Psychological Approaches

Psychological Approaches

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Psychological approaches refer to the views or perspectives that encompass beliefs and assumptions regarding human behaviour (Glassman, Glassman and Hadad, 2008). Psychological approaches help us understand how people behave and they are also useful in explaining why a given person behaves the way he/she does (Golbeck, 2001). Psychological approaches are widely applied in all areas of life, including within the classroom setting. This is because teachers need to possess the necessary skills that enable them to approach teaching in such a manner as to reduce the probability of children misbehaving (Reid, et al., 2010). According to Reid and Morgan (2012), Understanding the genesis of a child’s behaviour is vital as it aids in the implementation of a sustainable behaviour strategy. The aim of this essay is to discuss these approaches and explain how they are of help. The essay will mainly discuss the works of the three scholars on child development namely, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura.

Understanding Child Behaviour                                                                                                                

Children in nursery and/or classroom are not so young and can therefore freely interact with their fellow classmates and teachers. The relationships formed between teachers and the children have a greater influence on the child than on the teacher as they are the ones learning. For the relationships to be of much help to the child, the teacher must relate with the child in such a way that they touch their lives in ways that are valuable (Seifert, 2006). According to a study by Williford et al. (2013), when children positively engage with teachers, they gain in compliance and executive functions. Children who also actively engage with tasks were found to gain emotional regulation (Williford e.al, 2013). Teachers have been observed to play an influential role in the lives of children and they also provide a resource for development (Dobbs and Arnold, 2009).

Piaget’s Theory of Child Development and Learning

Piaget was a Swiss biologist and psychologist who helped to develop the theory of child development and learning. According to Piaget, children build cognitive structures through mental networks or schemes that enable them to understand and respond to the physical experiences that are within their environment (Mednick, 2006). The cognitive structures develop in sophistication as the child continues to grow; they develop from simple activities such as crying to mental activities that are complicated such as learning. According to Piaget, the theory of child development includes four stages. These stages include; the Sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operations, and formal operations (Mednick, 2006). The Sensorimotor runs from birth to two years and it is at this stage in life that the child is able to construct concepts concerning reality and how it progresses. The child achieves the latter through physical interaction with their environment (Mednick, 2006). The preoperational stage runs from 2 years to seven years and it is at this stage that the child is in pre-school/ nursery. At this stage, the child cannot conceptualize abstractly and therefore, requires concrete physical situations, thus the teacher comes in to help (Mednick, 2006). The theory by Piaget concerning child development and behavior helps the teacher understand what the child requires and the teachers can therefore provide for those needs. Caregivers such as parents are also able to understand the child’s behavior through the same theory.

The third stage known as concrete operations runs from 7 years to 11 years and by this time, the child can comfortably conceptualize, thus able to construct structures that can explain the environments that surround them (Mednick, 2006). The child is in class at this stage and they can solve problems such as those of arithmetic by use of numbers. The child is almost fully developed and the teacher-child relationship goes to another level. Piaget’s theory of child development helps the teacher understand the child and is thus able to define the kind of interaction to have with the child. The final stage known as formal operations begins at the age of 11 and runs through to the age of 15. The child is fully developed and their cognitive structures can be compared to those of an adult and they can also reason conceptually (Mednick, 2006).

Vygotsky’s Theory of Child Development

Vygotsky is a renowned Russian psychologist who came up with the theory of cognitive development that emphasized on social construction of knowledge (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010). Vygotsky point of view was that a child acquires knowledge by interacting with people who are more knowledgeable (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010). Vygotsky also observed that language played a major role in the development and knowledge acquirement of the child. Knowledge is constructed out of an individual’s experience and reflection. Vygotsky argued that the social environment impacted the child’s process of acquiring knowledge and the work of the teacher/adult was to assist the child tackle issues that were beyond that which they could accomplish on their own (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010).

Vygotsky’s theory on child development points out that the knowledge acquired by children is highly shaped by the culture they come from (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010). Children learn by interacting with older kids and adults who have more experience in their culture. Vygotsky’s main area of attention is language as he believes that it is fundamental when it comes to human interactions and scaffolding is one of the major concepts he uses to explain his theory (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010). Scaffolding is the process through which the teacher/adult/ older child helps the subject in a task by giving suggestions or providing missing data until the child is able to accomplish the task on their own (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010).

Vygotsky applied many concepts and the second one is known as the ‘zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010). This concept involves that which the child cannot accomplish independently unless with some help. The tasks found in ZDP are neither easy nor hard for the child. Private speech is another concept used by Vygotsky and it entails children directing their own behavior/learning (Hearron and Hildebrand, 2010). The child acts as his or her own scaffolding, in that they repeat the speeches of the teacher or the experienced adult while they are on their own.

Bandura’s Theory of Child Development

Albert Bandura is a Canadian psychologist and he came up with the theory of social learning and education (Nesbitt, 2013). When conducting his research, Bandura was seeking to find out whether social behaviors can be acquired through imitation. Bandura used nursery school children from Stanford University nursery school (Nesbitt, 2013). From his research, Bandura concluded that ‘behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning’ (cited by Hester and Adams, 2017, p. 187). Children observe people that likely to influence how they grow and develop. The behaviors of these role models can highly influence the child’s behavior. According to Bandura, children try to imitate behaviours they have previously observed from their models (Nesbitt, 2013). Following the Bobo doll experiment, Bandura observed that children are likely to imitate models of the same gender; however, they can be manipulated to either stop or do the behaviors (Nesbitt, 2013). The reinforcement is influenced by the positivity or the negativity of the behavior. If the behavior has a positive influence on the child, then it is reinforced, but if it is of negative influence then the child is punished in order to stop the behavior (Nesbitt, 2013).

Bandura also observed that social influences such as the media affect child development (Koch, nd). People learn and construct the meaning of reality through communications and the media. The two forms of acquiring knowledge mentioned in the latter statement can be classified as forms of observational learning. According to Bandura, behaviour change occurs through observation despite the fact that such observation can be incidental (Fryling, Johnston and Hayes, 2011).


Psychological approaches play a major role in helping us understand child behavior in the classroom. Various psychologists such as Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bandura came up with approaches that have been used to explain how a child acquires knowledge. Their study findings help teachers and other adults provide for the needs of children in various levels of education. Piaget argued that children learn through constructing critical cognitive structures that help him or her understand and respond to the physical experiences within their environments. The mental schemes were observed to develop in sophistication as the child grew. Piaget helped adults understand a child’s behaviour by describing the four stages that children go through. On the other hand, Vygotsky observed that children learn by interacting with older children or adults who have had better experiences. Vygotsky helps us understand a child’s behaviour through the various concepts he observed while carrying out his research. Bandura is the other psychologist who has contributed largely to the theories concerning child learning and development. Bandura’s theory is known as the theory of social learning and education. This theory states that children learn from imitating their models; through observation. When one combines the three approaches from the three psychologists, one can comfortably understand any child’s behaviour.


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