Psychosocial Development Theory: Erikson’s 8 Stages

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Last Update Date: 04 January 2021

From infancy to elderliness, human development is a nonstop process. And perhaps, psychologist Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory is one of the best studies that explain this process.

8 stages of Psychosocial Development Theory cover the psychosocial development (a combination of ‘psychology’ and ‘social’) through a person’s birth to death and refers to the various stages of human life that are affected by environmental factors.

Therefore why is Erik Erikson’s theory important? It is because the following stages that he described in his theory are essential to understand yourself, your children, and both of your needs and behaviors throughout life:

Human development

In each of these stages, there are various goals that a child must achieve, mostly with the help of their parents. Their personality development will depend on how they face different conflicts that must be overcome as soon as possible because it will threaten a person’s psychology.

Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development Chart

We hear you say, “Okay, but, what is psychosocial development theory?” Before we jump to the details of each stage, here is a chart that will help you understand the concept.

Stages Approximate Age Conflicts Important Events Basic Virtue Desired Outcome
1st 0-18 Months Trust vs Mistrust Feeding Hope A sense of trust and security
2nd 1.5-3 Years Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt Toilet Training Will Feelings of independence lead to belief in yourself and your abilities
3rd 3-5 Years Initiative vs Guilt Exploration Purpose Self-confidence; the ability to take initiative and make decisions
4th 5-12 Years Industry (Competence) vs Inferiority School Competency Feelings of pride and accomplishment
5th 12-20 Years Identity vs Role Confusion Social Relationships Fidelity A strong sense of identity; a clear picture of your future
6th 20-30 Years Intimacy vs Isolation Relationships Love Safe relationships filled with commitment and love
7th 30-60 Years Generativity vs Stagnation Work and Parenthood Care The desire to give to family and community, and to succeed at work
8th 60+ Years Ego Integrity vs Despair Reflection on Life Wisdom Pride in what you’ve achieved leads to feelings of satisfaction

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Stages of Psychosocial Development

Here are the details to Erik Erikson’s theory that will help you understand when your children are developing a sense of what, their timeline for building social interactions or focusing on work and so much more.

Stage 1: Trust vs Mistrust (Birth to 1.5 Years)

The first developmental stage starts as an infant (birth to 1.5 years). It involves the oral learning period, therefore, the name of this stage is called the oral stage.

The primary goal of newborn babies is to feed on their mother's breast. In the oral stage, parents need to feed their children regularly. If so, the infant will be a more well-rounded person later in life.

After about six months, babies with more developed motor skills will learn how to touch, hold, and bite. A baby with new teeth will not bite their finger again once they experience pain. In the same sense, when the mother avoids the baby from biting their breast while feeding, the baby will reduce this behavior over time.

This learning behavior helps the baby to develop their personality. If parents handle all the needs and expectations of the baby properly, the baby will develop confidence. This confidence will contribute to building a sense of security and trust.

Facing trust-based problems and unpleasant situations during this first stage can increase the chance of various issues in the future such as pessimism, introversion, and alcohol or drug addictions.

Stage 2: Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt (1.5 to 3 Years)

The early childhood stage, also called the anal stage, is the period when the child learns to control their intestines and muscles in terms of toilet training (1.5 to 3 years). The fact that the child is able to control their own body is a big step.

It is vital that toilet training is done correctly. Toilet training that scares, threatens or pressures the child is never the right way to teach them. However, overprotective parents can also prevent children from learning self-control. Misguided parenting can lead a child to become a shy and suspicious individual in the future.

Behavioral problems in adults will often date back to the anal stage and the problems that were faced in this period. According to Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, these behaviors are influenced by the difficulties experienced in this stage.

The child should also now have self-control. If you do not allow your child to make their own choices according to their experiences and allow them to use their free will, you will have a negative impact on your child’s personality development such as causing low self-esteem and high self-doubt.

So what happens in the opposite case? If the child feels confident in making their own decisions, and they are encouraged and supported by their parents, they will become more self-assured, respectful, and honest individuals in the future.

Stage 3: Initiative vs Guilt (3 to 5 years)

As children start their preschool stage (3 to 5 years), they can express themselves more easily and use their language and motor skills. This stage is known as the phallic-oedipal period. One of the most significant features of this stage is being curious about sex.

Children may touch their sexual organs, touch the sexual organs of their friends, and even play sexual games. This is driven by curiosity, so parents should not accuse or punish the child.

