Erikson’s Psychosocial Phases of Development

Ever heard the saying, “It’s just a phase”? That phrase is how lots of people get through raising kids. When they threw a tantrum, you tell yourself “it is just a phase, and it’ll pass.” When your older child wants more space and more privacy, you tell yourself, “it’s just a phase, and it will pass.” Well, there may be a lot more weight to those words than you realise.

Erik Erikson was an infamous psychologist who took the work of Freud and developed one of the most influential developmental theories to this day. While psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s work impacted his theory, Erikson’s theory concentrated on psychosocial development rather than psychosexual.

So what is Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development about? Erikson believed (like Freud) that your personality develops in a series of stages. Erikson focused a great deal of his energy on examining how social interaction and relationships played a role in the development and growth of human beings. Every step in Erikson’s theory builds like scaffolding in the preceding stages. These scaffolding construct the foundation, the building blocks for which more scaffolding must erect. Like a building structure, if the foundation has not been set right, the entire structure could collapse with extra weight. This brings me to my point: as a parent, there is a duty to give your children, a childhood…
As I get older, I have started considering the reality of bringing a child into this world. I’ve found that I’ve really started to understand that having kids is no easy fate and requires a hell of a lot of patience and dedication.

What I want to share is Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, and how this could impact the subconscious traits of parenting that you might not have been aware of:

Here’s what important to note before viewing Erikson’s theory: he believed conflicts are centred on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality. During these times, the potential for personal growth is high, but so is the potential for failure. If people successfully deal with the conflict, they emerge from the stage with psychological strengths that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. If they fail to deal effectively with these conflicts, they may not develop the essential skills needed for a strong sense of self. Erikson’s stages make up as follows:

Stage 1 – Trust vs Mistrust
Stage 2 – Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt
Stage 3 – Initiative vs Guilt
Stage 4 – Industry vs Inferiority
Stage 5 – Identity vs Confusion
Stage 6 – Intimacy vs Isolation
Stage 7 – Generativity vs Stagnation
Stage 8 – Integrity vs Despair

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development hypothesized that at each stage of life is a conflict that needs to be resolved. These phases need to be resolved to achieve a healthy sense of who you are and a sense of the world. Furthermore, Erikson would hypothesize that overwhelming anxiety and insecurity are as a result of not attaining psychosocial competence of trust (versus mistrust) in infancy and therefore a sense of mistrust and anxiety would permeate relationships (Bem, 1994).

Below are 5 of the 8 (6,7 and eight apply to adults) stages in Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development applicable to the childhood phases.

Stage 1: Basic Trust vs Mistrust:
This stage occurs in the first year of life. A newborn is entirely dependent on consistent and reliable caregivers to meet their physical and emotional needs in order that trust in the world is developed. Should this not occur and the caregiver is unavailable, inconsistent, or rejecting the child will develop a sense of mistrust and internalize that the world is not safe.

Stage 2: Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt:
Autonomy develops from 1 through to the age of 3, a sense of personal control is developed, during which time toilet training is integral for independence. The child wants more control over choices of food, clothing and ultimately eliminations, which makes them feel successful. Allowing the child to explore, experiment, make mistakes and test the limits aid this. A child’s autonomy can be compromised when they cannot or fail to control their world and feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt may creep in.

Stage 3: Initiative vs Guilt:
Between ages 3-6, the preschooler tries to “achieve a sense of competence and initiative” usually through play. The child is encouraged to make choices rather than relying on their caretaker to make decisions on their behalf. Children who achieve the goal of initiative feel capable and can take the lead as opposed to developing feelings of guilt, self-doubt and lack of initiative if unsuccessful.

Stage 4: Industry vs Inferiority:
Between the ages of 6 – 12 years, children take pride in their achievements and abilities (industry), which is acknowledged by significant others as well as their peers. They continue to develop and expand their understanding of the world, develop a gender-role identity, and learn the necessary skills required for school success.

Stage 5: Identity vs Role Confusion:
Occurs between 12 – 18 and is “a time of transition between childhood and adulthood”. It is at this stage that the child develops clarification of self-identity, life-goals and meaning. This can include testing or breaking rules, severing dependent bonds or forming a new identity. Failure to successfully negotiate this conflict can create feelings of insecurity and confusion regarding themselves and their future, resulting in the sense of incompetence.

Understanding the phase that your child is in can help bridge the gap in your relationship. I am no expert in parenting, but I hope that the information shared today helps you in your journey.

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