Psychosocial Theory of Development

Ever wonder exactly why it is so important to allow your child to make a few mistakes every now and then?  There may be many, many reasons, and here is one that emphasizes the importance of early experiences on later development.  There is a theorist that proposed that humans go through stages from birth through old age.  Erik Erikson (1902-1994) developed eight psychosocial stages, believing that successful resolution of one stage set the foundation for the next stage in life.

The first stage occurs in infancy (birth through approximately 18 months of age) and is called “Basic Trust vs. Mistrust.”    The emphasis is on a nurturing relationship between the developing child and their caregiver.  If the child is consistently cared for, she will develop optimism, confidence, and a sense of trust.  Without proper nurturance, the child will feel a sense of insecurity and mistrust in the world.  We help children develop basic trust by feeding, bathing, cuddling, and loving them.

Dad and Baby

The second stage is called “Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt,” and occurs during the toddler years (approximately 18 months to three years of age).  Here, the emphasis is on the development of self-esteem and autonomy as the child begins to gain self-control and a sense of what is right and wrong as he masters new skills.  Children who are not supported in their exploration of the world end up feeling shame and low self-esteem.  Ones who are supported and encouraged develop a sense of pride.  We help children develop a sense of autonomy by providing them a safe environment as well as appropriate tools with which to explore the world (such as a plastic tool set with which they cannot injure themselves). 

The third stage occurs from approximately age three to five, and is called “Initiative vs. Guilt.”  At this time, the young child begins active, creative play in an attempt to copy the adults around them.  The choice word of a preschooler is “why?” and we support young children by offering encouragement as well as opportunity for the type of dramatic play she desires.  For example, a young girl who watches mommy work in the garden may dig up a few prized petunias.  How we respond is where the sense of initiative can be developed.  Shaming can lead to a sense of doubt in who she is, while taking the time to offer a place where digging is acceptable can make a world of difference.

The fourth stage, and the last to be discussed in this writing, is called “Industry vs. Inferiority” and occurs from approximately age six to twelve.    As this coincides with the school years, it should be no surprise that comparison to other children is an important part of successful development during this stage.  Children are learning new skills such as how to read and thus developing a sense of industry.  On the other hand, those children who feel inadequate when compared to other children often end up feeling inferior and experience lower self-esteem.  Children can be supported during this stage by experiencing success as they learn these new skills.  This may require that we go above and beyond in helping them do so, as well as being ready with the pompoms and a lot of encouragement.

When you provide your children enriching activities, you provide more than just a thrilling way to spend an evening.  You encourage the development of trust, autonomy, initiative and industry.  You provide unique ways in which young people can explore their potential and engage in activities that are designed to inspire emotional, physical, social, and cognitive development.  For further information about Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages, click here.