. Experts focus on only on the many influences that contribute to normal child development, but also to various factors that might lead to psychological problems during childhood. Self-esteem, school, parenting, social pressures, and other subjects are all of tremendous interest to child psychologists who strive to help kids develop and grow in ways that are healthy and appropriate.
Different Contexts of Child Psychology
When you think of development, what comes to mind? If you are like most people, you probably think about the internal factors that influence how a child grows, such as genetics and personal characteristics. However, development involves much more than the influences that arise from within an individual. Environmental factors such as social relationships and the culture in which we live also play essential roles.
Some of the major contexts that we need to consider in our analysis of child psychology include:
- The Social Context: Relationships with peers and adults have an effect on how children think, learn and develop. Families, schools and peer groups all make up an important part of the social context.
- The Cultural Context: The culture a child lives in contributes a set of values, customs, shared assumptions and ways of living that influence development throughout the lifespan. Culture may play a role in how children relate to their parents, the type of education they receive and the type of childcare that is provided.
- The Socioeconomic Context: Social class can also play a major role in child development. Socioeconomic status (often abbreviated as SES), is based upon a number of different factors including how much education people have, how much money they earn, the job they hold and where they live. Children raised in households with a high socioeconomic status tend to have greater access to opportunities, while those from households with lower socioeconomic status may have less access to such things as health care, quality nutrition, and education. Such factors can have a major impact on child psychology.
Remember, all three of these contexts are constantly interacting. While a child may have fewer opportunities due to a low socioeconomic status, enriching social relationships and strong cultural ties may help correct this imbalance.
Important Things to Consider
Child psychology encompasses a wide range of topics, from the genetic influences on behavior to the social pressures on development. The following are just some of the major subjects that are essential to the study of child psychology:
Child psychologists may specialize in helping kids cope with specific developmental concerns, or they may take a more general approach. In either case, these professionals strive to help kids overcome potential problems and grow in ways that lead to healthy outcomes. Child psychologists, for example, might look at which child care settings and practices lead to the best psychological outcomes or they might work with kids to help them develop growth mindsets.
Understanding what makes kids tick is an enormous task, so the study of child psychology is both wide and deep. The ultimate goal of this field is to study the many influences that combine and interact to help make kids who they are and to use that information to improve parenting, education, child care, psychotherapy, and other areas focused on benefiting children. By having a solid understanding of how children grow, think and behave, parents and professionals working with children can be better prepared to help the kids in their care.