Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA
If there is anything parents want it’s the successful development of their children. As such, it’s helpful for parents to be aware of how their children develop and what psychological changes occur at each stage of development. Knowing where children are at helps parents attribute meaning to much of what children say or do. This knowledge increases confidence in parents and gives them patience while children are growing up.
Erikson, a German psychologist, proposed 8 (though I will only cover first 6) psycho-social developmental stages humans go through from the time of birth to the end of life. During each stage the human is faced by new and more complex challenges. Each stage is a building block for the next stage and unresolved issues from previous stages are taken into subsequent stages until the problem is resolved. Old issues tend to impede successful development in subsequent stages.
The summary of the 6 stages are as follows:
Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth to around 15 months old)
During this stage infants face the challenge to develop a sense that the world is a safe and good place. Throughout these early years, children learn to trust or mistrust depending on how well their needs are met. Both mom’s and dad’s nurturing behaviour (touch, visual contact, and availability to meet child’s various needs) plays an important role for children to develop a good level of trust, safety, security and worth. The more the parents are available, the greater the likelihood this stage will be met with success.
Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame/ Doubt (1 to 3 years old)
Between the ages of 1 and 3 children learn many new skills and they learn right from wrong. The challenge faced is to realize that one is an independent person who can make one’s own decisions (the terrible twos!). When learning new skills and making choices, mom’s and dad’s behavioural and verbal feedback greatly influence how children perceive themselves. Encouragement will lead to high self-esteem and pride (whether the child failed or not) and autonomy whereas negative feedback will lead to feelings of shame and low self-esteem (whether the child succeeded or not).
Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt (3 to 6 years old)
The challenge here is to develop a willingness to try new things and to handle failure. Primary family members continue to be the most important influence as children develop the desire to copy the adults around them. Some behaviour is directly tried out by the child (e.g. tying shoe laces, eating with cutlery) and other situations are played out in the imagination (e.g. tea parties, playing house). In their attempt to understand how the world works parents often hear the word ‘Why?’. Success at this stage leads the child to a sense of purpose. Children who frequently experience parental disapproval tend to develop a sense of guilt that carries into the next stages.
Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority (6 years to adolescence)
The challenging during this stage is to continue learning basic skills and to work with others. If the stage is completed successfully, children develop a sense of competence, if not they develop a feeling of inadequacy.
Children now start going to school and their world becomes larger—they see, hear, and experience many things they have not up to this point. In school children develop relationships outside the home and start learning how to deal with peers. Children who have a difficult time getting along with peers due to lack of social skills or lack of success in previous stages develop low self-esteem and feel inferior to their peers.
Parental modeling of healthy social skills, positive feedback, and tips come in handy for children to apply to their own life.
Stage 5: Identity vs. Identity Confusion (Adolescence: 12 to 18 years old)
The challenge during the teen years is to develop a lasting, integrated sense of self. If this stage is not completed successfully, children end up moving onto the next stage without an idea of who they are. Children with a clear identity are able to stay true to who they are and their value system, whereas, children who are unsure of their identity tend to be more easily persuaded by others.
Teens will use their world experiences with friends and social groups, social ideals, family values, and own judgement and conclusions to understand themselves. Positive family modeling and continual healthy parent-child bonds are important for the success of this stage. Although teens tend to pull away from parents, it is important parents don’t pull away from their children. They are still children!
Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young adulthood: 18 to 35 years old)
During this stage the challenge is to commit to another in a loving relationship. The success of this stage is usually determined by how well children fared in the previous stages. If previous stages lead child to experience overall feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, shame, and low self-esteem it is more difficult to sustain a healthy and loving relationship. If young adults believe themselves to be unsuccessful during this stage they will experience isolated and like they do not fit in with peers who have married and started a family.
Best Wishes to Your Family!
Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto