A lot of new parents today are quite concerned about their children’s future. Knowing that the more advantages their children have, the better their future will be, such parents closely monitor their children’s stages of cognitive development so that interventions can be implemented early on if something is wrong.

The children’s physical development is something that parents really observe. Aside from regularly checking for signs of illness, many parents keep track of their children’s growth in height and weight, scheduling appointments with physicians if they believe their child is at the lower end of the normal spectrum.

Although physical health is really essential, something that is just as important is the children’s cognitive development. Even though a child is physically strong, if the child is mentally weak then there will be big problems later on.

Cognitive Development Theory

Developed by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, the Theory of Cognitive Development seeks to explain how children think and how their minds develop as they get older. Hypothesizing that children have very different thought patterns than adults, this theory is concerned with how kids acquire information and how they begin to understand such new input.

He theorized that there are four stages of cognitive development that the average child experiences in order. But as unique individuals, a child may develop in a different way and pace than others, depending on the environment and the biological differences. And in some cases, a child might not even experience the latter stages. So it is good for parents to know what to expect.

1. The Sensorimotor Stage (0 – 2 years old)

In this stage, the child undergoes a dramatic period of growth both physically and mentally. It starts off as a very helpless, dependent infant and ends up as a walking, talking toddler (or mini-tyrant). Since the child learns so quickly within this short span of time, Piaget determined that infants and toddlers obtain information through sensory experiences and the manipulation of things in their environment.

It is at this time when the child learns object permanence (realizing that an object still exists even if it cannot be seen); that it is a separate being from the things around it; and that its actions can affect its environment. And as the child reaches two years old, it is able to think more about how it can achieve what it wants before acting.

To better explain this period, Piaget broke down this stage into six substages where the following changes occur:

    • Substage 1 (newborn to 1 month) – Primary Reflexes

In this substage, the infant begins to practice and perfect its primary reflexes such as grasping, listening, looking, and sucking.

    • Substage 2 (1 to 4 months) – Primary Circular Reactions

In substage 2, the infant begins to repeat certain actions of interest. For example, if it likes kicking its feet or sucking its thumb, the infant will repeat it over and over again since the activity is pleasurable.

    • Substage 3 (4 to 8 months) – Secondary Circular Reactions

In this substage, the infant repeats pleasurable actions connected to people around them or the environment. This is when they are able to play peek-a-boo over and over as the silly face and words make them laugh. It is also when they enjoy playing repetitively with certain toys (e.g. baby mobile, ball, rattle) because of the interesting sounds or because of the texture of the item.

    • Substage 4 (8 to 12 months) – Coordination of Secondary Reactions

In substage 4, the infant becomes more goal driven. Instead of just prolonging pleasurable activities (e.g. repetitive shaking of the rattle), the infant is able to better interact with its environment. At this time, the infant learns object permanence. So the infant is now able to look for something it wants and interacts more with its environment, such as pushing away hands or pillows, to obtain it.

    • Substage 5 (12 to 18 months) – Tertiary Circular Reactions

In this stage, the infant is now a toddler where it is much more creative with the things it knows. Instead of just repeating the same actions, the toddler begins trial and error, experimenting with a variety of behaviors on differing objects. For example, if before the infant was happy to just push the toy truck forward, now the toddler will try to take it apart or make it crash into other objects.

    • Substage 6 (18 to 24 months) – Symbolic Thought

In the final phase of the Sensorimotor stage, the toddler begins to problem solve as its concept of object permanence has developed even more. Here the toddler starts to process the situation and find a solution before it acts. For instance, if the other day the toddler saw cookies placed in a ceramic jar, the toddler will now try to check the jar if it is hungry for cookies.

2. Preoperational Stage (2 – 7 years old)

During these early years, the child develops even more, interacting and experimenting with its environment. However, at this time, the child’s thought process is still very egocentric (thinking always of oneself) which makes it hard for the child to understand situations from other people’s viewpoints. So they usually need the teaching of others in order to learn how to share or help those in need.

