Erikson's Stages of Social-Emotional Development

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Erikson's Stages of Social and Emotional Development

Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychological development of human beings. His stages of development, described below, give a useful theoretic insight into this important area of human life.

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Stage 1 - Hopes: Trust vs. Mistrust

Erikson's first stage describes how from birth to about one or two years infants form the concepts of trust and security. Early life experiences determine how the child will emerge from this stage. If they are cared for, nurtured and their basic needs are consistently met they will develop trust and feel secure. This feeling of security will give them confidence and hope about the future. If the child's early experiences are negative they will learn to mistrust others and will feel insecure. This will make them less confident and apprehensive about new experiences.

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Stage 2 - Will: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Erikson's second stage describes how from 18 months or 2 years to about 3 and a half or 4 years of age infants form the concepts of self and autonomy. Now, physically more able, the infant begins to explore their environment and begins to meets some of their own needs such as toileting and feeding themselves. Parental encouragement and praise will help the child develop independence, initiative and pride with each little achievement whilst parental criticism and unrealistic expectations will lead to feelings of failure and shame. Equally, overly protective parenting where infants are denied opportunities to take risks with things that they are capable of can lead to the child forming doubts and uncertainties.

In developing autonomy infants will be testing what happens when they exert their own will. This will lead to tantrums, stubborn refusal to comply with requests and some negative behaviours. Parents who set clear, consistent and reasonable boundaries will help their child understand the limits of autonomy and the child's role within the family unit and beyond. Inconsistent discipline and excessive punishment will lead to shame and confusion.

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Stage 3 - Purpose: Initiative vs. Guilt

Erikson's third stage describes how from 3 years to about 5 or 6 years of age children develop initiative and begin to develop skills of planning, cooperation and perseverance. Language and physical development enable the child to tackle more complex everyday tasks and learn through play. Play, particularly imaginary play, enables the child to explore and experiment with different social contexts and rehearse social skills. When play involves other children then negotiation over roles and rules is required. Children at this stage are trying to assert themselves and tend to want to control activities and take a leadership role. This often leads to conflict if the child's demands are frustrated. Physical aggression is common as tempers are easily lost and throwing objects or hitting other children is often the result.

All children at this stage need to have opportunities to be the leader and to follow their decisions through to completion. Where children are denied these opportunities and have their ideas squashed or ridiculed they will develop guilt and feel that they are a nuisance. They may remain followers on the fringe of groups and apprehensive about expressing their ideas.

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Stage 4 - Competence: Industry vs. Inferiority

Erikson's fourth stage describes how from about 6 years to 12 years of age children develop self confidence. This is the child's primary (elementary) education years where opportunities abound for the child to acquire a wide range of skills and abilities. Cognitive development during this period enables children to understand more complex concepts like time, morality and cause and effect. Thus children are now more able to persue a wide range of interests and also specialise in favoured activities such as a sport or playing a musical instrument.

Children during this stage will enjoy learning and the opportunities to gain recognition for their achievements. Frequent praise and celebration of achievements at home and at school will give the child confidence in their abilities and a sense of pride and intrinsic reward for their industriousness. Where children do not receive praise, are overly criticised and denied opportunities to participate in activities or complete them they begin to feel inferior. These children develop poor self-esteem and doubt their competence to do things and so become reluctant to try for fear of failure.

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Stage 5 - Fidelity: Identity vs. Role Confusion

Erikson's fifth stage describes the period from about 12 to 20+ years of age where adolescents develop identity and direction in life. It is also the stage where they explore their sexuality. Peer influences are key during this stage and it is a bewildering time with lots of conflicting messages, ideas and expectations. Individuals experience puberty and physically grow to adult size and this has significant impact on the way others, particularly adults view and judge them. These young people have to reconcile their sense of who they are against the specific expectations that society has of new adults. They reach decisions about their own beliefs and ideologies which can be at odds with parents and thus a source of conflict.

Adolescents need to experiment with roles in order to answer the questions of "what am I good at?" and "What can I do with this?" Sometimes this will involve exploring negative identities and delinquent behaviours. Role models are very important for adolescents in helping them to identify the characteristics they need to fulfil their chosen role.

The adolescent who has reached this stage successfully will be able to use their confidence to make sensible evaluations of their abilities, interests and career prospects. For those who reach puberty with poor self-esteem and continue to lack effective support from parents and teachers will struggle with forming a positive self identity. This can often lead to a reluctance to engage with society expectations and failure to identify a positive and contributive role within it. At the end of this stage young adults will have formed views on life and society which will have a lasting influence on their future actions.

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There are three further stages described by Erikson detailing pycho-social crises in adulthood. Briefly, they are:

Stage 6 - Love: Intimacy vs. Isolation

Erikson explores adult intimacy and the ability to form a lifelong relationship.

Stage 7 - Care: Generativity vs. Stagnation

Erikson explores middle adulthood and the need to work towards socially valued achievements such as successful family, career and home.

Stage 8 - Wisdom: Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Erikson last stage explores how adults in old age evaluate their achievements and reach contentment.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:


Behaviour Emotional Development

Social Interaction and Play Milestones

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