The psychosocial development in early childhood is studied from various perspectives. Scientists and practitioners research the issue intending to explain certain behaviors in children, recognize gender differences, look at the consequences of certain parenting practices, social environment, relationships with other children in early childhood, and work out the best practices, suggestions, and a piece of advice. The research shows that processes that occur with a child in the early development phase contribute to the formation of self-identity in person and last throughout the person’s life. This paper will describe the concept of gender development, which, in my view, has played a significant role in the development of my self-identity. Further, the paper will discuss my childhood story and explain how the concept of gender development was presented in my life, what consequences I experience right now, and how the theoretical concept of gender development may be applied in practice. The final part of the paper is the conclusion that summarizes the paper and gives some suggestions of parenting that would be used to avoid gender conflicts in children in the future.
According to Papalia, Feldman, and Martorell (2014), the gender identity of the person consists of three related aspects – gender roles, gender typing, and gender stereotypes. Gender roles are a set of behaviors, attitudes, skills, and responsibilities that are considered appropriate for males or females in a certain culture. Gender typing is a process of socialization when children acquire gender roles. Gender stereotypes are the preconceived generalizations attributed to male or female behaviors. Children tend to develop gender stereotypes at the age of 2-3 years. The influence of stereotypes increases by the age of 5. The understanding of gender roles, the acquisition of gender types, and the developing gender stereotypes play an important role in building gender identity. Currently, researchers have formed five theoretic models that explain the process of gender development in children.
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The first model is the biological approach. The validating aspect of this approach is the fact that gender roles are relatively similar across various cultures. Thus, the researchers suggest that gender differences can be explained by biological differences in males and females. In particular, there are confirmations of the hormonal, genetic, and neurological differences in males and females that may be attributed to the further development of gender identity.
The second theory is the evolutionary approach offered by Charles Darwin. The core idea of the theory is that men and women develop their gender roles as a preparation for their biological needs (some purpose). This approach is based on the theory of sexual and natural selection. A man's task is to develop competitiveness and aggressive behaviors, while the role of women is to nurture, care for, and support their children. For example, the evolutionary approach explains why girls prefer playing parenting games and boys prefer fighting and wars as their games. Gender roles are formed as a response to the evolution of society. That is why gender roles may transform.
The third approach is the psychoanalytic theory offered by Sigmund Freud. The basic belief of the approach is that the child develops gender identity when he/she identifies himself/herself with one of the parents of the same gender. Thus, boys identify themselves with their father and girls - with their mother. The child adopts the beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, and values of the parent of the same sex.
Another fourth theory is the cognitive approach offered by Kohlberg. According to Kohlberg’s cognitive development theory, a child learns from other people about her/his gender identity. Once the child knows that he is a boy, he sorts out information and gathers relevant skills, attitudes, behaviors, and roles that are associated with males. Gender development (constancy) occurs in three stages – identity (awareness of own gender), stability (understanding that gender does not change), and consistency (understanding that changes in appearance do not affect gender roles). Another view on the cognitive approach is offered in Bem’s gender-schema theory. This theory also asserts that a child first extracts the knowledge from the environment and then formulates gender behavior. The difference is that Bem gives more attention to culture. Thus, cultural perception of gender roles is acquired by children after attributing the self to a certain gender.
The fifth theory is the social learning approach offered by Michel and then developed in a new social cognitive theory by Bandura. The model suggests that a child observes behaviors, combines them, and generates its gender variations. Children create their environment through socialization that begins in infancy. Further, children begin to regulate their activities according to the formed standards. The shift from socially guided control to self-control occurs at the age of 3-4. Authors suggest that the primary sources of social influences, through which socialization occurs, are the family, peers, and culture. Family influences are the strongest group as child communicates mostly with the parents in infancy and early childhood.
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Each of the five mentioned theories has flaws and questioning points. Therefore, it is significant to give credit to every model and apply the needed model in relevant circumstances. This knowledge is especially useful when we try to look back at our childhood and explain some things. Further, I will provide the retrospect of my childhood with the explanation of gender development concepts in my example.
