Child psychologists, Psychology

Parenting Through the Cognitive Child Development Stages of Jean Piaget

child development stages

Piaget said,

“Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself.”

He would prove this methodically throughout his life. There are many parenting guides and techniques for new mothers and fathers to choose from to help them raise their child. One of the best sources and psychologists that have the most influential theories on child development stages  is Jean Piaget. He is seen as one of the major figures in developmental psychology. Jean Piaget’s child development stages are based on a child’s learning techniques due to the child’s hands on experience. A new parent can benefit from Piaget’s child development stages and help grasp the thought process of their child as they develop.

From Zoology to Psychology

Jean Piaget was a Swiss biologist who was a lifelong learner who earned his doctorate by the age of 21 and had published more than two dozen papers. After completing his doctorate, he changed his field of interest from biology to psychology, focusing on child development theories. He first studied in Zürich, under Carl Jung and Eugen Bleuler, and he then studied two more years at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1919. The school was run by Alfred Binet, the developer of the Binet intelligence Test, and Piaget helped creating these intelligence tests.

From Psychology to Child Learning

His interests grew more about how the child learned and observed while they worked on different exercises he set out for them. He was not interested in whether or not the children got the answers correct as in how they came up with the answers and how their answers changed as they grew older. He observed, talked, and listened to the children and became amazed at how different each one was based on their learning experiences. Piaget believed that children learned through hands on experience and through their successes and failures. In more than 50 books and monographs over his long career, he continued developing his theory, where the mind of the child evolves through set stages.

Piaget’s child development stages

Jean Piaget believed that children learned through different child development stages. Piaget called this theory the Theory of Cognitive Development. The Cognitive Development theory describes how children represent and reason about the world.The four stages of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development are
  • Sensori-motor, which takes place from birth to 2 years of age,
  • Pre-operational. which is from 2 years to 7 years of age
  • Concrete operational, which begins at 7 years and continues to 11 years of age, and
  • Formal operational, which starts at 11 years of age and continues on up.

In each stage the child develops and learns new skills.

Sensori-motor stage

In the sensori-motor stage which is the very first stage, the child learns to differentiate between themselves and objects. A child at this child development stage learns to use their senses to discover the world. The child at this stage is able to react to touch, taste, smell, and sound of their mother and another human or object.The sensorimotor stage is divided into six substages:

  1. Simple reflexes; birth-1month. Reflexes like rooting and sucking.
    First habits and primary circular reactions; 1-4 months. The child learns to coordinate sensation with two forms of reactions: habit and primary circular reaction where the infant tries to reproduce an event that happened by accident (ex.: sucking thumb).
  2. Secondary circular reactions; 4-8 months. Awarenes of things beyond their body arises. Object-oriented.
  3. Coordination of secondary circular reactions; 8-12 months. Intentional action. They can now combine and recombine schemata to reach an objective. They now understand object permanence (objects continue to exist when unseen)
  4. Tertiary circular reactions, novelty, and curiosity;12-18months. Trying different schemata
  5. Internalization of schemata.

Pre-operational stage

In the second stage, the pre-operational stage, a child learns to use language and symbols to represent words and images. At this stage, the child still thinks of themselves as the center of the universe, very egocentric stage.
Symbolic Function Substag. 2-4 years. Use of symbols to represent physical models of the world. Observable in drawings.
Intuitive Thought Substage 4-7 years. Increase of curiosity and start of primitive reasoning.  Centration, conservation, irreversibility, class inclusion, and transitive inference. Piaget named it the “intuitive substage” because children realize they have a vast amount of knowledge, but they are unaware of how they acquired it.  (Santrock, John W. (2004). Life-Span Development (9th Ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill College – Chapter 8)

Concrete operational stage

The third stage, the concrete operational stage that begins at the age of 7 and lasts until the age of 11, is the stage where a child begins concrete thinking and can be very literal. The child is no longer egocentric and starts to understand and see things in the eyes of others. A child in this stage can think logically about objects and events.

Formal operational stage

Finally, the last stage, the formal operational stage is when a child becomes a young adult and can think in abstract ways, understanding and interacting on a more adult level. The adolescence becomes concerned and aware of hypothetical, future, and ideological problems.

The child development stages help parents understand their children better. At schools and in homes.

Piaget said

“The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”

Being a parent is an amazing gift, yet can be incredibly challenging at times. Remembering that every child learns differently based on what they are taught can help parents understand that not all children learn and grow at the same speed. Using Piaget’s theory of Cognitive Development will help a parent be more patient and understanding toward their child.

Among Piaget’s major works available in English are Le Langage et la pensée chez l’enfant (1923; The Language and Thought of the Child), La Naissance de l’intelligence chez l’enfant (1948; The Origins of Intelligence in Children), The Psychology of the Child, and Le Jugement et la raisonnement chez l’enfant (1924; Judgment and Reasoning in the Child). A great book that can help parents follow Piaget’s child development stages is called Your Baby’s Mind and How It Grows, Piaget’s Theory for Parents.

Following one of the many theories on child development  stages that psychologists created is a great way for parents to understand what their child is learning and developing in and at what rate is normal.

child development stages
Jean Piaget in Ann Arbor, Wikimedia CC2.0
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