Theories of Child Development Stages

A Summary of the Different Stages of Child Development

Toddler's First Steps
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Psychologists and development researchers have proposed a number of different theories to describe and explain the process and stages that children go through as they develop. Some tend to focus on the developmental milestones or specific achievements that children reach by a certain age. Others focus on specific aspects of child development such as personality, cognition, and moral growth.

The following are just some of the major ways of thinking about the stages of child development.

The Theory


The Stages

Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones describe abilities that children typically achieve by a certain age. For example, walking is a milestone that many children reach sometime between the ages of 9 and 12 months.

Milestone center on a number of abilities including those for physical growth, intellectual development, social and emotional growth and language development.

Cognitive Stages

Psychologist Jean Piaget proposed a theory centered on the intellectual development of children. Concepts such as schemas, egocentrism and assimilation are central to Piaget's theory. Each stage of development is marked by distinct changes in how children think about themselves, others and the world.

Psychosocial Stages

Unlike many other developmental theories, Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory focuses on development across the entire lifespan. At each stage, children and adults face a developmental crisis that serves as a major turning point. Successfully managing the challenges of each stage leads to the emergence of a lifelong psychological virtue.

On the right are the stages that occur during childhood and adolescence.

Psychosexual Stages

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud proposed a controversial theory of psychosexual development, suggesting that the energy of the libido was focused on specific erogenous zones at specific stages. Failure to progress through a stage can result in a fixation at that point in development, which Freud believed could have an influence on adult behavior.

While Erikson believed that personality continues to change and grow over the entire lifetime, Freud believed that it was early experiences that played the greatest role in shaping development. According to Freud, personality is largely set in stone by the age of five.

Moral Stages

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg proposed a stage theory focused specifically on the moral development of children. The theory describes three overall levels of moral development that can then be broken down further into six stages.

  • Preconventional Morality
  • Conventional Morality
  • Postconventional Morality

These theories represent just a few of the different ways of thinking about child development. In reality, fully understanding how children change and grow over the course of childhood requires looking at many different factors that influence physical and psychological growth. Genes, the environment and the interactions between these two forces determine how kids grow physically as well as mentally.

Want to learn more about how children grow and develop? Be sure to check out the following resources:

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