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Lifespan Perspective in Social Work Practice: Advantages and Disadvantages

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 2600 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of viewing behaviour through lifespan prospective for social work practice?

This assignment will cover the definition of lifespan development focussing on middle childhood. Different developmental theories will be discussed in relation to middle childhood and how major life events can effect individuals in that specific development stage.  It will then move on to what social care interventions are suitable and relevant with anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory factors considered.  Finally, the advantages and disadvantages will be discussed to see which one would out weigh the other and whether the life span perspective is helpful to social work practice.

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Lifespan development is defined as a continuous development through the stages from birth to death.  During lifespan everyone experiences a constant change and new developments.  It is a holistic approach to be able to understand the physiological, cognitive, emotional and social changes that everyone goes through (Mcleod,2013).  The study of the lifespan is interdisciplinary, it studies genetics, history, biology, medicine and education to name a few. In social work practice it is important to understand how each transition in someone’s life span can impact them and also to help to understand their lives better.  People may experience the same events in their life, but people react or make different decisions about it as they have a different perception on their life (Walker,Crawford,2010).

The growth and development at middle childhood is around the ages of five to twelves years old.  At this stage of development there is rapid growth from the young childhood stage which allows the child to be able to start learning new skills.  There is an increase of understanding autonomy and independence, although the family life style is still very important to them.  Building friendships at this stage becomes important to the child and adults outside of the family will start to have influence the child more, for example, teachers (Walker, Crawford, 2010).  Social, biological and cognitive characteristics are developing in this stage which is essential to their social development, this is helped by family and cultural values being guided into their learning.  Children start to understand their gender identities and boys may start to behave in a way that shows masculine identity.  In contrast the girls will start to behave more androgynous and embrace both feminine and masculine traits (Mhsso,20198).  In the previous stage growth and development happens fairly rapidly but in middle childhood it slows down considerably (Maclean,Harrison,2015). 

Freud developed a psychodynamic theory that included 5 stages.  Each stage represented a different part of the child’s development where libido had the most impact in the part of a child’s body that was most sensitive at that stage.  The five psychosexual stages were: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital.  The stages which are involved in middle childhood are latency and the start of genital.  The term latency refers to a pause or break in the developing of sexual development and also the start of sexual feelings for the opposite sex. The genital stage is where the previous stages are all combined into the mind and allows the onset of healthy feelings and behaviours (Cherry,2018). Freud theory explains that if a development stage was incomplete due to a childhood trauma then a pattern of behaviour would occur later on into adulthood.  For example if a child had been abused during the  middle childhood stage  they may have multiple personalities, have erratic behaviour outbursts or may be overtly sexually active as a way to repress these childhood memories. Freud’s theory was criticised as his explanation for all behaviours was from sexual drives and did not consider all environmental factors.  As a social worker using freuds theory can help understand that present behaviour may of been something that was from childhood and not from present day trauma. It can also be a negative as the theory does not look into other development areas and only focussing on strong sexual drives.

Erikson was influenced by Freuds theories and he also believed that personality and behaviour was developed in predetermined stages. Erikson’s theory differed in the fact that it described the impact of social experiences on children and not just psychosexual theories.  Erikson’s theory had eight stages to it, the stages that are important to the middle childhood stage are the initiative versus guilt stage and industry versus inferiority stage (Lindon,2005).  During the initiative versus guilt stage the children have begun to take over their environment and if they are supported to initiate activities and play has been encouraged then their initiative is being reinforced.  If this is not happening the child may begin to feel a sense of guilt.  In the industry versus inferiority stage children continue to develop competency and start to master more complex skills.  As the children are praised for mastering a skill they would feel a sense of pride.  However if children are not praised and are criticised for making mess then they may feel inferior (Walker,Crawford,2010).  This stage is also where children become aware of other children and their achievements. Erikson also believed that each child’s behaviour would be shaped on how the balance life by competing the possibilities of each dilemma and then reaching some sort of resolution to it.  The key issue was that total trust in childhood was not healthy and that children required a level of wariness (Lindon,2005). Although the two theories both recognised the importance of social experiences and how is shapes the adult life and are similar in views of set stages in development, Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory had a more wider view over the development in childhood. While Freuds theory had believed development was complete fairly early in a child’s life, Erikson believed that the process continued throughout the persons life.  For a social worker Erikson’s theory would be useful to understand children’s different behaviours at different stages and can also help the social worker to build a stable relationship between parents and children while understanding the dilemma children are facing between industry and inferiority. 

