Erikson’s famous theory of psychosocial development identifies eight stages which an individual should pass through from birth to death.
At each stage we encounter different needs, ask new questions and meet people who influence our behavior and learning. Parents and educators who are aware of the different stages might understand why play and a social approach to learning are often more successful in the early years. Here an overview of the first five stages:
As infants we ask ourselves if we can trust the world and we wonder if it’s safe. We learn that if we can trust someone now, we can also trust others in the future. If we experience fear, we develop doubt and mistrust. The key to our development is our mother. As infants we ask ourselves if we can trust the world and we wonder if it’s safe.
In our early childhood, we experience ourselves and discover our body. We ask: is it okay to be me? If we are allowed to discover ourselves, then we develop self-confidence. If we are not, we can develop shame and self-doubt. Both parents now play a major role.
In kindergarten, we take initiative, try out new things, and learn basic principles like how round things roll. We ask: Is it okay for me to do what I do? If we are encouraged, we can follow our interests. If we are held back or told that what we do is silly, we can develop guilt. We are now learning from the entire family.
Now we discover our own interests and realize that we are different from others. We want to show that we can do things right. We ask if we can make it in this world? If we receive recognition from our teachers or peers we become industrious, which is another word for hard-working. If we get too much negative feedback, we start to feel inferior and lose motivation. Our neighbors and schools now influence us the most.
During adolescence we learn that we have different social roles. We are friends, students, children and citizens. Many experience an identity crisis. If our parents now allow us to go out and explore, we can find identity. If they push us to conform to their views, we can face role confusion and feel lost. Key to our learning are our peers and role models.
Erik Erikson was a German-American psychologist who together with his wife Joan, became known for his work on psychosocial development. He was influenced by Sigmund and Anna Freud and became famous for coining the phrase “identity crisis.” Although Erikson lacked even a bachelor’s degree, he served as a professor at both Harvard and Yale.