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Infant Development: What You Can Do To Help

Updated on February 28, 2017


Many people worry about what they can do to help their children to develop mentally, socially, and emotionally. There are many theories about the proper way to help a child to develop. Understanding children and their abilities is important. Two main theorists, who have studied childhood development, are Piaget and Vygotsky. There theories have shed light on this topic and may help you support your child’s development and give your child the best chance to succeed.


Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory is connected with changing the field of psychology regarding infant development. He rebuilt and reconstructed many theories. Much of his Cognitive Development Theory is based on natural development. In other words it is based on the biological factors of an individual or physical development. This means that only when the body has physically developed can the proper functions begin to work. In his theory he states that infants develop emotionally, mentally, and psychologically as the physical body allows them to. Just like a baby cannot walk until it has physically developed properly, it can not reason until the brain has physically developed to that point (the point of reasoning). He believed that children go through four stages of development. As children go through these stages “each stage is age-related” and each stage is “qualitatively different” then the other ones (Santrock, 2009). Stage one is 1) sensorimotor stage which is from the age of birth until two years old. In this stage the infant constructs and begins to understand the world around them. The second stage is the 2) preoperational stage which is from ages two to seven. This stage includes the child beginning to represent the world with words and actions. The third stage is the 3) concrete operational stage. This occurs between the ages of seven and eleven. The main point of this stage is that the child can now reason logically about concrete events. In other words the child can now think about real events. Understanding that the mother has left the room and will return is an example of concrete operational. The final stage is the 4) formal operational stage and it onsets at eleven and goes through adulthood. In this stage the child is able to reason in an abstract ways. Being able to think about what it would be like to float in space is an example of this.

Piaget’s theory has been scrutinized over the years and has, in many ways, held up its claims. There are some parts of his theory that are regarded and defended. Jacques Voneche has written to defend Piaget, his theory and his evolutionary way of thinking. Voneche contends that the “concern of the relationship between parts and wholes was clearly understood by Piaget as being both biological and logical.” That is to say he connected biological factors and logical factors. Piaget understood that it was only at the biological point of being ready that the logic could then respond. He also states that Piaget knew and understood that becoming something was defined by the evolutionary tendencies. In other words Piaget took a biological stance. He claims that Piaget saw it as the “evolutionary process” in which these moments were “hierarchically organized” (2003).


Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Cognitive Theory is founded on the fact that children construct their knowledge. Vygotsky believe that it is the social and cultural interactions that play the important role or that guides cognitive development. He went as far to say that “the child’s development is inseparable from social and cultural activities” (Santrock, 2009). In other words the child learns based on the stimuli it is given. Reading to a child would increase the stimuli which would allow the child to gain greater knowledge. Vygotsky’s theory states that our social interactions guide our cognitive development (not the other way around). With this in mind Vygotsky created ways to define his theory and provide assistance in the development of children. The first of which is the 1) Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. This is the zone in which activities for children are too difficult to accomplish on their own. These tasks can be learned through guidance and help from someone. In time the activity can be mastered by the child. In connection to this is the term 2) scaffolding which is changing the level of support that is offered to a child as they learn to do something. As they gain greater ability you help less. His theory is that there is no set time period that a child learns or does something but it is developed through the social interactions that a child experiences. There are teaching strategies that coordinates with his theory that help children to learn.

While he was alive Vygotsky’s theories were not very well known but now that they are, they are starting to have a great impact across the field. Boris Gindis writes, “Vygotsky has emerged as one of the major psychologists in the 20th century” (1999). Gindis goes on to write that Vygotsky has shown that human beings are the subjects of their culture rather than the natural processes. He claims that Vygotsky found the connection between the “sociocultural processes taking place in society and mental processes taking place in the individual.”  He goes on to claim that Vygotsky understood the difference between biologically based understanding and the sociocultural explanation of human activity. Vygotsky did say that there are two levels of psychological functions: “lower (natural) and higher (cultural)” the lower being all of the physical developments of the brain such as memory, attention and so forth and the higher being the cognitive development such as abstract reasoning and logical memory. Gindis writes further that development process is a social one and is carried out in social activities. The way in which we learn is through the internalization of culture and social relationships (1999).


