Freud’s Child Development Theory


Freudianism is a general designation of various schools that arose on the basis of the psychological teaching of Sigmund Freud. Freudianism is characterized by the explanation of mental phenomena, including child development, through the unconscious. The core of his theory of child development is the idea of the eternal conflict between the conscious and the unconscious in the human psyche. According to Freud, human actions are governed by deep motives that escape consciousness (Freud, 2018). From the point of view of the psychologist, the roots of human behavior are in their childhood (Azzopardi et al., 2018). A fundamental role in the process of human formation is assigned to their sexual instincts and drives.

Factors That Influence Child’s Development & Family Relationships

Biological Factor

The concept of the personality of S. Freud sees the child as a system of biological needs, and society as a system of prohibitions, taboos (Bulut, 2019). Freud combined all biological child development factors into two large groups: “life instincts” and “death instincts” (Bulut, 2019). The instincts of life (hunger, thirst, sex) serve the purposes of the survival of the individual and the human race, and the basis for the development of the child. The form of biological energy associated with the instincts of development in a child is called libido. Unable to cope with developmental anxiety, it is forced to turn to unrealistic methods — protective mechanisms caused by the pressure of social factors.

Environmental Factor

The concept of child development of S. Freud is a dynamic concept. This is one of the main advantages of his theory (Connolly, 2018). It demonstrates that another person plays the main role in the development of a child, and not the environment that surrounds them.

Emotional Factor

Emotional factors are a deep response to the impact of cultural, social and biological factors. According to Freud, a child’s emotions are an increase or decrease in the feeling of discomfort in the depths of the brain (Powers, 2018). A thought or memory, however, also affects the consciousness of children, but indirectly. Most often, the motivation of a child’s development is due to emotional, not rational stimuli.

Social Factor

Freud understood sociality as a reality created by a person under the influence of unconscious, psychological instincts. He argued that the passions, instincts, and impulses of a child affect the society around them, and not vice versa (Leuzinger-Bohleber & Plänkers, 2019). Social creative institutions that promote children’s development were created through the satisfaction of drives. For the most part, they are constantly being recreated due to the fact that an individual child, entering human society, sacrifices the satisfaction of their drives in favor of society.

Cultural Factor

According to its conception and immediate goal, Freudianism is focused on the study of the development of the psyche of children. It also contains a tendency to explain social consciousness in its present and past. The prohibitions, which, as Freud believed, displace sexual attraction into the sphere of the unconscious in the process of child development, the psychologist calls cultural (Leuzinger-Bohleber & Plänkers, 2019).

Interaction of Factors

According to Freud, biological factors that generate emotional ones are of primary importance for the development of a child. They, in turn, are influenced by society – especially family and relationships with parents. Cultural factors, usually overwhelming emotional ones, also have an important influence on the development of a child. The factor that has the least impact on all other components of a child’s development is the environment.


The theory of child development developed by Zigmund Freud is based on the belief that the child is always in conflict with society. According to Freud, biological, and in particular sexual, factors contradict the norms of culture, therefore the cultural factor most often negatively affects the development of the child. Socialization is a process designed to restrain these urges, and the intensity with which the child’s instincts are observed in the family ensures on the completeness of their development.


Azzopardi, C., Alaggia, R., & Fallon, B. (2018). From Freud to feminism: Gendered constructions of blame across theories of child sexual abuse. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 27(3), 254-275.

Bulut, S. (2019). Freud’s approach to trauma. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Research Study, 3(1), 1-2.

Connolly, P. (2018). Expected free energy formalizes conflict underlying defense in Freudian psychoanalysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(2), 50-68.

Freud, S. (2018). Totem and taboo: Complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. J. Strachey (Ed.). San New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Leuzinger-Bohleber, M., & Plänkers, T. (2019). The struggle for a psychoanalytic research institute: The evolution of Frankfurt’s Sigmund Freud Institute. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100(5), 962-987.

Powers, M. (2018). The smallest remainder: Benjamin and Freud on play. Johns Hopkins University Press, 133(3), 720-742.

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