Implications for Professionals in Working with Children and Families


The essay provides a critical analysis on the several theories and approaches on the concept of “childhood” as introduced by several high level thinkers and how it assists the professionals to work with children, adults and their families. It also gives a clear impression about the changing concept of childhood in different phases of history. The different rights and conventions regarding the conservation of the natural rights and demands of children were also discussed in the corresponding study.


Definition of Childhood:

According to the concept of developmental biology, ‘Childhood’ is considered as the span of time of being a child, i.e., from infancy to puberty. The legal definition of child is a person who has not reached the age of majority as decided by legislation of the nation. The concept of childhood has developed from a sociological point of view and therefore it has changed with time as views regarding the children also have undergone periodic change. The viewpoint about children within a given culture is defined by the politicians, lawyers, health providers, educationist, families, social workers and also by the researchers (Eddy, 2010; O'Reilly, et al, 2013).

In this revision essay, the work of Philippe Aries will be briefly summarized as a recap on the main theory. Philippe Aries significantly claimed that ‘childhood’ is a modern concept. He provided a range of historical evidence to suggest that in medieval Europe the concept of childhood was not understood. His theories on concept of childhood were controversial and need to be read critically. However, many of his key arguments remained valid, and sometimes provided uncomfortable starting points for active debate and discussion on rapidly changing aspects of today’s childhood, even after several generations of the publication of his work (Cojocaru, 2009; Philippe Ariès, 1962)

Philippe Aries Theory about Childhood:

Philippe Aries, was a historian of French origin, lived in between 1914 to 1984. His book, ‘Centuries of Childhood’ got published in 1962. During 1960s in France, the time was rapidly changing in terms of social and political views. The common people perceived that the family was changing, and was becoming more liberal at that time. According to a conservative and right wing response, there was a rising fear about the broken concept of the family and that the phase of childhood was “under threat”. Aries, a historian of the medieval period, did not agree with this view, and wanted to counter the concept. He believed that he saw more importance on the family culture, and more highlight on the concept of child in the society during his time than he ever saw during the medieval period (10th to 13th century). Therefore, he wrote down a book to provide evidence about the disrespect shown towards children during that period of time. They were not cherished, cosseted and not considered as the central pivot of the family in medieval Europe during 1960’s in France. He portrayed the picture of family change as a civilizing and progressive trajectory, with people taking better care of their children in each subsequent century (Philippe Ariès, 1962; Guldberg, 2009).

This book on “Childhood Studies” had an incredible impact on the society. Before his time, people would not have thought that ‘childhood’ was something important enough to study at universities. Aries theories on the development of ideas about childhood through the medieval era launched an interest in childhood which has lasted to this day, although many of his specific points are highly contested, and many believed to be wrong by the scholars of today who have been able to research them for a longer period of time and look at a wider range of evidence than that was available to Aries himself. (Ulanowicz, 2007)

Aries’ Theory about feelings of Childhood:

According to Aries, childhood was not a constant idea throughout the history but the concept has changed from time to time in different periods of history. His theory argues that during medieval Europe, there was no concept or recognition about the childhood period of the life. According to him, during medieval Europe people allowed babies a long infancy period, after which they were treated as ‘small people’ and expected to fit in to normal society. There was no significant recognition of them being in a distinct and special life phase that we would recognize today, and define as ‘childhood’.

Aries used five types of key evidences to construct his claims that childhood as we know it, didn’t exist in medieval Europe. These were Art, Language, Dress, Education and Sexuality. Through exploring these areas of evidence, he constructed an argument that people living in medieval Europe did not have a sentiment of childhood. There was some debate as to what context Aries used the word sentiment with respect to childhood. As he completed the work in French, his work was translated into English by others, and the main translator of his work translated his phrase as ‘Idea of Childhood’. Therefore, those who read his work in English only, read that he claimed that in history people didn’t have any idea about the special nature of children. However, others who had a look at his work, and claimed that, there was a mistranslation, that what he meant by sentiment of childhood would be more accurately translated as feelings of childhood. If this translation is considered to be the more accurate one, it makes room for a more nuanced theory, which highlights that during medieval Europe, individual’s feelings towards childhood were very different in comparison to today’s world, up to that extent where no similarity could be achieved, as they failed to understand that children were not yet adults (Ulanowicz, 2007).

