Informative rather than analytical

How the Child’s Mind Develops (3rd edn) by David Cohen (Routledge; Pb £19.99) reviewed by Anita Cleare.

If you are looking for an overview of key issues and ideas in developmental psychology, How the Child’s Mind Develops is a great choice. This is an immensely readable book that covers huge ground in a level of detail ideal for those with a professional or academic interest in children but without deep knowledge of cognitive development theories.

Cohen kicks off with a pithy summary of the methodological difficulties in studying developmental psychology. How can we research babies’ brains when they have no language for reporting thoughts or preferences? Personally, I would have preferred an even greater scepticism here about the pitfalls of jumping to conclusions from methodologically unstable ground.

There is a succinct, reader-friendly canter through Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and its main critiques, and a similar chapter devoted to Vygotsky’s work on language development.

The narrative ranges effortlessly 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.

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 And the final chapter on the impact of technology on children’s development is disappointingly out of date, focusing exclusively on TV rather than portable digital devices and missing current debates about children’s use of social media.

Broad rather than deep, informative rather than analytical, How the Child’s Mind Develops uses observation exercises to prompt reflection. But it is left firmly up to the reader to draw conclusions on any practical implications for children, families and practitioners.

- Reviewed by Anita Cleare, who is a parenting writer, speaker and coach

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber