Child Development Theories


Melissa is a four year old child who swallowed two of her mother’s ‘green lollies’, identified as sleeping tablets (Temazepam). The mother forgot to strap her daughter into her booster seat and she has hit her head on the back of the seat. Melissa is drowsy, disorientated and has been vomiting on examination. Erikson’s theory focuses on social environment combined with biological and therefore places Melissa to initiative vs. guilt stage of development (Tu & Lash, 2007, p.79). Piaget’s theory on the other hand places Mellisa to the preoperational stage (Santrock, 2007, p.235). Physical, cognitive, psychological, and moral alterations are identified. Melissa is also exposed to other possible risk factors like mother abusing drug and parental affective disturbances, such as depression or hostile and aggressive behavior (Scannapieco, & Carrick, 2005, p.121).


This assignment will address and discuss a case of Melissa who is at risk due to her developmental stage, using Erikson’s and Piaget’s theories. Melissa is a four year old child who swallowed two of her mother’s ‘green lollies’, identified as sleeping tablets (Temazepam) upon arrival to the emergency department. The mother failed to strap Melissa into her booster seat and she has hit her head on the back of the seat. This paper will discuss risk factors a child at her age is exposed to.

Developmental Stages Theories

Erikson’s theory intimates that social environment combined with biological maturation provides each individual with a set of “crises” that has to be resolved (Greene, 2008, p.94). Melissa belongs to initiative vs. Guilt stage of development in the Erikson’s theory, where she tries new things and even after failure, she is not likely to be overwhelmed (p.96). This stage emphasizes social and cultural influence, as opposed to biological orientation; it acknowledges that life is actually crisis-filled; and it focuses on identity formation (Arcangelo & Peterson, 2005, p.392). However, it is difficult to test Melissa’s behavioral change scientifically with Erikson’s Theory, since it avoids emotional development and instead focuses on the competing forces (Scannapieco & Carrick, 2005, p.212).

In the Piaget’s theory grouped into four stages, Melissa belongs to the preoperational stage, the second stage of cognitive development (Warash, et al, 2008, p. 445). This stage is important because the child is able to develop own learning through direct experience and he/she can start to know the importance of thinking process and not the outcome (Scannapieco & Carrick, 2005, p.111). However, Greene (2008, p.97) says that child’s failed experimental approach may underestimate the ability of the child to perform other tasks, even if the child has developed some skills in some other areas.

Piaget’s theory can provide the answer to cognitive and comprehensive view of individual’s development at a certain point of life stage, likewise to Erikson’s theory, as long as the moral and psychological aspects of growth are concerned (Santrok, 2007, p.230, Greene, 2008. p.109).

Physical, cognitive and psychological alterations

Infants’ modulation of reactive responses develops over the first years of life (Tu, T., & Lash, 2007, p.81). Through first months of life, an infant has only primitive capacities for self-regulation (Arcangelo & Peterson, 2005, p.66). Physically, Melissa adopts a practice of elementary motor behaviors such as hand-to-mouth movement and sucking that they use for self-regulation of reactive state (Tecklin, 2007, p.108). She relies primarily on external support; particularly care givers for physiological and behavioral regulation.

Melissa swallows the poison, ostensibly by moving her hand to the mouth because she cannot think in true and logical fashion (Santrock, 2007, p.349). The mother failed to keep the poison away from Melissa. This could be because she thought Melissa would be able to identify and know that this was a dangerous substance.

Erikson’s interpretation of the personal crises, such as Melissa is undergoing, as “psychosocial development” helps to analyze the whole effects of culture and society on the ability to resolve the crises and successfully progress in the stages of development (Greene, 2008, p.94).

Risk Factors

Melissa is exposed to several risk factors due to her age and little ability that means she is still dependent upon her parents for both physiological and psychological needs. However, the fact that Melissa, being a pre-school means she tries to be independent of mother as the care giver and therefore tries to learn by observing, experiencing, and internalizing environmental stimuli (Scannapieco & Carrick, 2005, p.70). Ability of the child to swallow poison as Melissa did is a common scenario. The mother, in the fast place had done the mistake of not keeping the poison away. Parents should keep in their minds that the development of the secure parent-attachment should be of their primary consideration.

