Child Development Courses

Combining theoretical perspectives with practical fieldwork, the Child Development Program places the social, emotional, cognitive, and cultural lives of children at the forefront.

Students engage in research throughout the program, reading and learning directly from primary sources such as journals, current research, and the writings of leading psychologists—not textbooks. From the beginning, students are immersed in child development theory, which they relate to their experiences with children in small seminars and one-on-one conferences. Fieldwork opportunities abound, from therapeutic preschools to elementary or secondary schools to child-life programs on pediatric wards.

Child Development 2020-2021 Courses

Becoming Oneself: The Evolution of Psychoanalytic Theories of Personality Development

Graduate Seminar—Fall

A century ago, Sigmund Freud postulated a complex theory of the development of the person. While some aspects of his theory have come into question, many of the basic principles of psychoanalytic theory have become part of our common culture and worldview. This course will explore psychodynamic developmental concepts about how personality comes to be through reading and discussion of the work of key contributors to psychoanalytic developmental theory since Freud. We will trace the evolution of what Pine has called “the four psychologies of psychoanalysis,” as well as the more recent integrative relational perspective. This is a different approach from the social psychology work done on trait psychology, and we will consider its value for developmental understanding of the person. We will also consider the issues that this approach raises about a child’s development into an individual with a unique personality within broad, shared developmental patterns in a given culture. Readings will include the work of Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Margaret Mahler, Daniel Stern, Steven Mitchell, Peter Fonagy, Nancy Chodorow, George Vaillant, and others. Throughout the semester, we will return to fundamental themes, such as the complex interaction of nature and nurture, as yet unanswered questions (for example, about the development of personal style), and the cultural dimensions of personality development. An interest in theory and its applications is important, as is some background in psychology. Fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or another appropriate setting is recommended, if possible, although conference projects may or may not center on aspects of that experience, depending on the individual student’s interest.

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Challenges to Development: Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Graduate Seminar—Spring

We live in a society that often seems preoccupied with labeling people and their characteristics as either “normal” or “abnormal.” This course covers some of the material usually found in “abnormal psychology” courses by addressing the multiple factors that play a role in shaping a child’s development, particularly as those factors may result in what is often thought of as psychopathology. Starting with a consideration of what the terms “normality” and “pathology” may refer to in our culture, we will read about and discuss a variety of situations that illustrate different interactions of inborn, environmental, and experiential influences on developing lives. For example, we will read theory and case material addressing congenital conditions such as deafness and life events such as acute trauma and abuse, as well as the range of less clear-cut circumstances and complex interactions of variables that have an impact on growth and adaptation in childhood and adolescence. We will bring both critical lenses and a range of individual perspectives to bear on our discussion of readings drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, memoir, and research studies. In that process, we will examine a number of the current conversations and controversies about assessment, diagnosis/labeling, early intervention, use of psychoactive medications, and treatment modalities. Students will be encouraged to engage in fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or elsewhere, although conference work need not draw on that experience.

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Children’s Friendships

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Making friends, losing friends, keeping friends...through the use of psychological and literary texts, we will explore the important functions of friendship for children and adolescents. During much of the 20th century, psychologists had assumed that adults serve as the major social influence on a child’s developing sense of self and personality, that perhaps only toward adolescence would children’s social relations with peers come to play an important role in their lives. We now know better. In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in the study of friendships and peer relations throughout childhood, even in toddlerhood. The important psychological benefits of having friends are increasingly recognized. So, too, are the potential problems of its obverse: Children who are truly without friends are at greater risk for later social-emotional difficulties. We will explore the writings of major theorists such as Sullivan, Youniss, Selman, and Rubin; read and discuss the recent studies that have observed “friendship in the making”; and examine what friendship means to children and adolescents in their own words.

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Children’s Literature: Developmental and Literary Perspectives

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Children’s books are an important bridge between adults and the world of children. In this course, we will ask questions such as: What are the purposes of literature for children? What makes a children’s book developmentally appropriate for a child of a particular age? What is important to children as they read or listen? How do children become readers? How can children’s books portray the uniqueness of a particular culture or subculture, allowing those within to see their experience reflected in books and those outside to gain insight into the lives of others? To what extent can books transcend the particularities of a given period and place? Course readings include writings about child development, works about children’s literature, and, most centrally, children’s books themselves—picture books, fairy tales, and novels for children. Class emphasis will be on books for children up to the age of about 12. Among our children’s book authors will be Margaret Wise Brown, C. S. Lewis, Katherine Paterson, Maurice Sendak, Mildred Taylor, E. B. White, and Vera B. Williams. Many different kinds of conference projects are appropriate for this course. In past years, for example, students have worked with children (and their books) in fieldwork and service-learning settings, written original work for children (sometimes illustrating it, as well), traced a theme in children’s books, explored children’s books that illuminate particular racial or ethnic experiences, or examined books that capture the challenge of various disabilities.

