From infant to adolescent

Child psychology is one of the cornerstones of psychology. An understanding of child psychology informs many other areas of investigation in the field of psychology. Knowledge of child psychology is therefore the perfect foundation for further studies in psychology, and is one of the best study choices if you want to pursue a career working with children. 

Children are fascinating to work with. At no other time in our lives do we change so much as we do during childhood. Those fortunate to work with children are able to witness these changes, and those with an understanding of child psychology are able to predict how children of different ages will behave as well as how their current behaviour and situation might influence their future development.

Study this course to learn how children think, and how their psychology changes as they develop - cognitively, morally, socially, and sexually. This course will be of value to anyone who works with children (e.g. counsellors, play leaders, teachers).


The psychology of children

When they are first born children are relatively helpless. Young infants are heavily dependent on their mothers and other caregivers. Their communication skills are limited and they have little control over their environment. But all this changes rapidly so that by two years of age they can use language and walk, and by the time they reach adolescence they have well developed language skills, they can think abstractly and have a good understanding or morality.  


Learn to understand a child's behavioural development

Through studying this course you can gain skills and insight into the cognitive and social development of children as well as socialisation, developmental stages, learning and language development.

  • Discover ways to respond to, or cope with difficult behaviour
  • Expand your understanding of psychology to be more effective in work, society  or family


The course contains 12 lessons: 

  1. Introduction to Child Psychology
  2. The Newborn Infant
  3. States & Senses of the Infant
  4. Learning
  5. Emotions and Socialisation
  6. Cognitive Development
  7. Language Development
  8. Intelligence
  9. Socialisation - Part A
  10. Morality
  11. Sexuality
  12. Socialisation - Part B


Duration: 100 hours



  • Identify key concepts and issues in child psychology
  • Understand theories on the psychology of the newborn infant
  • Explain the different types of sense discrimination that babies develop
  • Identify how children learn and influences on learning
  • Discuss theories of emotion and their basis in child behaviour
  • Explain how children develop cognitively
  • Explain how children develop language
  • Explain influences on the development of intelligence in a child
  • Explain personal aspects of socialisation
  • Explain factors affecting the development of morality in children
  • Explain the development of sexuality within children
  • Explain the impact of schooling and family structures on personality development


  • Discuss what environmental and social aspects you think are required for the "ideal" environment for a developing child in your country.
  • Genetic and environmental factors operate together in influencing the child's personality development" Discuss the above statement.
  • Name and describe one personality characteristic which may be genetically determined. What evidence supports the possibility that it may be hereditary?
  • Genetic and environmental factors operate together in influencing the child's personality development"Discuss the above statement.
  • Name and describe one personality characteristic which may be genetically determined.
  • What evidence supports the possibility that it may be hereditary?
  • Name the kind of learning in which a stimulus which usually produces an unconditioned response is manipulated to produce a conditioned response. Give an example of this kind of learning.
  • Discuss exactly how you would use operant conditioning to encourage a child to socialise.
  • Use the perceptual recognition approach to explain smiling and fear in infants.
  • How are Freud's, Harlow's and Bowlby's explanations of the formation of mother-child attachments different? Which do you think is more credible and why?
  • Explain reflection-impulsivity, and its significance in cognitive development.
  • Explain the strengths and weakness of social learning theory in explaining language acquisition.
  • "Intelligence is overall genetically determined". Do you agree or disagree? Why?

What is Cognitive Development in a Child?

Cognitive development refers to the development of mental and perceptual skills - the child's ability to understand and reason about his/her world. During the first two years of life the infant is still developing a basic sensory awareness of the things that occupy his/her world. Eventually, the child begins to learn about the qualities of objects in the environment eg. that clay is soft and pliable and that bricks are heavy and hard. Then, s/he learns about the relationships between the different objects and people in his/her environment; for example, that bricks are made of clay. During this process, the child will constantly test his knowledge and learn to apply it. This process involves many diverse mental skills.

Generally speaking, from the child's second birthday onwards, there is a marked onset of sudden and rapid advances in cognitive behaviour. Of the several theories on the cognitive development of children, but Piaget’s Stage Theory and The Cognitive Processing theory are the most well-known and influential.



Piaget based his theories on observations of his own children, then children in the general population. Many of his concepts are based on children's responses during cognitive games or mental exercises which he played with them. Through observation, Piaget noticed how children of different ages approached these exercises in different ways. On the basis of this, he inferred certain patterns concerning the way the child thinks at different ages, or rather, at different cognitive stages. Piaget views cognition as a mental structure that becomes increasingly more complex and efficient as the child grows older.

Piaget describes four major stages of cognitive development:

Sensorimotor Stage (Birth to 2 years)
During this stage, there is a close interplay between the baby's motor activity and its sensory perception.

