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Recent articles & research
There are far too many to list in depth but I’ll try to summarize the most influential.
The rates at which an individual child moves through theses phases are prone to genetic and environmental influences but are very much a product of millions of years of evolution. Gesell spent 50 years studying child behavior working out of Yale.
Freud, of course, put forward that unconscious urges controlled all behavior.
The interactions of family, friends and society in general driving development, is the psychosocial theory from the likes of Erik Erikson. Erikson proposes there are eight levels of development until adulthood with each one having a crisis point. These psychosocial events have an effect on personal development.
Cognitive development from Jean Piaget is a complex mix of biological maturation and environmental influence resulting the restructuring of a child’s entire cognitive processes.
However you look at it, a child develops into an adult. Things that happen to us as children affect us as adults. If this was not the case I would have no career. While Gesell is a much respected researcher a text book life is not something that happens to most. We may well grow up in a defined way with certain stages kicking in.
We all had spots as teenagers. We all threw tantrums when two years old. The difference is that we all had different external pressures. A trauma at an early age may not affect our mental development as a child, but it can lay dormant and manifest itself in later years. Nobody is born an alcoholic. Not all had problematic childhoods but enough have to make it statistically viable.
If you are interested in child development for whatever reason, there is enough literature on the subject to keep you busy for a very long time. As mentioned above there are studies that have lasted a lifetime. Some interesting reads are 'Current Issues and Trends in Education' by Jerry Aldridge and Renitta L Goldman, 'Key Concepts n Developmental Psychology' by H Rudolph Schaffer.
I also recommend reading any of the many biographies of Erik Erikson as he was an interesting psychologist. If you are a parent starting out on the rather scary path of bringing up a child for the first time, breathe deep. Don’t panic. Don’t read too many books on the subject, you may well have a breakdown. The vast majority of children develop at their own pace and turn out just fine.