In contrast to Aries theory on childhood, the theory formulated by thinker Jean Rousseau on childhood greatly emphasized on the significance of free expression to create a stable and free spirited thinking of a child. He also mentioned that if children are allowed to grow without any hindrance imposed by the society they will certainly grow to their highest potential both in terms of moral ethics and education (Platz, 2011).

In this context we can discuss about the contribution of Prof. Hugh Cunningham who provided a general idea of theories on childhood, over 500 years ago in the West. While going through the history of childhood the key moment observed in the last 500 years of the late eighteenth and early phase of nineteenth centuries was the “Romantic Movement”. According to the belief of Romantics, children were innocent by birth or could be considered as more than innocent as versioned by Wordsworth in Heaven as ‘trailing clouds of glory’ (Evans, et al, 2009).

The right to childhood:

The right to childhood was formulated by the Romantic Movement and provided the children with something that were never expressed before. The right to childhood includes undoubtedly their right to innocence which should be protected and lengthened. It mentioned about few things about the childhood freedom that children should not work, should not be aware about sex, and should be nurtured in close contact with nature which is becoming very hard to maintain in the urban life settings of Britain. Therefore all the facts highlighted about the freedom and happiness to be felt at childhood, which can be considered to be the golden period of life.

The work of John Locke on concept of childhood, on political issues impacted many high level thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. John Locke lived from 1632 to 1704 and he was a philosopher of British origin and also played the role of a teacher cum physician in the contemporary society. According to the concept of Locke, the small children are not only thought to be most vulnerable to poor health and ethical manipulation but they show better level of consideration towards perceptive and incidence. As considered by Locke, children are individuals with different personalities; therefore he had highlighted on the duty of effective fostering, the role of dynamic parents and teachers for the growth of “virtuous mind.” He also asserted in the beginning page of his work named “Some Thoughts Concerning Education,” that a healthy mind develops only along with a healthy body. Every parents of urban culture will agree with the claim mentioned by Locke though they may have many questions regarding the methods employed by Locke. He also mentioned that every child should have the capacity of enduring hardship so that they get hardened to face all the odd situations of one’s own life. He also mentioned specifically that parents should not allow their children to dress up in tight fit clothes. Moreover, he suggested that parents should expose their children to wintry temperatures and wash their feet with cold water; so that they start adapting themselves to wet shoes and boots. The diet that he suggested for the healthy bones and body building of the children should comprise of excess bread with scarce amount of meat or fruits and the diet should seem to be a bland one (Cunningham, 2014; Cunningham,2006).

It is also evident from Piaget's (1936) theory which is on cognitive development elucidates on the matter that how a child can create a model of the world based on their own imagination. He did not agree with the fact that intelligence can be considered as a predetermined trait, and also stated that the process which results due to the maturation of the biological parts and by interacting with the environment is termed as cognitive development. During 1920s, Piaget used to work at the Binet Institute. He used to prepare questions in French language on subject of intelligence test communicated in English language. He was thoughtful with the reasons that why children were giving wrong answers to the questions that require logical thinking from their part. Based on this incident of giving incorrect answers he could realize that there is a marked difference between the thinking pattern of adults and children. Therefore, Piaget (1936) was thought to be the first psychologist who conducted a methodical study on aspects of cognitive development. After going through his contributions, it can be said that designed a platform theory on cognitive development of children, made a in depth analytical study on mental capabilities of acquiring knowledge among children and conducted a list of effortless but creative tests to focus on the difference in cognitive abilities of children (McLeod, 2018). According to Piaget “play” can be defined as a technique of assimilation and over accomodation which highlights the child’s efforts to react to an environmental stimulus according to their own imaginations. He also stated that play itself does not help in the development of any new cognitive structures. The human treaty right formulated by the United Nations Conventions on the topic of Rights to Child (in abbreviation the CRC or UNCRC) included about the political, civil, economic, health, social and cultural rights of children. The treaty designates a human being as children if his/her age is within eighteen years unless and until the age of the majority is altered to earlier by the laws of the nation (Grover, 2015). During this period of time a child should be allowed to learn, grow, flourish and play. There are several established approaches to work with children and family members as per Children’s Services and Children’s Social Care in a local authority of United Kingdom. There are more evidence available on the usage of theories in the aspect of social work rather than on general service setting of children.