Bowlby’s attachment theory is the next theory to look at for this stage of behaviour and development.   Bowlby’s attachment theory was supported by Mary Ainsworths a strange situation case study. The theory suggests that children are born with the innate reaction to form attachments to be able to survive.  Bowlby believed that attachments were instinctive and would be unconsciously activated if threatened with fear, anxiety or separation (Maclean,Harrison,2015). Bowlby’s theory suggested that a child forms only one attachment initially, which provides a secure relationship and is also the base for all future relationships.  Having this attachment disrupted or a breakdown of the maternal attachment can therefore have consequences such as affectionless psychopathy. Bowlby claimed that mothering would be ineffective if it was delayed until after two and half to three years, which is the critical period.  If the attachment is broken during the critical period then the child will suffer long term maternal deprivation which would be irreversible.  The is risk would continue until five years of age (Macleod,2007) .

  Bowlby’s attachment theory was tested using Ainsworth’s ‘strange situation’.  This tested the children’s responses to their mothers being present and then when they were absent and also their reaction to a stranger.  The results formed of four different attachment styles. A secure attachment is where the child has developed a secure attachment to their mother and feel secure enough to explore their surroundings.  Though they were distressed at their mothers absence they are easily assured.  An insecure attachment is where a child has not developed a secure attachment and it more anxious and avoidant.  The child does not trust the mother to fulfil their needs.  When the mother is either present or absent the child’s reaction is indifferent.  An ambivalent attachment is where a child is mixed in between helplessness and anger towards the mother (Maclean,Harrison,2015).  Their reaction is passive but slightly insecure and they have realised they cannot rely on their mother.  The final type of attachment is disorganised attachment. The child may act depressed, passive, angry or apathetical to their mother and this may be as they are reflecting their mothers mood fluctuations.  As a child moves into middle childhood the child will start to form other attachments, for example friends or other close relatives.  The parents still maintain the main source of support and the initial attachment would still be present (Macleod,2007).  During middle childhood these attachments of secure and insecure will remain the same unless there is an interruption into the continuity of care.  For example divorce, ill health or death of a loved one can affect the child’s attachment and over time a secure attachment can become insecure.  In social work practice this theory is well used to help social workers to understand the relationships between children and their parents and understanding what form of attachment they have with them. There is a method of looking at the attachment between child and parent called the separation anxiety test which looks at coping mechanisms of vulnerable children and also their fears (Macleod,2007).

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Rousseau had a more biological approach to development.  He believed that all children were innately good and that they should be free the grow and thrive as children without the intrusion of adults.  He believed that children should learn through experience and become independent naturally rather than through book learning (Lindon.2005). Jean piagets view was a mixture of cognitive and biological theories.  He believes that cognitive development was matured as a result of biological maturation and new experiences and environment.  Piaget then proposed four stages of cognitive development, sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational (Cherry,2018). In middle childhood the pre-operational and the concrete operational stages are developed.  Each child goes through the same stages and no stage can be missed out however, the rate of which the child goes through each stage is individual to each child and some children may never reach the later stage (Mcleod,2018). Vygotsky and Bruner both criticised this as they disagreed with viewing development in set stages but as a continuous free flow development.  This a can cause some conflict as a social worker as they may have difficulty in what route to take as the theories are conflicting.

As social workers working with children, an understanding of the whole child and their development and lifespan is very important as working holistically ensures every need to the child is considered. When working with children culture needs to be considered in regards to their development as family traditions and socio-cultural tradition may affect how they behave as some behaviour that is valued in their culture such as not disagreeing with adults or teachers, which may be viewed as someone who lacks confidence to speak out, or if someone lacks eye contact when being spoken to by an adult may come across as rude but it is in their culture not to make eye contact with an adult when being reprimanded (Lindon,2005). This does become difficult in school and nursery settings as both the parents and the teacher should be communicating with each other to show respect and to understand the role of a parent when considering their child’s education (Dowling,2005). Empowering children  is important as building trust and being empathetic is key to being able to let the child make informed decisions. By giving children the power of greater control of their lives and helping to control with day to day challenges, it can boost their self esteem especially those who seek to overcome discrimination or oppression (Thompson,2015).

In conclusion to looking at each theory, there is more advantage than disadvantage when looking at behaviour through lifespan development. Using these theories in social work practice can ensure that all developmental factors of a child’s life would be taken into consideration as each different theory looks at different aspects of development even though some are conflicting. This does ensure that all social care practice is taken holistically. These theories should be used as a guide to help with social care practice, not to rely on solely as not every child’s development is the same and peoples perceptions differentiate when different cultures and race are considered.

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  • Crawford K, Walker, J (2010) Social Work and Human Development 3rd edn. Learning Matters
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  • Mhsso (2018) ‘Child development theory: middle childhood’ [online] available at https://www.mhsso.org accessed 21 December 2018
  • Thompson, N (2015) Understanding Social Work 4th edn Palgrave Publishing


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