Erik Erikson's theory about child development has similarities to several famous others but with distinct differences. Like Freud, he believed that development came in specific stages, but rather than being sexually driven, he focused on the social aspects of evolvement. In a manner reminiscent of Piaget, Erikson saw advancements coming in a predetermined order, but the socialisation aspect was stressed, rather than cognitive development.
Successfully Completing the Stages
In the end, Erikson divided human lifespan into eight categories, each with its own unique time frame and characteristics. In fact, the term "identity crisis," which many of us use freely these days, originates from Erikson's idea that at each stage of our development, we face the possibility of a negative rather than a positive outcome, constituting a possible crisis. Failing to complete one stage has a negative impact on being able to manoeuvre well through the remaining, but at any time, issues with uncompleted stages can be resolved, allowing people to progress successfully through their lives.
Trust vs. Mistrust: Birth to 1 year
During the first year of life, a baby forms their first feelings about the world and whether or not it is a safe place based on the level of consistent care provided by the primary caregivers. When trust develops successfully, the child gains a sense of security but if this sense is not developed, a fear and inner mistrust of the world is formed. Anxiety and insecurity are indicative of an unsuccessful beginning.
Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: 1 to 3 Years
As children become increasingly independent, they tend to try to assert their opinions and do things in their own ways. These first attempts at decision making are actually important milestones, developmentally, according to Erikson. If a child's efforts at independent thinking are supported and encouraged, their self-confidence increases, helping to prepare them to survive in the real world. Parents who criticise or do not permit toddlers to make simple decisions are setting them up to feel inadequate and doubtful about their abilities. Low self-esteem and a tendency to be overly dependent on others can have their roots in an unsuccessful transition at this age.
Initiative vs. Guilt: 3 to 6 Years
During the years between three and six, kids tend to enjoy expressing their assertiveness by choosing activities, inventing their own solutions to problems and approaching others to socialise. When their efforts are recognised and rewarded, children flourish, but if they are made to feel foolish or not allowed to even try, they may go through their lives preferring to follow, rather than lead.
Industry vs. Inferiority: 6 Years to Puberty
The school years provide children with opportunities to take the initiative in planning and following through on a variety of projects. Parents and teachers who provide positive feedback can help children to feel confident and capable, vital characteristics for happiness and future success. If, however, important adults in a child's life decline to encourage the youngster's efforts, he may doubt his capabilities and fail to reach his full potential.
Identity vs. Role Confusion: Adolescence
As all parents know, the teen years can be turbulent. No longer children but not yet independent adults, adolescents are making strides to cross the bridge into adulthood. This most important transition requires that teens begin to look at their futures and explore their possibilities. Career choices, romantic relationships, family plans -- their choices are plentiful and they are in a position of needing to figure just who it is they are and who they want to be. An inability to figure that out may render them confused and directionless.
Intimacy vs. Isolation: Young Adulthood
Typically, young adulthood is when people make their first real commitment to someone other than a family member. Success in this area can provide great satisfaction, while those who avoid intimacy may set themselves up to feel lonely, isolated, and even depressed.
Generativity vs. Stagnation: Middle Adulthood
Ideally, middle adulthood sees us getting settled. These are the years when careers flourish, families are raised, and people find their comfort zones, being productive and responsible members of society. Those who fail to meet their objectives may stagnate and feel a sense of disappointment about their lack of productivity.
Ego Integrity vs. Despair: The "Golden Years"
Often, seniors, with their working years behind them, are able to slow down and reflect on their lives. Those who feel good about the lives they've led up to that point can take well deserved pride in their accomplishments, but for those who feel that they've been less productive than they had hoped, feelings of dissatisfaction and despair can lead to depression.
Helping Kids to Succeed
Obviously, all parents hope to see their children do well, not only during childhood, but throughout their lives. Providing them with a bit of autonomy along with a lot of love and encouragement is the recipe, according to the viewpoints expressed by Erikson, to best assure happy, healthy futures for kids. As the old saying goes, happiness is having both roots and wings.