Knowing the right skill to communicate with children is very much essential to work with children and on their behalf. Though the ability to talk to children is considered to be an efficient skill but it is no way lesser than having a detailed conversation with adults. Moreover, the communication skill of a child and its position in the world has an impact upon the conversation for example generally children are more demonstrative in their action than being verbal. Children do not want to be highlighted rather they want to be encouraged to mention their views. Skills of active listening and counselling are helpful when working with children. Various theories such as Psychosocial theories, Psychodynamic theories, Attachment theory, Cognitive behavioural approaches etc. have been established to work with children and their families. The professional can perform better if following points are considered: should have a clear focus, can recall the period of childhood and relate to the work in hand, cheering the children to express their views, make the children feel comfortable, allow the children to play, should continue to work without any interruption though there is an emergence of disturbing and painful content, responding to different vocabulary and idioms of children, should be diplomatic in nature (Colton, 2017; Foley, et al, 2001).

We really need to discuss about the significance of safeguarding agenda and how it helps to protect each and every children from their sufferings, or from any physical or mental abuse. It actually helps to build up an appropriate environment by ensuring correct behaviours, right events, provides clarity on the responsibilities that has to be followed and provides security against any mislaid accusations. This particular agenda authorizes every students and learners and helps to build up a proper culture of alertness (Parton, 2011).

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These theories highlight the need to develop combined assessment and other involvements by social workers to work with children and the families in a broad setting on issues of child protection and safeguarding agenda. To have a detailed knowledge about the ways to communicate with different children is extremely essential to work with children or on behalf of them. Children do not want to be highlighted rather they want to be encouraged to mention their views. Skills of active listening and counselling are helpful when working with children. The significance of the United Nations Conventions on the topic of Rights to Child and safe guarding agenda has also been discussed to ensure the protection of rights and demands of the children and also provides guidelines to the professionals to work with the children.


Eddy, M.D., 2010. THE ALPHABETS OF NATURE: CHILDREN, BOOKS AND NATURAL HISTORY IN SCOTLAND, CIRCA 1750-1800. Nuncius: Journal of the History of Science, 25(1).

O'Reilly, M., Dogra, N. and Ronzoni, P.D., 2013. Research with children: Theory and practice. Sage.

Cojocaru, D., 2009. Challenges of childhood social research. Revista de Cercetare şi Intervenţie Socială, (26), pp.87-98.

Philippe Ariès, 1962. Centuries of childhood: A social history of family life. Knopf

Guldberg, H., 2009. Reclaiming childhood: Freedom and play in an age of fear. Routledge.

Ulanowicz, A.M., 2007. Ghost Images: Representations of Second-Generation Memory in Contemporary Children's Literature (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh).

Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido, F.M., Patton, L.D. and Renn, K.A., 2009. Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. John Wiley & Sons.

Cunningham, H., 2014. Children and childhood in western society since 1500. Routledge.

Cunningham, H., 2006. The Invention of Childhood; foreword and The Voices of Children by Michael Morpurgo. Published to accompany the BBC Radio, 4.

McLeod, S., 2018. Theories of selective attention.

Grover, S.C., 2015. Children defending their human rights under the CRC communications procedure. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.

Parton, N., 2011. Child protection and safeguarding in England: Changing and competing conceptions of risk and their implications for social work. British Journal of Social Work, 41(5), pp.854-875.

Platz, D. and Arellano, J., 2011. Time Tested Early Childhood Theories and Practices. Education, 132(1).

Colton, M., 2017. An introduction to working with children: A guide for social workers. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Foley, P., Roche, J. and Tucker, S. eds., 2001. Children in society: Contemporary theory, policy, and practice. Palgrave.

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