psychological development of children

Psychological development of children

The family unit is perhaps the most important introduction to the world and society at large. Within the family a child learns how to behave, respond emotionally, and adjust to life’s demands.

The family unit may vary from an intact family to a single parent to parents who have remarried or even a parent who has been divorced or widowed. These all add dynamics to a child’s life thus affecting their psychological development. Some ways can be positive others more detrimental to your child’s overall psychological wellbeing.

Regardless of the family dynamics, a healthy, safe and nurturing home provides an environment where a child can explore their emotions, acquire their identity, and practise socially acceptable behaviours and relationships.

The foundation to developing a healthy psychologically developed child

Many parents find that assessing their child’s physical needs are fairly straightforward. A child needs a regular routine consisting of meals, baths, bedtime, etc. However, a child also needs encouragement and support from both family and friends. Assessing a child’s psychological space can be tricky at times. (Thompson)

In order for a child to develop self-confidence, self-esteem and a healthy view on life, they will need to receive encouragement, unconditional love, protection and safety, guidance and discipline, and the freedom to play with their peers. (Thompson)

The bond between a child and their parents serves as the cornerstone for the child’s social and personality development. Studies have found that children who have a secure attachment to their parents went on to develop strong peer friendships, positive identity, and good emotional intelligence in contrast to those children who were insecurely attached to their parents. (Thompson).

The positive relationship between a parent and child provides the child with both a grid and the necessary support for developing healthy respect and views of themselves and others. (Child Development Institute)

The impact of parental separation and divorce on the psychological development of children

When parents experience financial difficulties, their emotional availability towards their child often reduces leading to poorer parenting and strained relationship within the family. Should this progress towards divorce, children often encounter stress, sadness, anxiety, and insecurity. As life settles after divorce or separation, children (mostly) continue to adapt well-reaching adulthood with a healthy psychological development. (Thompson)

According to Mackay, studies on the psychological development of children and parental separation and divorce often focus on a small minority of children with psychological adjustment problems. Mackay continues that children can benefit from divorce (and some do) since living in a family with a single parent can bring about a sense of responsibility and a variety of “strengths”. For some children, parental separation or divorce can bring a release from antisocial behaviour, abusive behaviours, chronic parental conflict, etc. (Mackay)

The quality of parenting that children receive continues to have a direct effect on their psychological development. Those children who receive inadequate parenting can develop both emotional and behavioural disorders.

Remarriage and the psychological development of children

In his publication, Mackay states that generally, children whose parents remarried were often found to not benefit much from the extra adult in the family. Since children take a lengthy time to allow themselves to benefit from a step parent and step parents may find themselves uncertain of their new role in the child’s life, a child’s psychological development may be negatively impacted by the reduced involvement in their life. (Mackay)

Children and siblings/peers

A lot of the psychological development that children experience with their peers also occurs within their sibling relationships. Children learn to share, negotiate, compromise, or bargain. They play together, often working towards the fulfilment of complex actions while exercising the understanding of each other. With a sibling, a child discovers that they have a friend who knows them, accepts them, and likes them for who they are. (Thompson)

When children experience comparison between them and their siblings by other members of the family, these children begin to measure themselves against their sibling. This can often result in a child feeling that they are not “good enough” thus their self-esteem takes a knock (Thompson).

Final thoughts

At the heart of child development lies the quality of interaction and parenting a child receives from their parents. While divorce, separation, and remarriage can have negative effects on the psychological development of a child, a positive child-parent relationship with both parents will continue to help a child develop good mental health.

Being connected to parents and siblings, helps a child develop a sense of belonging, identity, security, and acceptance. A child knows that they are loved for who they are by their family. As such, a healthy positive family relationship will help a child develop good mental health and coping skills for life as they mature into adulthood.



Thompson, Ross. Social and Personality Development in Childhood. Noba.

Fernandez, Gail. 2012. Importance of Family Time on Kids Mental Health and Adjustment to Life. Child Development Institute.

Child Development Institute. Child Psychology and Mental Health.

Mackay, Ross. 2005. The Impact of Family Structure and Family Change on Child Outcomes: A Personal Reading of the Research Literature. Ministry of Social Development.