One of my favorite, if not my favorite, developmental psychologist is Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky emphasized the importance of the socio-cultural factors surrounding a child as it played a huge part in the development of cognition (Salkind, 2004). Genetics and environment influences the child but so do social forces! Vygotsky viewed that development resulted from internal and external mental processes and that children should be involved in cultural activities which included education, family rituals as well as community activities which help structure the cognitive and social development (Salkind, 2004). One concept is the zone of proximal development, ZPD is an optimal place where the child can have their skills maximize and develop through learning (Salkind, 2004). This zone takes in consideration of the child’s developmental stage and learning style, so that the child can reach their potential level of development.
What Vygotsky meant by that, is children grow into what they are afforded. So basically, if a child is not afforded an opportunity then how can they be expected to learn it? More so, tying in some attachment and family stuff, if we as parents cannot do it or provide the right environment to learn it, then how can our children do it? I see parents all the time smack, or hit their children but then expect their children to solve problems with their friends, or deal with the anger more appropriately. It’s a big cognitive dissonance… You think and believe one way but act another. We pass these cognitive patterns down to our children, and other layers of development as well. We are teachers, we teach our children how to react, respond, regulate, believe, and connect. It starts with us. Disconnection is the most traumatizing experience for the brain, even if behaviors are ‘causing’ this disconnection, it is our reasonability is move through it, transcend it. So when behaviors get rough, think- am I reacting or responding? Am I affording my child the opportunity to transcend this experience? If the answer is no, chances are this will be a pattern that continues. If the answer is yes, the great, keep up the good work and keep trying to do this again! It’s all about increasing the percentage. We likely cannot respond 24/7 100% but we can increase and do it more and more. The more we do it, the more natural it becomes. Then before too long, this is just they way we are.
Back to Vygotsky, he was really big into children getting into their culture, being involved in family rituals…community events. Having a sense of community and connection is crucial for kids and teens…and adults. Some times our own world views will block us from having these experiences. But it is really important for children to connect to peers and other adults. Social skills are the cornerstone in child development. If our kids can do Algebra but cannot hold a conversation with a peer, how is that going to help in their adult life? Many children with ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, PTSD, and more struggle with social skills; all for different reasonings but none the less important. No matter where a child is, given the right environment and afforded the opportunity, a child can move up their zone and reach their potential.
How are you helping your child or your child clients move forward?
Salkind, N. J. (2004). Lev vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of development. In An introduction to theories of human development (pp. 277-290). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781483328676.n10