Historical Perspectives on Child Development
Until the 17th century, there was no special emphasis on childhood as a separate phase of the life cycle.
Plato, for example, recognized the importance of early childhood training in the determination of the individual's later vocational aptitudes and adjustments. In his Republic,
he discussed inherent differences among individuals, and recommended that steps be taken to discover each child's outstanding aptitudes, so that specific education and training along the lines of his particular talents might begin early.
Until 3-4 centuries ago, children in Western Europe were not regarded as a particular class of humans or treated in distinctive ways. Once infants had been weaned and had achieved a minimum of ability to take care of themselves, they became "small adults" -- mingling, working, and playing with mature people.
Philip Aries, (1962). a French historian documents this in his book: Centuries of Childhood. New York: Knopf.
Kessen, W. (1965). The Child. New York: Wiley.
In medieval art, children were depicted as immature adults and even as late as the 15th and 16th centuries, were shown in non religious paintings gathering with adults for purposes of work, relaxation or sport. They also dressed like men and women of their own social class.
The behaviors of children did not differ much either. After the age of 3 or 4, they played the same games as adults, either with other children or adults and participated fully in community celebrations and festivities. Moreover, in the medieval school, there was not graduated system of education by which subjects were introduced in order from easiest to most difficult. Students of all ages from 10-20 years or more were mixed together in the same classroom.
Children were not thought to be "innocent" and in need of protection from references to sexual matters.
Children also were extremely unruly, disobedient and violent.
History Before the 17th Century
Medical writings before the 17th century rarely mentioned specific treatment for children. The health of children was the responsibility of midwives, not physicians. Physicians appeared content with this separation; children did not seem to respond to medical treatment anyway.
Before 1750, the chances of a child living to be 5 years old were 3 to 1 against the child. In London, there was not a 50-50 chance of survival beyond the age of 5 until the end of the eighteenth century. Disease, infection, lack of cleanliness, and abandonment all contributed to the problem.
Abandonment has been documented as a tremendous problem in Paris. Foundling homes became plagued by infant mortality. One of the recorded cases was at a foundling home in Dublin, where 10,272 infants were admitted between 1775 and 1800. Only 45 survived.
The 17th Century and Beyond
One physician, William Cadogen, attempted to change some of the normal practices of infant care during that time. One practice was to wrap babies and often encase them in girdles with stays to keep their limbs straight. To keep them warm, mothers often wrapped newborn infants in layers of cloth equal to the weight of the infant.
Another belief was that clean linen and swaddling cloths robbed the babies of nourishing juices. Cadogen suggested the revolutionary idea of removing excess wrapping and changing the baby at least once a day!
One widespread general feeding practice was to give the baby at birth butter and sugar, a little oil, some spiced bread and sugars, and a war drink of gruel mixed with wine or ale.
The mid-eighteen century saw the growth of the factory system, which caused a tremendous demand for cheap labor. Children essentially became slaves, often working, eating, and sleeping at their machines. Sunday, the only day the factories were closed, the children could be found ragged and dirty, playing in the streets. To keep them out of the way and "to save them for God," Sunday schools were instituted.
In 1833, in England, a statue regulating child labor was passed in spite of vigorous opposition by factory owners. This law limited the number of hours a child could work per week to 48, if they were between the ages of 9 years and 13 years; and to 68 hours if they were between the ages of 13 years and 18 years. A child younger than 9 was not to be employed at all. However, this applied only in cotton, woolen, and other factories.
In the 1840s, children of 5 and 6 years of age could be found working 14 hours a day in the coal mines. The excavations were commonly 2-3 feet high with little ventilation and such poor drainage that the children stood or crawled in mud and water to work.
The 17th century also marked a great change in attitudes toward children and their morals. This is reported to probably be linked with the influence of the church during reformation.
The clergy and humanitarians of that time begun to encourage the separation of children from adults and even adolescents. Gradually, these thinkers influenced parents, and a whole new family attitude emerged, oriented around the child and his or her education.
The child became a "special" person. He ceased to dress like grownups. Paintings from the 17th century on, depict children in outfits reserved for their age group.
Moral education became one of the principal objects of school life.