Motor vehicle risk is associated with such children of Melissa’s age, facing preventable accidents like knocking her head at the back of the seat. Melissa, by nature of her age is not able to restrain herself from moving haphazardly. This is the results from the group’s threats, which are exceeded in their cognitive, behavioral, sensory, developmental and physical abilities. In Piaget’s theory, Melissa’s motor skills expand, i.e. she has the capacity for fantasy and increased locomotor skills, which gets broadened as the child’s range of expression increases (Warash, et al, 2008, p. 445).

Mother fails to restrain Melissa from knocking her head at the back car seat probably because she assumes the child is still young enough not to use a booster safety seat. Piaget’s theory has not only enriched the field of psychology but has help shared some of the insights into language, education and morality (Warash, et al, 2008, p. 446).

Additional Developmental Alteration

Cognitive development: at age 4, the intuitive phase of preoperational thought develops and the child has the ability to think in complex terms and egocentricity persists (Arcangelo & Peterson, 2005, p.331). The child’s knowledge of the world remains largely on the experiences got, sometimes dangerously.

Moral Development: a 4-year old or a pre-school promotes the need for a moral code and social rules since his or her cognitive abilities and social experiences increases (Warash, 2008, p.449). From this perspective, Melissa may know, albeit through personal experience, the need not to involve in some activities.

Psychosocial development: the development of child of the age of 4 is provided on the emotional level, and the problems, which may appear on this level, or wrong upbringing in the psychosocial direction may create huge harm in future (Coll, Thobro & Haas, 2006).

Physical development: the physical development of the 4-year old child is appropriate and the overwhelming activity is the norm, not the deviation from this norm.

Other Risk Factors

The fact that a child of 4 is still reliant on the caregiver, such as the mother in the case of Melissa, may be problematic if the mother is abusing drug. Substance abuse has been found to be related to or the cause of child maltreatment in up to 80% of all cases (Scannapieco, & Carrick, 2005, p.189). The other risk associated with the care giver or parent in this case is the parental affective disturbances, such as depression or hostile and aggressive behavior (Scannapieco, & Carrick, 2005, p.196).


This paper has discussed a case of a 4-year old Melissa, who is at risk due to her developmental stage, using Erikson’s and Piaget’s theories. It also looked at the risk factors such as exposure to external stimuli e.g. poison and motor vehicle risks, and others like the possibility of the mother abusing drug and causing affective disturbances (Scannapieco, & Carrick, 2005, p.121). Erikson and Piaget theories can be easily understood yet; it can easily attract interest and instill deep learning in human development, leading to further appreciation and gratefulness to the life that was given to everyone as a gift (Fischer, 2007, p.1530).

Reference List

Arcangelo, P., & Peterson M. (2005). Pharmacotherapeutics for Advanced.

Coll, K. M., Thobro, P., & Haas, R. (2006). Outcome Evaluation of Adolescent Offender Psychosocial Development: A Comparative Study. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 45(2), 208+.

Greene, R. (2008). “Eriksonian Theory: a development approach to ego mastery” in Human behavior theory & social work practice. Aldine Transaction, New York, pp. 84-113.

Practice: A Practical Approach. London: Wolters Kluwer Haelth.

Santrock, J. W. (2007). Child development. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Scannapieco, M., & Connell-Carrick K. (2005). Understanding Child Maltreatment: An Ecological and Developmental Perspective. London: Oxford University Press.

Tecklin, J. S. (2007). Pediatric physical therapy. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, New York.

Tu, T., & Lash, M. (2007). “Don’t Tell Me No; I Tell You No!”: Facilitating Self-Control in Infants and Toddlers. Childhood Education, 84(2), 79+.

Warash, B., Curtis, R., Hursh, D., & Tucci, V. (2008). Skinner Meets Piaget on the Reggio Playground: Practical Synthesis of Applied Behavior Analysis and Developmentally Appropriate Practice Orientations. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 22(4), 441+.

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