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Jean Piaget identified four stages of cognitive development for children. The first stage, the sensorimotor stage (birth – 2 years old) identified that children learn primarily through their senses and physical exploration. Children in this stage learn that objects have permanence and exist outside of their perception. In the Preoperational Stage (2 – 7 years old) children continue to learn but still struggle with logic. Their thought process is very self-centered. Children in this stage struggle to see situations from someone else’s perspective. The Concrete Operational stage (7 – 11 years old) introduces more logical thinking. Thinking in this stage is less egocentric and is more focused on others’ feelings. The Formal Operational stage (adolescent to adulthood) is Piaget’s final stage of development. Individuals in this stage are able to reason effectively and think abstractly. They can identify multiple viewpoints and consider the benefits of all ideas.
Another developmental theory was created by Sigmund Freud: the psychosexual stages of development. This theory includes five stages, beginning with the Oral stage (birth – 1 year old). In this stage, children learn everything about their environment through their mouths. Infants are often found putting objects into their mouths, sucking and biting. During the Anal stage (1 – 3 years old), the child’s focus moves to defecation. The awareness of this act allows the child to develop a sense of self and what is theirs. They begin to develop an ego during this stage. The Phallic stage (3 – 6 years old) moves the child’s focus to the genitals. Within this stage, the child begins to notice differences in the sexes and develops sexual identification. The Latency stage (6 – puberty) moves the child’s focus away from his or her bodily functions. During this time period, knowledge is obtained from outside influences such as schooling, parenting, friendships, and other interests. When children begin puberty, they move into the Genital stage, which lasts into adulthood. This stage allows the individual to develop true relationships and to understand the world around him.
Both Piaget and Freud include several similar developments within their stages. Between birth and the age of six or seven years old, both theories include a self-centered viewpoint. Children in this age range do not hold others' viewpoints in regard and only focus on their own needs and wants. Most of the information gathered is through physical interaction with their environments and bodies. Piaget’s Concrete Operational stage coincides with Freud’s Latency stage. During this time period in a child’s life, most of his or her learning is through interaction with others and schooling. The child moves away from the egocentric approach and starts considering information from the “outside world.” And finally, both Piaget’s Formal Operational stage and Freud’s Genital stage include a focus on others' viewpoints. In order to develop relationships as suggested by the Genital stage, individuals must have the abstract thinking and reasoning skills identified in the Formal Operational stage.
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