Pre-Operational Stage (2 to 7 years)
The child has the "new" skill of language, and this ability to use words allows development in a way that was not previously possible. Language allows the child to learn that an object can represent something that it is not (pretend games can become more feasible). At a latter part of this stage, conversation skills will develop rapidly.

Concrete operational Stage (7 to 12 years)
At this stage, children begin to learn about rules and relationships between people and things around them. They then learn to manipulate or operate according to these rules or restrictions.

Formal Operational Stage (12 years and older)
In this stage, the child develops the ability to think in abstract terms about philosophical and ideological issues.


Piaget did make a further sub division in the first stage:

The Pre-conceptual Period (2-4 years): Focus is on symbolic substitution (e.g. a child substitutes a block for a car);
The Intuitive Period (4-7 years): Focus is on classifying things into categories (e.g. apple is a fruit, carrot is a vegetable). Child develops an understanding of certain principles of conversation.

The Importance of Play

Piaget saw play as a providing critical stimulus for learning and cognitive development. From a psychologist’s perspective, there are four types of play in early childhood:

  • Exploratory Play
  • Constructive Play
  • Symbolic Play
  • Pretend Play.

During the Sensorimotor stage (0-2 years), play is primarily "exploratory". Some basic symbolic acts also occur after the first year. It is however mainly half way into the second year before symbolic play becomes prevalent. During symbolic play, a child learns that one thing can represent another (e.g. sitting on a log, a child can pretend that they are riding a horse).

After the second birthday, a child becomes like an "actor" in his own theatre. This is called "pretend play", and it is largely through such play that a child moves towards becoming socialised. For instance, a girl may begin to play nurse with her doll. Later on she might act as the doctor and her friend as the patient.

It is not surprising that at the age of two, the child begins to understand social relationships a little more, instead of being self involved and egocentric like the younger infant


Do You Understand Temperament?

Nature or Nurture

Most adults have witnessed the considerable differences in temperament between different new born babies. Some babies seem to cry or become irritable at the slightest provocation, causing many sleepless nights for parents. Others seem much more amiable, always smiling and hardly ever crying. Many mothers tell you that they have raised both types. Is this evidence of an inborn hereditary personality trait; or is it merely coincidence?

If such personality tendencies are stable - that is, they continue to exist throughout the child's development - then it is often assumed that the characteristic is hereditary. Investigations have found that 70 per cent of adults with behaviour disorders were described as difficult babies by their parents. This can be interpreted in two ways:

  • A difficult temperament is inborn and remains stable throughout life, eventually leading to behavioural problems (nature).
  • Difficult babies are treated differently by their parents, who perhaps elicit negative responses, which cause these to children have socially related difficulties later. The later behavioural disorders are a response to negative treatments which in turn resulted from the difficulty they caused as babies.

It has been found that mothers do not generally rear difficult babies very differently to others, but as children get older, parents do often respond more with negative behaviours such as shame, anxiety, or guilt, if these difficulties persist. The temperament of difficult babies has been found to be relatively easy to modify under appeasing parental care and conditions. Children's temperaments moreover, were found to often change considerably during their early years. It can be concluded that while temperament may be genetically influenced, it is easily modified by environmental factors.

There has been evidence however that certain personality traits may be largely influenced by genetic factors. These are sociability, stimulus seeking and activity.


Degrees of sociability vary among people, ranging from inhibited and withdrawn behaviours to outgoing and gregarious behaviour. The terms "introvert" and "extrovert" are familiar to most people, as a short and convenient way of categorising friends and acquaintances. The extrovert seeks out social interaction, is happy and jovial among most people; while the introvert prefers their own quiet company, and is often ill at ease in social situations.

Research studies of sociability in mono- and dizygotic twins indicate that sociability may be hereditary. Monozygotic twins (identical twins), whether they are reared together or apart, show more similarities in their social behaviour, than dizygotic twins reared together. The fact that the monozygotic twins were reared apart allows researchers to eliminate the influence of environmental factors.

Behaviours such as smiling and fear of strangers have been measured in twin studies, with the conclusion that monozygotic twins have very similar patterns of such behaviour, while dizygotic twins patterns are not correlated. Furthermore, longitudinal studies show that these social characteristics are reliable predictors of sociability in adolescence: that is, the child's degree of sociability is stable throughout his/her development.


Want to Learn More?

Develop an understanding of how children think, and how their psychology changes as they develop.
This course will be of value to anyone who works OR lives with children (e.g. parents, play leaders, teachers, counsellors, etc).


How This Course Could Help You

The course is aimed at people interested in:

  • Youth work
  • Child and adolescent counselling
  • School counselling
  • Teaching
  • Child psychology
  • Caring roles
  • Youth coaching


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