The branch of psychology that studies the facts and lawlike regularities of the psychological development of children and shares a number of problems with educational psychology.
Child psychology is closely connected with pedagogy, as well as with age morphology and physiology—in particular, the physiology of the higher nervous activity of children. The study of the origin and development of psychological processes in ontogenesis casts light on the nature of these processes, facilitating the solution of problems in general psychology, as well as certain philosophical problems. According to V. I. Lenin, the history of the mental development of children was one of the areas of knowledge on whose basis the materialist dialectic and the theory of cognition should be built. Research in child psychology is important to pedagogical work, because knowledge of the conditions and lawlike regularities of the psychological development of children is necessary for the conscious direction of the educational process. Studies of the various forms of irregular development of the psyche are very important for defectology as well as for child psychiatry.
The object of child psychology is the study of the conditions and moving causes behind the ontogenesis of the human psyche, the development of the various psychological processes (cognitive, volitional, and emotional) and different types of activity (play, work, and study), the formation of personality traits, and the age and individual psychological characteristics of children.
The cognitive, volitional, and emotional processes develop not independently but as features of the integral personality of the child, who has certain natural inclinations and who lives, acts, and is raised under specific social conditions. During the transformation of the helpless infant into an independent adult who is a full member of society, the child’s psyche develops, and the reflection in him of objective reality becomes more complex and more accurate. In accordance with this dialectical materialist understanding of child psychology, its study is directed not only toward ascertaining the age-related changes that occur in the psyche but also toward explaining the mechanisms on which these changes are based and establishing their lawlike dependence on the conditions of the child’s life and activity and on his interaction with the people around him.
The methods used in child psychology include systematic observation, interviews, and the collection and analysis of the products of the child’s activity (drawings, models, designs, and written works), as well as different types of experiments. The psychological study of the experience of those who raise and teach children is also important.
The problems of child psychology may be studied through extended research, which involves study of the general psychological development or the development of the separate psychological processes of the same children over the more or less lengthy period of their lives. Another method of study is the cross section, in which the same psychological process is studied by using relatively short-term experiments for different groups of children at different age levels.
Child psychology, which for a long time was developed within general psychology, became an independent branch of knowledge in the mid-19th century. Its classification as a separate field was due to the growing demands of pedagogical work and was connected with the appearance of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the development of objective experimental methods of psychophysiological research. In the early period of the development of child psychology, empirical information was gathered in diaries of observations on the development of individual children. Later, experimental studies were undertaken in child psychology, and the collected material began to be systematized and interpreted. General works on child psychology were published by W. Stern, K. Bühler, K. Koffka, and A. Gesell.
Child psychology developed during the period of crisis in the methodological foundations of bourgeois science in general and psychology in particular. In connection with this crisis period, various types of idealistic, crudely mechanistic concepts became widespread in West European and American child psychology. These concepts treated factual data in the spirit of objective empirical psychology, the Würzburg school, personalism, Freudianism, Gestalt psychology, and behaviorism. At the same time, progressive, materialist tendencies appeared in West European and American child psychology and were clearly exemplified in the works of the outstanding communist psychologist H. Wallon. Factual material continued to be gathered. In recent decades specific advances have been made in experimental research on problems of child psychology, particularly in the study of the development of cognitive processes in children (J. Piaget, B. Inhelder, and J. Bruner).