The insistence of these 17th century authorities on the moral and social importance of systematic education was accompanied by emphasis on the need for special institutions for educational purposes, During this period, the structure of school classes also became modified, assuming a form closer to that of the present -- grades , separate rooms, yearly promotion; and, one class per year, based largely on the child's age.
They also began to develop literature on children. The earliest writers were primarily philosophers, clergymen, physicians, educators, humanitarians, and reformers.
Examples of writings included such topics as: inherent characteristics of children (what is congenital or inherited); the most effective methods of child-rearing and training; and, some scholars viewed childhood as "naturally evil," and wrote about the child's "native depravity," while others portrayed the child as a "noble savage."
The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused.
(See for example, L. deMause (1974). The evolution of childhood. In L. deMause (ed.) (1974). The history of childhood. New York: Harper & Row.
Also remember that the historical records of childhood and child-rearing practices from before the 18th century are reported to be sparse and generally inspire much conjecture on the part of social historians.
deMause (1974), identified six modes of parent-child relations from antiquity to the present:
1. Until the 4th century AD, infanticide was commonly practiced; that is the killing of illegitimate children. This began to decline somewhat in the Middle Ages.
2. deMause believes that from the 4th century to the 13th, abandonment replaced infanticide. Abandonment included giving the responsibility for care of the child to others, as well as emotional abandonment at home.
3. From the 14th to the 17th century, there was ambivalence. During this period, parents were advised that children were like clay forms that could be physically shaped by their parents.
4. At the beginning of the 18th century there evolved an intrusive mode in which parents sought not only to physically shape the child but also to gain control of the child's will.
5. The socialization mode prevailed from the 18th century to the mid 20th century. According to deMause, "the raising of a child became less a process of conquering its will than of training it, guiding it into proper paths, teaching it to conform, socializing it" (p.52). During this period of parent-child relations, the father began to assume a definite role.
6. In the mid 10th century, we began the helping mode. The helping mode involves proposition that the child knows better than the parent what it needs at each stage of its life, and fully involves both parents in the child's life as they work to empathize with and fulfill its expanding and particular needs. There is no attempt at all to discipline or form habits. Children are neither struck nor scolded, and are apologized to if yelled at under stress.
The helping mode involves an enormous amount of time, energy, and discussion on the part of both parents, especially in the first six years, for helping a young child reach its daily goals means continually responding to it, playing with it, tolerating its regressions, being its servant rather than the other way around, interpreting its emotional conflicts, and providing the objects specific to its evolving interests. Few parents have yet consistently attempted this kind of child care, according to deMause. (p.52)
According to deMause, this approach "results in a child who is gentle, sincere, never depressed, never imitative or group-oriented, strong-willed, and unintimidated by authority." (p.54)
All parents of earlier centuries, however, were not all ignorant of their children's needs, mean-spirited, lacking compassion, or continually abusing their children (Borstelmann, 1983). Some historical documents record that many parents of earlier eras were kind and affectionate toward their children (Pollock, 1983).
Borstelmann, L.J. (1983). Children before psychology: Ideas about children from antiquity to the late 1800s. In W. Kessen (Ed). Handbook of Child Psychology: Vol. 1. History, theory and methods. New York: Wiley.
deMause, L. (1974). The evolution of childhood. In L. deMause (ed.) The history of childhood. New York: Harper & Row.
Pollock, L. (1983). Forgotten children: Parent-child relations from 1500 to 1900. Cambridge, England: University Press.
Early Philosopher Contributors
John Locke ,
a British philosopher, writing at the end of the 17th century. He viewed the child's experience and education as the fundamental determinants of his development. He wrote that the infant's mind at birth is a "Tabula Rasa"
- a blank slate - and the infant is therefore receptive to all kinds of learning.
Jean Jacques Rousseau,
a French philosopher, writing in the latter half of the 18th century, believed that the child is endowed with an innate moral sense. In his book, Emile, he spoke of the child as a "noble savage" with intuitive knowledge of what is right and wrong, but thwarted by restrictions imposed on him by society.
Locke's view was that of associationistic psychology:
the child's development is determined by his education; and, more specifically, his behavior is shaped or molded by his experiences, by the rewards and punishments provided by the environment.
