Lifespan development is the growth of the physical, cognitive, and psychosocial changes that incurs throughout life. It is multidimensional and encompasses the psychoanalytic models of physical, cognitive and socio-emotional growth. The conceptional rationale for the transition from infancy to early childhood is determined by a series of crucial developmental stages during which a child is prone to adopt many psychological qualities. Emde & Hewitt (2001, p. 3-4) suggests “such qualities include important changes in the broad domains of cognition and emotion, such as the acquisition of language, the attribution of causality, and the development of self-awareness, as well as play and new social skills, changes in positive and negative emotions, and the first signs of empathy”.
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Piaget’s theory of lifespan development focuses on characteristics which an infant inherently adopts and is based on what he constructs his knowledge pertaining to the world, called schemes (Santrock, 2006, p. 218). A baby’s scheme involve simple actions such as smiling, looking and grasping objects. Whereas a 5- year old might have a scheme of classifying objects according to shape and colour. Piaget believes that children cognitively organize their experiences as they grow older and such organization of their ideas and events constitute as an inherent part of their development.
Stages of Development
Experience along with biological changes takes the child through four cognitive stages of development. Sensorimotor stage lasts from birth to 2 years where infants acquire the initial understanding of the world through physical signs and tries to make progress through reflexes. Preoperational stage lasts from 2 to 7 years where the child develops understanding through symbolic and mental representations i.e., words and symbols. Third stage is the concrete operational ranging from 7 to 11 years where the child seeks concrete reasoning for every question. Last developmental stage is the formal operational ranging from 11 years to adulthood. This stage is the maturity of concrete operational stage, which provides opportunity to seek more rational, idealistic and abstract way of organizing ideas (Santrock, 2006, p. 220).
The most important phase is the emotional growth that determines the early emotional experiences of childhood and relates it with other continuity patterns of behavior. In classic psychoanalytic theory, early experience and continuity through repetition are significant in personality development. The early developmental changes in emotions encompass two broad types, primary and self-conscious emotions. Crying (basic, anger, pain) and smiling are two important ingredients that tie connection between the infant and caregiver. An infant expresses his anger or love through smiling, clutching and crying. Similarly a young child demonstrates his emotions through different ways that includes shame and guilt in addition to smiling and crying. By middle childhood, emotions can be effectively managed through cognitive and behavioral techniques. When a child enters adolescence, he is going through a time of emotional turmoil. Though adolescents are not constantly in a state of stress, but emotional highs and lows are at peak during adolescence. Behavioral changes in emotions, even take place during adolescence in the form of tendencies that reflect low and high temperaments. Temperaments continue from infancy through adulthood, which are used to create and escort the individuals toward successful careers and lifestyles. Infants temperament are governed by the factors how easily they are to tackle and how much they are in positive routines. On the other hand, adolescents temperament are difficult to determine, because of their least expressive or complex behavior. Scholars suggest that temperament is determined from infancy and helps in building a positive or negative behavior. That suggests the most significant stage during lifespan is infancy which determines the fate of the child in the longer run. This is because infancy determines personality outcome.
Emotional attachment is the most significant tenet that builds relationships between a young child’s needs and his primary caregiver. Followed by the theory, it builds continuity, dependent upon early experiences of a child where infants form highly specific and qualitatively differentiated attachments to primary caregivers. An infant is consolidated with the earliest attachments during early childhood to help generate templates for other relationships through the mechanism of mental elaboration (Magai & Jones, 2002, p. 27). Attachment theory demonstrates the need for a secure base which suggests infant’s drive for a warm, safe relationship as a fundamental motivator. Well-being in the emotional development in the first instance, depends on the maintenance of a secure bond. If the bond remains vulnerable or if the primary caretaker fails to develop and maintain a ‘strong bond’ with the infant, personality lacks positive attitude which in the longer span of life impacts the child in a pessimist manner. Brunner & Green (2003, p. 6) suggests that Attachment theory links the observable inter-relational aspects between children and their caregivers and the transformation into an ensuing internal representational world. This representational world then colours the bigger picture of how we experience future relationships.
Attachment theory serves as the initial base for an infant and contributes in the initial development stage. Critics argue that attachment patterns are less secure as it makes the child more dependent upon the caregiver. However, research suggests that attachment gives us a clear picture of how human mind actually develops and works while showing long-term resistance to change. Our attachment history provides not only what we feel in our internal world but also the manner in which we experience, manage and express our emotional lives. Attachment theory gives us not only an observationally based description of the effects of insecure or disorganised attachment but also a way of understanding what happens within an individual when his attachment needs are thwarted.
Brunner & Green Viviane. (2003). Emotional Development in Psychoanalysis, Attachment Theory, and Neuroscience: Creating Connections: Routledge: New York.
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Emde N. Robert & Hewitt K. John. (2001). Infancy to Early Childhood: Genetic and Environmental Influences on Developmental Change: Oxford University Press: New York.
Magai Carol & Jones, Haviland Jeannette. (2002). The Hidden Genius of Emotion: Lifespan Transformations of Personality: Springer Publishing Company: New York.
Santrock, W. John. (2006). A topical approach to Lifespan Development. Third edition. Tata McGraw Hill.