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An essay comparing and critically evaluating selected neurological , psychological and social theories and concepts in terms of their impact on child social and emotional development.


Child development is an important area of research that has led to the development of many influential theories. As this essay will show, these theories stem from varied reasoning or rationale related to child development, but the basic premise remains the same. This premise is that childhood is the most important and influential period in an individual’s life. This essay argues that the development of key social and emotional skills during childhood, have the potential to help the individual form life-long patterns of behaviour.

This essay considers different neurological, psychological and social theories that are related to child development, with the objective of getting an overview of the theoretical approaches to the subject. Particular emphasis is on social and emotional learning and how that impacts child development. The essay considers the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programmes and how they are implemented in the UK and the theories around these programmes.

There are some important theories that reflect on the issue. An important theory in this context is the behaviourist approach or the ‘contrastive hypothesis’ (Fries, 1945) . As per this approach, it is assumed that processes of positive reinforcement, which guide and influence the learning of L1 also support the learning of L2. This is even more visible where both L1 and L2 are structurally similar. Then children can simply transfer their learning from L1 to L2.

Neurological, psychological and social theories on child development

Childhood is considered to be the most influential period in the development of a person (Vygotsky, 1962) . Neurological theories focus on the development of the brain during this time and the neurological and nervous factors that play an important role in the development of the brain. Developmental changes in the brain happen throughout the fetal, childhood and adolescence, and therefore brain change and adaptation is part of a complex and long process (Cioni & Sganndura, 2013) . This means that our brain continues to develop and adapt throughout our life. However, the brain development during the fetal and early childhood period is the most important and dramatic in nature (Cioni & Sganndura, 2013) . The reason for this is that childhood (0 to 5 years of age in particular) forms a critical period of brain development, where the changes or development in the brain has an immense impact on the emotional and cognitive abilities developed by a person (Leisman, Mualem, & Mughrabi, 2015) . The earlier theoretical propositions on the child development revolved around the nature versus nurture debates, with scientists taking opposing views on whether development was influenced by nature or the upbringing of the child (nurture) (Cioni & Sganndura, 2013) .

Ford and Piaget postulated the structuralism approach, which used biology and evolutionary precepts to explain brain development. According to the structural- organismic approach, every organism undergoes a universally established structured periods of development through his life course (Cioni & Sganndura, 2013) .

The behaviorist approach postulates that all that can be directly observed or measured, can only be scientifically studied. Bandura, a leading exponent of the theory, said that cognitive processes were linked inextricably with environment and behavior (Bandura, 1971) . He postulated that people learnt by direct experience. This includes experiences a person directly undergoes, or observes in the behavior of another person (Bandura, 1971) . The social learning experience puts a person through repetitive situations, where the success or failures of the individual’s responses in the same situations lay the basis for future modes of behavior (Bandura, 1971) . This is due to the exploratory nature of the responses. Here people perform these responses and then note the differential consequences of their actions (Bandura, 1971) .

Childhood is an important and influential period of development for an individual (Whitebread, 2013) . In this period, the immediate social and emotional environment of the child can be influential in creating life -long patterns of behaviour (Vygotsky, 1962) . SEL creates a focus on developing certain social and emotional skills for children, (Humphrey, 2013, p. 1) . SEL is now considered to have positive outcomes for children (Qualter, Gardner, Pope, Hutchinson, & Whiteley, 2012) .



    1. Bandura, A. (1971). Social Learning Theory. General Learning Corporation.
    2. Cioni, G., & Sganndura, G. (2013). Normal Psychomotor Development. In O. Dulac, M.
    3. Cioni, G., & Sganndura, G. (2013). Normal Psychomotor Development. In O. Dulac, M.
    4. Leisman, G., Mualem, R., & Mughrabi, S. K. (2015, December). The neurological development of the child with the educational enrichment in mind. Psicologia Educativa, 21 (2), 79–96.
    5. Qualter, P., Gardner, K., Pope, D., Hutchinson, J., & Whiteley, H. (2012). Ability emotional intelligence, trait emotional intelligence, and academic success in British secondary schools: A 5 year longitudinal study. Learning and Individual Differences, 22, 83–91.
    6. Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge: MIT Press.
    7. Whitebread, D. (2013). Characteristics of Effective Early Learning: Helping Young Children Become Learners for Life. In H. Moylett, The Importance of Self-Regulation for Learning from Birth. Mc Graw Hill.

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