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Child Development Theories: Application to a 4 Year Old

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Childcare
Wordcount: 2453 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Development of a 4 years old

In this assignment I will be discussing the development of a 4 year old child, it will include three different aspects of the child’s development following with a theories and research to back up my argument. I will include the three different developments which are; learning theory by Ivan Pavlov, Skinner and Albert Bandura. Following with cognitive development by Piaget and Vygotsky and psychoanalytic development by Freud.

What is child development?

Child development is the process of growth and maturity from infancy up to adulthood. There are five different aspects of growth and development which are physical development, cognitive development, emotional development, social development and moral development.

During 2-6 years, children’s physical and cognitive development extend as they grow, the child learn about the world around them and realise what their bodies are capable of. At the age of 4 the child is able to dress themselves without assistance and go toilet on their own. Every child is unique a child might take longer to develop so it’s important to allow the child to grow and physically develop at their own pace.

Learning theory

Learning theories are all about how the child learn throughout life, it focusses on how children learn and develop through environment and how environment affects the child’s learning.

According to behaviourism all of our behaviour is learnt.

There are three ways of learning.

Ivan Pavlov came up with classical conditioning he observed a dog salivating repeatedly in response to sound of a bell, every time he rang the bell the dog salivated whether food was present or not it knew its time for food, so the sound of the food tray became a stimulus.

Pavlov Used the same method on a 9 months old infant. He showed the child different animals a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey and few masks. The child showed no action or fear against the animals at first. He tried again by showing the child the rat and at the same time hammer was hit against the steel bar behind the child’s head. So, the child started to cry after the hammer was hit against the steel bar. This method was used seven times over the next seven weeks. Eventually the child started to show fear right away after seeing the rat whether the hammer was hit to the steel bar or not.

For example if you take a picture of a four-year-old and every time you use a bright flash before taking pictures, the child will eventually notice that each time a flash appears its picture time. So, the flash will become a stimulus.

Skinner discovered operant conditioning, this learning will replace a new response to an old stimulus (in contrast to classical conditioning).  He proved that behaviour could be taught by rewards and punishment. For example, we may want to encourage the child to be polite and ask something with good manners rather than forcing the child to be well mannered so, if a 4-year-old child doesn’t like a TV show the child may ask politely for a change of show and by changing the show the parents is reinforcing the target behaviour for asking nicely. Positive reinforcement is when a child does something good, so you reward them, and they will repeat the behaviour.

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Negative reinforcement is when a child does something bad, so you punish him, and he will possibly not repeat the same behaviour. For example, if a 4-year-old make a mess on the floor, not giving him a sweet will be a punishment for him. So next time he will not repeat the behaviour again because, he will know if he makes a mess again, he will not be rewarded with a sweet.

Classical and Operant conditioning have been proven successful in behaviour modification.

Albert Bandura found social learning theory he explained that children also learn by watching others. He experienced on a bobo doll where adults showed aggressive behaviour towards the doll by punching and kicking it and the children followed the behaviour without anybody praising the children for kicking or punching the doll.

For example, if a 4-year-old child watch their mother in the kitchen stirring the food with a spatula the child will learn by observing, she will pretend to stir her food while playing with her kitchen accessory toys. 

Cognitive developmental theory

Cognitive development is how the brain work and how children understands the world.

Piaget’s cognitive development theory is all about how children adapt to their environment.

Piaget states that a schema is how you set information in your mind and in order to learn something you need to feel confused, if you don’t understand something that happened your confusion drives you to learn so that you understand the situation. Piaget discovered that learning involves moving from a state of disequilibrium to state of equilibrium.

He believed that as children grow, they develop new schemes and replace the old ones and become better at developing.

Piaget came up with four periods of cognitive development the second stage is relevant to 4 years old.  Pre- operational period is from ages 2 to 7, child become capable of symbolic thoughts. Children learn running, simple drawing and motor skills to go through and manage the world around them.

A 4 years old will begin to count from 1 to 10 and name few colours and ask lots of questions for example why is the grass green! A four years old child will make observation and experiment and learn about the world, they constantly learn new knowledge and build upon existing.

But Vygotsky argues that cognitive development happens due to our socialisation with others and, he believed that culture has a big impact in cognitive development. Vygotsky stated that private speech which is talking to yourself allows children to plan and to solve problems. For example a 4 year old who has to sort out the shapes by their colours would speak to himself first in order to solve the problem.

