The Psychology of Childhood

The Psychology of Childhood

The Psychology of Childhood

The Psychology of Childhood


The aim of this book is to serve as an introduction to students and professionals who require an understanding of developmental psychology, but who have no background knowledge. The text outlines some of the main areas of developmental psychology, and as such, seeks to offer a broad overview of contemporary interest in the subject. It provides a description of development, both normal and abnormal, and presents explanations of the way in which development progresses and why it takes a particular form.


Childhood is a strange country to which all adults have been but about which we have few and distorted memories. We may just recall that golden sunny day when we picnicked with our mother and father by the stream and when everyone was happy and relaxed. Some may have darker and more depressing memories. But can any of us actually remember how we thought about those things when they were actually happening? When the lemonade was poured into two glasses, one for me and one for my brother, did I regard it as unfair because his glass was taller than mine, albeit also much narrower? I don't know.

I suppose we first develop self awareness, in the adult sense, at around 8-9 years of age and then we can semi-permanently fix our conscious thought processes by reflecting on them, or even writing them down. Before that it is unlikely we can recall our actual thought processes, or can be aware, except perhaps because of later retelling, of the parental, peer and other social influences which so deeply affect our later development and which make us what we are as adults.

Psychologists have to study early childhood as though they were studying the behaviour of another species-their own childhood experiences are not available for study as a reliable source of data. Indeed, they need to be quite ingenious to be able to get a handle on what is happening. They are denied the precise experimental control that is available to the student of animal behaviour, nor can they utilize the detailed introspection and self respect, or the completion of quantitive paper and pencil tests, that contribute so large a proportion of the data derived from studies of adult human behaviour. The magnitude of the ingenuity required to study the thought processes of young children is amply demonstrated in the first few chapters of Peter Mitchell's book. The work of the famous Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget has been the catalyst for literally hundreds of other researchers who have committed themselves to finding more evidence to support his ideas or, equally productively, to trying to prove him wrong! Mitchell takes a balanced view of this enormous effort and aggregation of data (to which he has contributed in no small way) and at the same time provides a completely accessible route into the intricasies of research on the development of cognitive processes in infants and children.

The second half of this book is concerned not so much with how children think and behave during the time they are children, but the way in which childhood

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