What is child psychology?

Is your child a mini-adult? Or are they just a child with a different set of mental processes? Child psychology or child development is a detailed study of the psychological processes of children. It investigates the impact of external and internal factors on a child’s mental, physical and emotional development. The field investigates how psychological processes differ in a child (up to the age of 16 years of age) and an adult and tries to find the best ways to ensure a healthier and happier childhood for children.

There are a set of big questions that are before today’s child psychologists. The first is the inevitable battle between nurture vs nature. Is a child only a product of his environment or nurturing? Or is a child’s behaviour or development also a product of his genetic predisposition or hereditary characteristics?

If it is all about nurturing, then parents, teachers and family can create a holistic and happy childhood, leading to mentally strong and functioning adults. On the other hand, if a child’s environment has less control over inherited mental illnesses or personality traits, it might mean that it is not possible to address mental health issues. Child psychologists from all over the world indulge in data collection, surveys and hypotheses that supports or refutes both positions.

Now let us take a look into some historical background of child psychology:

Historical Background:

Research into child psychology is fairly recent. It started in the 19th century when G. Stanley Hall wrote his work, “Pedagogical Seminary”. It is a periodical that investigates child psychology and pedagogy. In the 20th century, the discipline gained more interest through research by Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Anna Freud and Jean Piaget.

In his research, the Swiss psychologist Piaget theorized the acquisition of understanding in children. He worked by asking questions from his children and other kids and emphasized that “children actually thought differently than adults”. He basically investigated the different stages of learning during childhood and investigated how children perceive themselves and the world at each stage.

  • Sensorimotor- These are the first two years of the life of a child where he/she learns via manipulating physical reflexes to external responses. It is in this stage where a child understands his existence as a separate entity from the others or the environment.
  • Preoperational- This stage can be till the child is 6 or 7 years of age. In this stage, the child learns the language and manipulates his environment with words.
  • Concrete operational- This is when the child understands logic and begins to classify objects around him via their similarities or differences. The concepts of time and numbers are comprehended and made use of. The stage usually lasts till 12 years of age.
  • Formal operational- Now, the child is a thinker with logical thoughts and ideas and manipulates abstract ideas to create a hypothesis.

Today, child psychology is a branch of psychology that investigates behaviour patterns of children right from the prenatal stage to adolescence. The study focuses on all aspects of a child’s development – physical, mental and emotional. The field is dynamic and ever-evolving and experts work on different aspects of a child’s development.

It is important to understand that child psychology is not restricted to an individual child. It is about the role of a child’s genetics, environment, parents, teachers, economic status and many other factors. A child does not grow in isolation. All external influences can have a negative or positive impact on his behaviour, mental development and personality. Let us take a look at some of the important aspects.

For children:

When it comes to studying the behaviour and developmental growth of children up to the age of 16 years of age, there are several different aspects for a psychologist to look at. For example;

  • There is a cultural context where a psychologist investigates customs, values and shared assumptions of a community and its influence on the child.
  • Social context is another aspect where a child’s relation to peers and adults is reviewed.
  • The social class represents the socioeconomic context towards understanding a child’s overall development. The influence of status, money, and nutrition on a child and his/her access to opportunities due to that class is an area of investigation.

Apart from the above contexts, the role of biological factors like genetics, gender roles, prenatal development and so on is crucial.

Now, when it comes to youth psychology, no counsellor works on a child in isolation. The overall mental and behavioural development of a child is directly related to the influence of his parents, peers, and teachers.

Let us investigate the role of parents and teachers in child psychology.

Positive parenting:

Child development psychology is not restricted to understanding a child as a single and independent entity. It is about understanding the role of parenting in the overall development of a child. A child psychologist’s work is often a detailed investigation of a child’s immediate environment like family members and the community. Any child with mild or severe behavioural or mental issues is not counselled alone. Often a youth psychologist works with a child in dual ways; alone and with his family members. This is important to delve deep into underlying issues or miscommunication that might be affecting a child at his home. The idea is to help both the children and parents to create a healthier and happier reality at home.

Role of a teacher as a mentor:

Today, teachers either work with child psychologists at school or are expected to play a role in analyzing and helping a child’s overall mental development. We know many people whose teachers or coaches had an immense influence on a child’s future and well-being. In a highly competitive scenario of today, teachers are expected to get a basic understanding of child psychology. For instance, a teacher is in the position of understanding the cognitive parameters of each child based on IQ tests and overall performance in the subjects. However, the socio-economic environment might impede a child’s mental growth and confidence. A teacher has the resources and power to communicate differently with the specific child and help that child to overcome the impediments.

Similarity, a teacher is in a position to diagnose early detection of behavioural issues or developmental issues in a child. Recommendation to a child psychologist can help in early detection and cure of behaviour or mental health issues.

“Children should be able to do their own experimenting and their own research. Teachers, of course, can guide them by providing appropriate materials, but the essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must reinvent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visibly for the rest of his life.” ― Jean Piaget.

Child psychology is a dynamic, interesting and multifaceted field that still requires a lot more research to understand the deep complexities of the human mind. Psychologists might not have reached a worthy conclusion in the battle between nature vs nurture, but rationality points out that a child’s psychological makeup is an interplay of both forces – genes and environment! It is for the parents, teachers, and psychologists to play the role of gentle guides who nudge the children in the right direction, mentally and emotionally.

Are you looking for a child psychologist in Newcastle? Beam Health is a reputed mental health clinic in Newcastle with a team of certified and experienced psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and behavioural therapists. The benefit of booking a Newcastle-based child psychologist centre is that you get to work with a team of specialists who offer therapeutic support to children and their families. The experts work consistently with children of all ages – teens and young adults and cater to their mental and emotional health. Child psychology specialists are also available for online/ telehealth sessions.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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