Vygotsky and Piaget both argued that children learn through their experiences and both discussed the importance language, play and social interactions.

Piaget emphasizes the cognitive development in four stages and stated that each stage follows after the previous stage and in order to move on you need to be successful at the previous stage, always in the same order starting from stage 1 up to stage 4.

Vygotsky argues that children learn something new by communicating with adults.

Psychoanalytic development theory

Psychoanalytic theory is all about emotions and personality and almost all psychoanalytic theories are about relationships.

Sigmund Freud argued that personality is present from birth while others emerge in later development and, our behaviour and feelings as adults is related to our early childhood experiences. Also, our behaviour, motivation and emotions are affected by the unconscious mind.

Freud’s theory didn’t only state the development it also covered

Level of consciousness, the structure of mechanisms, dream interpretation and therapy.

Level of consciousness

Freud stated the consciousness in three level which are the conscious, preconscious and unconscious mind he linked this theory to an iceberg the tip of the iceberg representing conscious mind the middle preconscious and the bulk hidden beneath the water unconscious mind.

Continuity vs Discontinuity

Continuity is when you change throughout the life smoothly while discontinuity means you change throughout the life unexpectedly.

  • Continuity is that you are at the bottom of the iceberg and in order for you to get to the top you start from the bottom and make your way to the tip of the iceberg step by step.
  • Discontinuity is you pass through the iceberg in a different order. For example your at the bottom of the iceberg and jump right at the top.

In Freud’s theory conscious mind is made by the thoughts and feelings that a person is aware of. The preconscious is formed by old memory which haven’t been accessed by the conscious mind and the unconscious consist of negative feelings.

Freud proved that there are three parts to our personality which are id, super ego and ego.

The id is the only part of development that’s shown since birth. The id wants immediate gratification to fulfil all desires and needs. A 4-year-old may cry in a supermarket in order to get what he wants, the child will continuously cry until the request of id is satisfied.

According to Freud’s this behaviour is unacceptable because it creates a mental image of the desired object in order to satisfy the needs.

The ego is our logic that has to decide what to do. According to Freud, ego evolve from the id and ensures that the urge of id can be controlled in a manner acceptable in the real world. The ego tries to satisfy the id’s needs but in a realistic and good ways. For example if a 4-year-old child ask the mother politely ‘Can you please buy me this toy’ instead of crying she will fulfil his needs.


Nature vs Nurture

  • The id is from birth and shows everything that we inherit from our parents. Nature is what we are born with and what we receive from our parents genes. For example if a boy is good at football it could be because his father was good at it so he have inherited the skills.
  • The ego is nurture it is what we have learnt from the world and the environment we live in. For example if the boy is good at football it could be because he have practiced a lot. 

The super ego is our conscious and voice of morality it is our sense of right and wrong. It enables us to have a perfect behaviour. According to Freud the superego starts from the age of 5.

The structure of mechanisms

For example defence mechanism is when a person doesn’t want to face a painful truth you might judge them of being ‘in denial’.

The defences have been arranged as;

  1. Repression is when placing an unpleasant memory or thoughts in the unconscious without noticing.
  2. Displacement is an unacceptable feeling that you can’t show to the main person but rather show to a safer substitute target. For example you cannot shout at your boss so you take out your anger on your spouse or children.
  3. Reaction formation is acting opposite way to one’s unacceptable impulses.
  4. Isolation is when you block the feeling linked to an idea. For example if a person is insulted he she may not respond with anger it shows as if they were unconscious of such a behaviour towards them.
  5. Projection is when you see your unacceptable feelings and thoughts to others and not yourself. For example accusing your girlfriend cheating on you just because you cheated on her.
  6. Denial is when you deny the existence of reality.

Stability vs Change  Freud argues that personality can gradually change throughout the life depending on who we communicate with as well as cultural experiences.



From the learning theory I disagree with Pavlov, although he had evidence for his theory but he used his method on one dog and one child. He should have at least tried the method on more than one child in order to achieve the accurate result because, every child has different personality one might be more fearful of the loud noise then others.

From the cognitive development theory I agree with Piaget because most of his work seems to be fairly accurate but, what appears to be important is that Piaget’s idea may not be relevant to children now, he have done the experiment in an old fashion way many years ago.

Vygotsky’s theory appears to be significant. We do learn new skills by adults for example we learn new topics each time we attend a lecture at the university and we learn more by interaction for example team work. The negative point about Vygotsky theory is that he believes more on language but how do we know how the person speaking is thinking.

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