In this stage, symbolic thinking begins which allows them to connect words and images, which is the start of reading. Language, a very critical part of learning and reasoning, is also developing. Because of this, they are now able to interact more with other people. They also like pretend play which they can do on their own, with dolls and other objects, or with other kids or family members.

The child’s thinking in this stage, however, is still concrete. This means they often understand things according to how they may see or experience them in real life. For example, if you get a stick of gum and divide that into four pieces, the child will most probably believe that they have even more gum because four is more than one. It is important, therefore, for parents and siblings to exercise patience as they try to explain things to such children.

3. Concrete Operational Stage (7 – 11 years old)

In this stage, bigger changes in the child’s thought process occur. The child begins logical thinking, allowing them to work problems out internally rather than having to try things out in the real world.

Although still a concrete thinker, the child is able to use inductive logic (small concepts to big) and reasoning which now allows for logical progressions. But concepts that are less logical or very abstract will be difficult for them to grasp and remember.

Another thought change is that egocentrism begins to disappear as the child can now understand other people’s viewpoints. It is also at this time that a child realizes that their thoughts are unique to them and that others may have very different opinions than theirs.

4. Formal Operational Stage (12 years old and onwards)

In this last stage, which continues into adulthood, the child/teen develops the ability to think abstractly and test their own hypotheses logically. They are also able to practice deductive logic (big concept to smaller ones).

Because of these, this is the stage when the child/teen can think of, process, and debate ethical, philosophical, political, and social issues. They can also come up with multiple solutions to a problem, understand things scientifically, and plan for future situations (real or hypothetical).

As this stage keeps going until the mind deteriorates, the level of abstract thinking is affected by factors such as education (including mentoring and self-study) and experience.

The Importance of Understanding the Stages

For parents, it is very helpful to understand these stages as it can help them to help their children even more.

Firstly, if parents are aware of the differing cognitive changes in the child, they can involve their child in activities meant to improve their ability. This allows them to buy useful toys and materials, play the right games, and learn the needed lessons to improve the child’s development at a certain stage.

Second, it allows them to understand their child even more. As Piaget hypothesized, children are not little adults that have less knowledge about the world; they truly have a different way of thinking.

If parents are aware of this, they will not become so frustrated every time their child does not comprehend an “obvious” concept or cannot understand other people’s viewpoints. In this way, the relationship between parents and children may become better (less yelling and less punishment).

And lastly, if parents notice a delay in cognitive improvement, they can then take the necessary steps to assist the child or get professional help. As education attainment is a very important part of society today, it is difficult if a child is behind. Not only does the child have to deal with increasing levels of school difficulty; they may also face constant ridicule, rising family pressure, and other emotional problems.

Christian Counseling for Cognitive Development Issues in a Child

As stated earlier, if parents are aware of the different stages, they can help their child if they notice that something is wrong. However, not all parents know what to look for or they are not confident about helping their child themselves. In such situations, it is best to seek Christian counseling for cognitive development problems in their child.

In Christian counseling, the latest in therapeutic techniques will be used to understand the child’s cognitive development problem, after which, they will be given the necessary age-appropriate activities or games to strengthen the child.

Parents will be taught how to further support their child cognitively and emotionally as well. Although a child’s mind may not be as developed as an adult, they can still sense if the people around are disappointed in them which will negatively affect their growing minds and emotions.

But more importantly, the faith-based counselor will introduce the family to the love, mercy, and wisdom of God. Through prayer and meditation on the Holy Scripture, the family, particularly the parents, may develop a strong relationship with Christ. This is essential to parenthood since it is challenging to raise children in this competitive world, especially if a child is dealing with cognitive issues.

If you suspect that your child is cognitively delayed, seek Christian counseling soon. Only God can give the wisdom and grace needed to handle family life, allowing parents to experience inner peace.

“Newborn”, Courtesy of Smpratt90, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Baby Feet”, Courtesy of One_life, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “BFFs”, Courtesyof stem.T4L, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Problem Child”, Courtesy of Patrice Audet, Pixabay.com, CC0 License


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