Both Piaget and Vygotsky argued that children actively construct their knowledge, they did not agree on how that occurred though. While Piaget focused on the biological more, Vygotsky focused on the social aspect. This may be a classic argument of nature versus nurture. Piaget’s thought process was that learning follows maturation. Vygotsky’s thought process was that learning follows socialization. Although their theories may seem very different they did in fact know each other and had an impact on one another. There were a couple of times that Vygotsky had even written forewords for Russian additions of Piaget’s books. Vygotsky also sent Piaget papers which Vygotsky had written on his ideas and theories. Piaget even made a couple of statements in a book after reading one of Vygotsky’s papers that social factors may be involved with the development of a child. Vygotsky also in his theory changed from three to four stages after reading some of Piaget’s writings. He did not, however, give them a chronological order as he still did not agree with biological influence. There was a point Piaget accepted internal speech (ability to think within) more coordinate with Vygostky, along with the external speech (thinking aloud) he already addressed (Pass, 2007).

Where They Meet

There are questions about who is right and who is wrong. While Piaget was much more popular and more widely accepted when he was alive, Vygotsky today seems to be more widely accepted. It is a question of nature versus nurture. Does the social outweigh the biological? In my opinion, it is neither one nor the other; it is combination of both. The mind is capable of only handling what development has made possible. In other words, the child can accomplish tasks only to the extent that the brain and mind have developed. Social and cultural activities can slow or accelerate development of the child and stimulate these process. The biological abilities and the sociocultural influence work together toward a child’s cognitive development. So work with your child and help them to develop the skills and abilities, but be patient if they don't get it right away.

Good Parenting!


Gindis, Boris (1999).Vygotsky's vision reshaping the practice of special education for the 21st century. Remedial and Special Education, 20(6), 333-340.

Pass, Susan (2007).When constructivists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky were pedagogical collaborators: A viewpoint from a study of their communications. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 20, 277-282.

Santrock, John W. (2009). Life-Span Development twelfth edition. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Voneche, Jacques (2003).The changing structure of Piaget's thinking: Invariance and transformations. Creativity Research Journal, 15(1), 3-9.


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    • pitzele profile image

      pitzele 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I really liked your hub. I would have to agree with you that life is a combination of "nature" and "nurture." And I absolutely agree that the first five years are huge. BUT - I also believe that if the first five years are filled with love, attention, and learning opportunities, the rest of that child's life will be capable of greater productivity than that of a person who did not get these things early. Physical touch and cuddling have been proven to make babies grow, and the lack thereof causes them to not only not grow, but also to potentially be chronically ill and even die. We homeschool our children for this exact reason. We will teach and enable learning in a way that there is no negative association with asking questions, desiring more knowledge, and ultimately being an informed and productive citizen! P.S. We both hold of Piaget's methodology as a BASIC framework for evaluating a child's mental state.

    • B Stucki profile image

      B Stucki 7 years ago

      Thanks for the comment! It's true it is a very critical time. In fact, the first 5 years are considered the most critical.

    • stazstaz profile image

      stazstaz 7 years ago from Canada

      This is a very good hub, I am fascinated myself with child psychology. It's amazing to think how everything in the early years of the child affects him in some way.

    • B Stucki profile image

      B Stucki 7 years ago

      Thanks for the coment! Early social environments and imprinting are very important.

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 7 years ago from Tampa Bay

      You've written an excellent, thorough overview of both of these great early childhood theorists. I think there is great truth in both of their findings and practices. I think it's important that parents and educators realize the magnitude of early imprinting and social environments. Child development is such a fascinating topic. I really enjoyed reading this informative, well-written hub!