Children who are humiliated, subject to violence, or punished because of their curiosity will be devastated. The consequences of this kind of behavior appear at later ages. Sexual problems and depression in adulthood are usually due to negative experiences between the ages of 3 to 5 years.

This is also a period when a child will establish relationships with their friends. There may be some aggressive behaviors, but it can easily be resolved with games or toys. Of course, the guidance of parents is important. We advise you to find pedagogical support if you need specialized assistance.

Parents should not use violence to discipline their children who are aggressive and fight. This will only increase their tendency for violence later in life. If this period is approached carefully and positively, the child will most likely grow up to be an individual who is respectful and responsible.

You might have realized that with every stage, a new behavior appears in the child and the environmental (i.e. family) reactions are crucial in shaping their development. Every new behavior and the subsequent parental reactions will further develop a child’s personality.

Stage 4: Industry vs Inferiority (5 to 12 years)

At stage 4, children reach their school age (5 to 12 years). It is known as the latent period. This is the stage where children develop social relationships and increase their productivity and learning.

Children will learn how to finish tasks on their own, to ask for help when they need it, and to help others. Also, during this period, children will choose their role models.

This is a stage when children enjoy having a sense of accomplishment. Children who complete this stage successfully are satisfied with themselves and feel competent, and will not develop an inferiority complex. On the other hand, children who experience failure during this period can begin to doubt their abilities.

Even though education and schooling are very important, it should not be forgotten that education begins in the family.

Your child may not have discovered their full learning potential yet, or they might have learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or even be gifted (gifted children may fail in a standard curriculum). Parents can support their children in all of these matters if they detect the issue early on. This is why families should consult with experts.

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Stage 5: Identity vs Role Confusion (12 to 20 years)

Adolescence (12 to 20 years) can be one of the toughest stages as emotional and physical changes are experienced rapidly.

During this period, the individual desires to find their own identity. They search and question habits, perspectives on life, beliefs, and thoughts. Behavior disorders may surface throughout these years, but over time, these behaviors eventually decrease or disappear.

Young people seeking to understand their own identity may join a number of social groups, such as political or social responsibility groups. This is also a time when adolescents care excessively about their physical appearance.

Towards the end of this stage, adolescents will experience the desire to stand on their own feet, and they will feel anxiety about the future and have thoughts of leaving home and their parents.

This is an important period for an individual to get to know themselves and shape their future. If any negativity is experienced in the previous stages, an adolescent may succumb to alcohol and nicotine addiction, petty crimes, and similar negative behaviors — and these behaviors may become permanent in time.

If you look around, you may see that many smokers are those who began smoking at an early age and cannot quit even if they want to. Therefore, this stage is crucial for parents to help their children learn to cope with problems.

Stage 6: Intimacy vs Isolation (20 to 30 Years)

The young adulthood stage (20 to 30 years) covers a long period of time. Young adults need to socialize and establish intimate relationships, give precedence to and take responsibility at work, within the family, in sexual relations, and within society.

Learning to live together with others and have strong relationships are key goals during this time, rather than learning about different ideas and meeting new people.

It’s important for people to choose relationships carefully during this stage in order to reduce loneliness, anxiety, and negative influences.

According to Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, the healthiest way to complete the sixth developmental stage is to find a partner, develop confidence, and contribute to society.

Stage 7: Generativity vs Stagnation (30 to 60 Years)

The middle adulthood stage (30 to 60 years) is a transition period, where people continue to be productive but are also looking to pass on their knowledge and influence to the generation after them.

People may also start feeling comfortable in their everyday routines, and therefore take steps to counter this stagnation.

If sexuality, mental health and socialization needs are not met during the sixth stage, it can cause an emotional impact on relationships in the seventh stage. This impact will reduce a person’s productivity and creativity.

Stage 8: Ego Integrity vs Despair (60+ Years)

The eighth and final stage of psychosocial development, also known as maturity (60+ years), creates conflict between peace and regret.

Those who believe in self-fulfilment and have a sense of completeness will not regret their past and will have completed the previous stages healthily. Those who are restless are people suffering from depression, who will continue to regret what they did in the past.

One of the typical characteristics of this period is the attempt to fulfil conscientious responsibilities. For example, an individual may start focusing on (or become more focused on) worshipping or religion or the desire to leave something for the next generation.

Stages of Psychological Development

Erik Erikson’s fact-based theory contains accurate examples of individual’s lives. It is vital to always keep in mind that each stage is connected to the other, and that the development of each person starts in their infancy.

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