Most children, in the process of growing up, will have emotional and behavioral problems that are transient in nature and are due to the stresses of development and adaptation to family and societal expectations. The primary task for parents is to enhance their children's development by helping them gain control over normal developmental events such as toilet training, fears, learning about sexuality, being told “no,” and dealing with siblings and peers. Children and parents also must sometimes cope with negative life circumstances (e.g., poverty or parental unemployment) and stressful events, (e.g., a hospitalization, a divorce, a death, or the birth of a new baby). For all of this pressure to cope, it is heartening that epidemiological studies find that over the course of any one year, only about 20% of children suffer from an emotional or behavioral problem that is severe enough to interfere with their day-to-day functioning (Nottelmann & Jenkins, 1995). The goals of the child clinician are not only to assist this group of children who have major mental health problems, but also to help the other 80% of children and their parents manage the stresses of normal growth and development.
Because of their rapid growth and development, children represent a unique population. Previously, the importance given to changes in development depended to a great extent on one's theoretical perspective. Psychoanalytic theory, for example, emphasizes the emergence of independence and psychosexual development, whereas social learning theory focuses on the development of self-control and self-efficacy. However, the failure of any one theory to explain the full complexity of development across ages and areas has led to general acceptance of a transactional and/or ecological perspective of development, which attempts to account for factors within the child, family, and society that influence the child either directly or indirectly (Campbell, 1990). Within this perspective, developmental gains in each area (social, cognitive, motor, language, etc.) are thought to be related to progress in other areas. Moreover, competence or problems in any area of development early in life are seen as setting the stage for later development.
Thus developmental change (both positive and negative) is the result of the transactional dialogue among each child with his or her unique biological/genetic makeup, the physical and social environment, and the cultural milieu into which he or she is born. Mash and Terdal (1997a) point out that the child clinician must recognize “the ebb and flow of this develop-