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Book Review: How the child’s mind develops (by David Cohen)

David Cohen’s How the Child’s Mind Develops is quite an academic read so probably best for parents who have a very keen interest in children’s cognitive development. But if you are that way inclined, this book gives a really good overview of key issues and ideas in developmental psychology. It covers huge ground in a level of detail ideal for those without a deep knowledge of cognitive development theories but with an interest in children and/or psychology.

Cohen kicks off with a summary of the methodological difficulties in studying developmental psychology. How we can research babies’ brains when they have no language for expressing their thoughts or preferences? Given the over-interpretation of much psychological research in the popular media, this is a great antidote to our tendency to jump to big conclusions from methodologically dodgy ground.

There is a succinct, reader-friendly canter through the most influential theories in child development, including Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Vygotsky’s work on language development. The book ranges across neuroscience, philosophy and medieval thinkers to place our understanding of children’s minds into a wider historical context. There is a lovely (too brief) chapter comprising excerpts from a mother’s diary which gives a refreshing glimpse into actual lived interactions with a real baby. That was my favourite chapter and I wanted more of it!

The absence of any discussion of gender is a weakness. And the final chapter on the impact of technology on children’s development is disappointingly out of date, focusing exclusively on TV. Given the multiplication of portable digital devices in children’s lives and current debates about the proliferation of gaming and social media, this really misses the mark.

Broad rather than deep, informative rather than analytical, How the Child’s Mind Develops leaves it firmly up to the reader to draw conclusions on any practical implications of any of this for children, parents or society.

A version of this book review first appeared in The Psychologist in April 2018.

book cover of 'How the Child's Mind Develops' by David Cohen

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