Overview of Child Psychology and Development

There Are Three Major Contexts in Children's Psychology

Little girl spraying water hose
Yusuke Murata / Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Child psychology is one of the many branches of psychology. This particular branch focuses on the mind and behavior of children from prenatal development through adolescence. Child psychology deals not only with how children grow physically, but also seeks to better understand their mental, emotional, and social development as well.

Children's psychology encompasses the five stages of child development: newborn, infant, toddler, preschool, and school age.

History of Child Psychology

Historically, children were often viewed simply as smaller versions of adults. When Jean Piaget suggested that children actually think differently than adults, Albert Einstein proclaimed that the discovery was "so simple that only a genius could have thought of it."

Today, psychologists recognize that child psychology is unique and complex, but many differ in terms of the unique perspective they take when approaching development.

Experts differ in their responses to some of the bigger questions in child psychology, such as whether early experiences matter more than later ones or whether nature or nurture plays a greater role in development. Because childhood plays such an important role in the course of the rest of life, it is little wonder why this topic has become such an important one within psychology, sociology, and education.

Experts focus not only on the many influences that contribute to normal child development but also on various factors that might lead to psychological problems during childhood. Self-esteem, school, parenting, social pressures, and other subjects are all of tremendous interest to child psychologists who strive to help kids develop and grow in ways that are healthy and appropriate.

Major Contexts in Children's Psychology

If you are like most people, you probably think about the internal factors that influence how a child grows, such as genetics and personal characteristics. However, development involves much more than the influences that arise from within an individual. Environmental factors such as social relationships and the culture in which we live also play essential roles.

There are three major contexts that we need to consider in our analysis of child psychology.

Cultural Context

The culture a child lives in contributes a set of values, customs, shared assumptions, and ways of living that influence development throughout the lifespan. Culture may play a role in how children relate to their parents, the type of education they receive, and the type of childcare that is provided.

Social Context

Relationships with peers and adults have an effect on how children think, learn, and develop. Families, schools, and peer groups all make up an important part of the social context.

Socioeconomic Context

Social class can also play a major role in child development. Socioeconomic status (often abbreviated as SES), is based upon a number of different factors including how much education people have, how much money they earn, the job they hold, and where they live.

Children raised in households with a high socioeconomic status tend to have greater access to opportunities, while those from households with lower socioeconomic status may have less access to such things as health care, quality nutrition, and education. Such factors can have a major impact on child psychology.

Remember, all three of these contexts are constantly interacting. While a child may have fewer opportunities due to a low socioeconomic status, enriching social relationships and strong cultural ties may help correct this imbalance.

Factors Influencing Child Psychology

Child psychology encompasses a wide range of topics, from the genetic influences on behavior to the social pressures on development. The following are just some of the major subjects that are essential to the study of child psychology:

Child psychologists, for example, might look at which childcare settings and practices lead to the best psychological outcomes or they might work with kids to help them develop growth mindsets

Child psychologists may specialize in helping kids cope with specific developmental concerns, or they may take a more general approach. In either case, these professionals strive to help kids overcome potential problems and grow in ways that lead to healthy outcomes.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding what makes kids tick is an enormous task, so the study of child psychology is both wide and deep. The goal is to study the many influences that combine and interact to help make kids who they are and to use that information to improve parenting, education, child care, psychotherapy, and other areas focused on benefiting children.

By having a solid understanding of how children grow, think, and behave, parents and professionals working with children can be better prepared to help the kids in their care.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Clinical child and adolescent psychology.

  2. Chalmers D, Hunt L (Eds). University Teaching in Focus: A Learning-Centered Approach; 2013.

  3. Goswami UC. Child Psychology: A Very Short Introduction. First edition. Oxford University Press; 2014.

  4. Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Allen LR, Kelly BB, editors. Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Jul 23. 4, Child Development and Early Learning.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."