In Rousseau's thinking, the child responded actively to the world around him, engaging his environment, using it to suit his interests.
Locke, John. (n.d.). "Rewards, reputation and curiosity. Reprinted in W. Kessen (1965). The child. New York: Wiley.
Locke, John. (1913). Some thoughts concerning education: 1690. Sections 38 and 40. London: Cambridge University Press.
Rousseau, J.J. (1938). Emile, or Concerning Childhood, 1762. Book 2. New York: Dutton.
Some notes and material taken from: Mussen, Paul Henry, John Conger, and Jerome Kagan. (1969). Child development and personality. 3rd Edition. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 6-12.
Children came to be regarded as proper subjects for study.
Philosophers, biologists and educators began to discover their own children, and some of the most curious and courageous attempted to learn about them using at that time what was considered to be a novel procedure - observation.
In 1774, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
, a Swiss educator, published notes based on the careful observations of the development of his 3 1/2 year old son. His book reflected his own theories, which, like Rousseau's stressed the innate goodness of the child and the role of the child's own activity in development.
Source: Pestalozzi, J. A father's diary, 1774. Cited by R. Deguimps, Pestalozzi, his life and work. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1906.
Thirteen years later (1787), Dieterich Tiedemann, published a kind of diary of infant behavior, tracing the sensory, motor, language and intellectual development of a single
infant during the first 21/2 years of life.
Source: Tiedemann, D. (1787). Beobachtungen ueber die Entwickelung der Seelenfahrigkeiten bei Kindern. Altenburg: Bonde.
In the 19th century, Charles Darwin, the evolutionist, published a diary of his observations of his son's early development. He saw the child as a rich source of information about the nature of man - "by careful observation of the infant and child, one could see the descent of man."
Source: Darwin, Charles A. " A biographical sketch of an infant." Mind, (1877) 2, 285-294.
Baby biographies are generally not good sources of scientific data. Too often they were based on observations that were unsystematic and made at irregular intervals.
Beginnings of Scientific Child Psychology
During the 19th century, the history of child psychology was influenced by Charles Darwin
with his book, On the Origin of the Species,
(1859). The notion of the evolution of the species - and especially Darwin's continued search for "signs of man in animal life" - inevitably led to speculation about the development of man and society.
Systematic study of larger groups of children began toward the end of the 19th century.
A pioneer in these studies was G. Stanley Hall, a former President of Clark University and founder of APA. He was interested in investigating "the contents of children's minds."
He was convinced that the study of development was crucial to the problem of understanding man.
Hall devised a new research technique, the questionnaire to obtain information about children's and adolescent behavior, attitudes, and interests. He collected written responses to questionnaires from both children and parents.
Hall's work, which continued into the 20th century marked the beginning of systematic child study in the U. S.
Examples of the breadth and variety of his studies include: anger, dolls, the early sense of self, peculiar and exceptional children, moral education, religious experience, adolescence and its phenomena in body and mind, memory, motor education, mathematics in the early years, education of women, dreams, the language interest in children, motherhood, emotional reactions to the moon, children's ideas of death, and the jr. high school.
Early in the present century, child psychologists interested in individual variations devised methods for measuring intelligence. Freud
with his work in psychoanalytic theory, contributed novel and challenging ideas about personality development.
Early work and research on conditioning and learning by Pavlov
in Russia and by Watson
in the U.S., led to the construction of theories and to experimentation on children's acquisition of habits as well as of knowledge.
Celebrating a child's birthday did not begin until the end of the 18th century. We use to believe that children should passively accept what is done to them. We now believe that children actively shape their surroundings, people, events and situations.
Children also change as a result of what is done to them and the changes in the children produce changes in those around them which is the meaning of reciprocal interaction.
Achieving reciprocity works better than scolding and solely praising.
Provide your perspective on the attitudes toward children and the treatment of them from the above historical overview.
Compare and contrast the early paradigm (conceptual model) to our paradigm and views on children today. Have there been advancement and a progression of our views and treatment of children? What are they specifically?
Where is there still room for growth and improvement in our understanding about child development?