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Culture and Mental Health

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This interdisciplinary course in psychology and anthropology will address mental health in diverse cultural contexts, drawing upon a range of case studies to illuminate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, course, and treatment of mental illness across the globe. We open the course by exploring questions of the classification of mental illness to address whether Western psychiatric categories apply across different local contexts. We explore the globalization of American understandings of the psyche, the exportation of Western mental disorders, and the impact of psychiatric imperialism in places like Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, Oaxaca, and Japan. Through our readings of peer-reviewed articles and current research in cultural psychology, clinical psychology, and psychological and medical anthropology, we explore conditions such as depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, susto, and mal de ojo to understand the entanglements of psychological experience, culture, morality, sociality, and care. We explore how diagnostic processes and psychiatric care are, at times, differentially applied in the United States according to the client’s race/ethnicity, class, and gender. Finally, we explore the complexities of recovery or healing, addressing puzzles such as why certain mental disorders considered to be lifelong, chronic, and severe in some parts of the world are interpreted as temporary, fleeting, and manageable elsewhere—and how such expectations influence people’s ability to experience wellness or (re-)integration into family, work, and society. Several of our authors will join us as invited guest speakers to talk about their current work. Students will conduct conference projects related to the central topics of our course.

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Early Intervention Approaches for Young Children and Their Families

Graduate Seminar—Spring
This course will explore several early intervention approaches for young children and their families, with a particular emphasis on the theory and technique of play therapy. While the course will focus mostly on child-centered play therapy (CCPT), we will also look at the methodology of other types of approaches and the ways in which those approaches address treatment issues. In addition, course material will highlight cultural considerations, therapeutic work with parents, challenges in treatment, self-reflection, and analysis of case studies. Readings, class discussion, group play-based activities, video illustrations, and reflection will provide students with both a theoretical and a clinical basis for how play-based therapeutic work with young children factors into early intervention.
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Emerging Adulthood

Graduate Seminar—Spring

We have time, energy, questions, and few responsibilities. We want to push the envelope, resist compromise, lead revolutions, and turn the world upside down. Because we do not yet know quite how to be, we have not settled and will not let the dust settle around us. —Karlin & Borofsky, 2003

Many traditional psychological theories of development posit a brief transition from adolescence to adulthood; however, many people moving into their 20s experience anything but a brief transition to “feeling like an adult,” pondering questions such as: How many SLC alums can live in a Brooklyn sublet? What will I do when I finish the Peace Corps next year? In this course, we will explore the psychological literature concerning emerging adulthood, the period from the late teens through the 20s. We will examine this period of life from a unified biopsychosocial and intersectional perspective.

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Health in a Multicultural Context

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This course offers, within a cultural context, an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness and will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. We will also explore the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic within the frame of these theoretical perspectives. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers. Conference work may range from empirical research to bibliographic research in this area. Community partnership/service-learning work may be an option in this class.

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Mindfulness: Science and Practice

Seminar—Fall

Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently, developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice, laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind. One of our two weekly meetings will be devoted to a mindful yoga practice.

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Social Development Research Seminar

Seminar—Spring

The goal of this course is to have each student propose and conduct an original piece of research within the broad sphere of social development in childhood and adolescence. The course is intended for students who have completed a previous conference project in the social sciences that raised interesting questions for them, questions that could be addressed by taking the next step of conducting their own study of the subject. The work could be done, for example, through quantitative testing, observation, direct interviews, or questionnaires. The course will be divided into three parts. In the first part, we will be reading a range of past studies that exemplify different types of research approaches to the study of children and adolescents—and we will discuss the strengths and possible weaknesses of each approach. At the same time, in conference, students will begin the planning process for their own study. In the second part of the course, students will take turns serving as the facilitator of class discussion by assigning the readings for that particular week (on studies relevant to their own project) while sharing with the class the current progress on their own research ideas. In that week, the classmates will serve as a “working group” to provide feedback and helpful suggestions on the student’s project. In subsequent weeks, each student will serve as part of the “working group,” while another student presents his/her “project-in-the-making.” The final portion of the course will involve students presenting the findings of their studies.

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Theories of Development

Seminar—Fall

“Knowledge is there in the seeing.” What we observe when we look at children is related to adult assumptions, expectations, and naïve theories that we carry with us from our own families and childhoods. How are those theories related to the ways that theorists have framed their questions and understandings of children’s experiences? Competing theoretical models of Freud, Skinner, Bowlby, Piaget, Vygotsky, Werner, and others have shaped the field of developmental psychology and have been used by parents and educators to determine child-care practice and education. In this course, we will read the classic theories in their primary sources (psychoanalytic, behaviorist, attachment, and cognitive-developmental) as they were originally formulated and in light of subsequent critiques and revisions. Questions that we will consider include: Are there patterns in our emotional, thinking, or social lives that can be seen as universal, or are these always culture-specific? Can life experiences be conceptualized in a series of stages? How else can we understand change over time? We will use theoretical perspectives as lenses through which to view different aspects of experience—the origins of wishes and desires, early parent-child attachments, intersubjectivity in the emergence of self, symbolic and imaginative thinking, and the role of play in learning. For conference work, students will be encouraged to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children, as one goal of the course is to bridge theory and practice.

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