CHILD PSYCHOLOGY

The scientific study of the behavior and development of the child from the time of conception to the beginning of adolescence.At the present time approximately 4 per cent of all psychologists classify themselves specifically as child psychologists, with slightly more women than men in the field. Many others, however, are working in this general area, particularly educational psychologists, school psychologists, and clinical psychologists. The American Psychological Association has separate divisions for developmental, educational, clinical, and school psychology.Modern child psychology began with G. Stanley Hall’s use of the questionnaire in investigating the interests and activities of children. His results were published in the Pedagogical Seminary, the first journal in the field (1891). Shortly afterward, Binet’s work on mental testing stimulated great interest in child development. However, organized research did not gain a foothold until after World War I, when special centers devoted to the scientific study of children were established at the State University of Iowa (1917), Columbia University (1924), the University of Minnesota (1925), and the University of California (1925). By 1930 child psychology was a distinct discipline in this country and had developed research procedures which could be applied both in the child’s own environment and in the laboratory. These procedures include carefully documented developmental data, full case histories, controlled observations of behavior with use of one-way screens and plastic domes, rating scales, standardized psychological tests, projective methods, and experimental situations.Today the leading texts in child psychology cover every important phase of development and aspect of the child’s life: the contributions of heredity, environment, maturation, and learning to growth and development; physical care (feeding, toilet training, sleeping); motor activities (locomotion, handedness, writing); the effects of parental attitudes (acceptance, rejection, overprotection, discipline); formation of the personality (self-awareness, self-image, general adjustment) ; family relationships (birth order, family size, sibling rivalry, cultural influences); social relationships (first responses to others, competition, co-operation, quarreling, boy-girl relations, social acceptance); emotional life (affection, pleasure, anger, fear, anxiety, hostility, humor); mental life (first awareness, language, make-believe, imaginary companions, dreams, questions, concept formation, reasoning, intellectual ability); attitudes and interests (play interests, reading interests, religious ideas, moral values, sympathy, prejudice).The topics just listed are generally approached from a developmental point of view, since the best way to understand the child is to view him as a growing person. For this reason many texts and courses use the term child development instead of child psychology. (The older term “genetic psychology” has fallen into disuse). Some authors divide the child’s life into the prenatal period, infancy, babyhood, childhood (some include adolescence), and report the results of observations, tests and experiments within this general framework. Others prefer to focus on the developmental changes that occur throughout childhood under such broad topics as physical development, motor development, speech development ment, emotional development, social development, intellectual development, moral development, and personality development. But in any case no sharp distinction can be made between child psychology and developmental psychology, except that some authors place more emphasis on the cross-sectional and others on the longitudinal, or life history, point of view. But both are necessary if we are to do justice to the total life of the child. CHILDREN’S QUESTIONS. As soon as the child can use language to express himself, he begins to ask questions. This is one of his major means of satisfying curiosity; but as he develops, other motives usually come into play. He may ask questions to maintain social contact, gain attention, obtain reassurance, practice language, and in some cases to express resentment by annoying others. But even though we might suspect that a child’s questions arise from motives other than curiosity, it is best to answer them rather than put them off—otherwise we might discourage him from using this important way of learning.The so-called “questioning age” begins at about three years and reaches a peak at around six. The sheer number of questions can be overwhelming, since they have been found to comprise as much as 20 to 25 per cent of the average youngster’s speech. “What” and “who” questions usually precede questions about why and how, since the child wants to learn the names for things (and people) before he can ask how they operate. Until about twelve years of age, practically all questions (about 85 per cent) deal with immediate situations rather than remembered or remote events. Boys ask for causal explanations more frequently than girls, and girls ask more questions about social relations than boys (Davis, 1932).All types of questions play an important role in the formation of concepts, and answers must be geared to the child’s level of development. If a four year old asks “What’s a year?” it is better to answer “A long time, the time from last Christmas to next Christmas (or between your last birthday and your next birthday)” rather than to say “365 days.” Similarly, young children can be given the truth but not the whole truth in answer to the question, “Where do babies come from?” “From a special place in mommy’s body,” is usually enough for a three year old; but for a five year old the answer might be “From special seeds called cells”—and if the child asks where they come from, “From the father and the mother” would probably be sufficient.It is best not to read too much into a child’s queries about matters that are emotionally toned for adults—questions about babies, sickness, or death. Curiosity about these subjects is as normal as curiosity about what makes a car go, or where the people are in television programs, or who made God. Nevertheless, some children are prompted by more than idle curiosity when they ask these questions, especially if they ask them repeatedly. It may be that they are still puzzled by our inadequate answers, or they may be troubled by some hidden fear or worry. If we suspect this to be the case, we would do well to look behind the question for the real reason, and give the child the help and reassurance he needs while answering the question he asks.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "CHILD PSYCHOLOGY," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/child-psychology/ (accessed July 19, 2019).
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