Alfred Adler's Theory of the Psychological Development in Children

Alfred Adler is the other "father of psychology." He went to the same school and belonged to the same psychology study group as Sigmund Freud, the guy who gave us the theory of pyscho-sexual development. Adler had a completely different way of looking at child development, however. He believed that social influence was extremely important, and that feeling secure and happy were crucial to child development. He felt that most misbehavior is caused by misunderstanding.

Feeling Good About Yourself

Adlerian theory maintains that a "misbehaving child is a discouraged child." Adler strongly believed that a child who felt confident and happy would naturally behave well. He would likely advise a parent whose preschooler is throwing a fit in the middle of a department store to figure out why the child is so desperately unhappy about giving up the toy or activity. He might conclude that the child is really unhappy about having been scolded for not cleaning his room before leaving home, rather than not getting the toy.

Reach for the Stars

Adler thought that people should set sensible goals for themselves and for their children. He said that one of the most discouraging things in the world was some grand, Earth-moving goal that no one could possibly reach. He encouraged people to set smaller, reachable goals that they could feel good about actually attaining. Once those goals were met, they could move on to new ones. For a preschooler, this could mean things like learning the alphabet, riding a tricycle or not sticking her tongue out at her sister.

Life Goals

Adler said that people had three life tasks: occupation, society and love. For toddlers and preschoolers, occupation would include play, easy chores and learning a few basic education concepts. A toddler might learn to put blocks back in a box or sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider." A preschooler might be learning to sing the alphabet song. When they do this with a parent or teacher, they are learning about society. Caring adults that do the activities with the child demonstrate the love through praise and kind words.

Adler's Influence

Goal setting and positive thinking are two things from Adler's studies that have a huge impact on books about child rearing and on public education. Even preschool teachers use goal setting when they make lesson plans for activities. Positive thinking includes using kind words to correct and redirect a tot's behavior by saying things like, "Please use your words to tell Robert that you want the truck," or "Thank you for washing your hands."