I was born in Haiti in a family of native Haitians who had lived in relatively poor conditions. I was the third child in our family. When I was three or four years old, my father moved to the USA in a search of a better life. They did not separate from my mother, and he visited us once a year. My childhood memories include a family of four – my mother, my two older siblings, and I. I do not remember my father playing with me, teaching me, traveling with me, or celebrating my early achievements. My father was a stranger for me, a person that existed only in the words of my mother. My mom was left in Haiti with three small children without any support, except for the presence of her parents (my grandparents). It was difficult for her to raise three of us alone, and very often, she expressed negative attitudes about my father. My mother was an example for me, and she was the closest person in my life, so her grievance was a part of my natural environment. She often recalled that the father had left us, that he had cheated, that he did not care about his family, and that he had built his own life in the USA. Moreover, my mother told me that the father had other children in the USA that were born outside of their marriage, even though they had not separated legally. Thus, I formed a negative attitude to my father. We moved to the USA when I was 12 years old. At that time, I could not establish communication with my father. First, he was a stranger, whom I did not know personally. Secondly, because of the portrait of my father and his bad qualities, I had worked out a very suspicious attitude to all men, and he was the main problem. I did not trust him, and I could not communicate with him without suspect and resentment. When I got older, my father tried to build a relationship with me and win my understanding. He explained that he had left us because he wanted to build a better future for our family. However, a few years ago, he had left my mother again and moved back to Haiti. This step was a confirmation of my childhood negative attitude toward him. His leave had firmed my suspecting attitude towards all men. I cannot trust them, as I suspect similar negative behavior in every male.
The analysis of my current attitude towards all males goes back to the early childhood when I began developing gender-typing and gender stereotypes. According to new social cognitive theory, the formation of gender identity is based on socialization. The key elements of socialization are the family, peers, and culture. In early childhood, the process of socialization through the prism of my family occurred without a father. Moreover, I had a firm belief that the father had left me and that his doing was bad. Through the interaction with the family, which was mainly my mother, I had learned the gender roles, behaviors, and attitudes. I perceived the female gender as caring, loving, and striving to cope with the negative consequences of the male grievance. Moreover, I had attributed the bad behaviors of my father, his cheating, and leaving the family to the male gender role. The particular environment, in which my gender identity had formed, contributed to the distorted view on gender identity and negative gender stereotypes related to males. The consequence of the issue is still present in my life. Although I do acknowledge that I have undergone the process of socialization through the negative effect of the family environment, I still label all men as unreliable and I do not trust men. My story is the confirmation of the fact that gender stereotypes are formed through socialization in early childhood as a part of gender identity, and it is difficult to alter the identity when the child transfers these stereotypes into adulthood. More to say, my problem could be explained within the psychoanalytic framework offered by Freud. When I had realized that I was a girl, I had consumed the behavior, attitudes, life view, and beliefs of my mother. Thus, together with all the positive things I had acquired, I developed a suspicious and negative attitude towards the male gender.
The self-identity of the person plays an important role in his/her psychosocial living. One of the most interesting themes in learning self-identity is the development of gender. There are five main theoretical approaches to gender development, including biological factors, evolution factors, cognitive attribution, psychoanalytic factors, and social learning. Each of the approaches can be used to explain certain differences in gender identification and the process of gender-typing. Nevertheless, each of the approaches has flaws and it cannot be used as a universal tool. The social cognitive theory was applied to explain the gender stereotypes that I currently have. In particular, my father left our family in early childhood. I was raised by my mother, who had always expressed dissatisfaction with the behavior of my father and his attitude towards our family. The theory suggests that our gender identity and stereotypes are formed through the process of socialization during infancy and early childhood. The main factors that influence the socialization of the child are the family environment, peers, and culture. I could conclude that the family environment, in which I socialized, had contributed to the gender stereotypes I have. Specifically, I label all men as unreliable and I cannot trust them. I have to mention that the concept of parenting is closely connected to the concept of gender development. The presence of both parents who express authoritative behavior is the best technique that can be used to develop a healthy self-identity, which includes gender identity, in a person.