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Erik Erikson Theory

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Erik Erikson was a student of Sigmund Freud but unlike Freud who believed that instincts shape the human, Erikson believed that nature together with society shape the human development across the lifespan. His is not a psychosexual theory but a psychosocial one, focusing more on social interactions than bodily ones.  This theory as outlined by Erikson brings out eight stages which everyone must pass through from infancy to late adulthood.  In every step the person meets, and masters, new challenges and each stage builds on the succession of earlier stages. The challenges of stages not completed as expected may therefore come again as problems in the future.

In each stage, Erikson believed that individuals experience certain conflict that mark a point of change in their development. Erikson views such conflicts to be based on a characters development of a psychological quality or lack of developing it. All the stages of the Erickson theory are involved with psychosocial crisis, based on the physiological development. This is also based on expectation parents and society expect from the individual. For development to occur without any problem, crisis should be resolved according to the ego shown in that stage. The results of each stage are not permanent, though they can be affected by future experiences. Each individual has a combination of qualities achieved at each stage of development, though personality development in this case is considered to be successful if the individual displays more good traits than bad traits.

All of the stages in Erikson’s theory are present at birth but unfold according to both an innate programming and individuals growth background in a society that or family that express culture values. Erickson considered childhood stage as a vital in determining personality development. He expressed the first 4 stages of development in his theory as critical for future developments. Trust versus mistrust is the very first stage between births to 18months which when successfully negated helps the child develop hope in the world around him. At this stage the child primarily depends on the caregiver for food, sustenance and comfort. The child then moves to autonomy versus shame and doubt between 18months and 3years where they begin to explore their surroundings. Parents are still looked up to for security as the child goes out to assert their will. If successfully negated then the child is able to develop self will which drives him to explore their world constantly and learn from it. (Stevens, 1983).

At 3 years the child enters the stage of initiative versus guilt which lasts through to 6 years of age. Here the child is learning to master the world around them. Children during this stage are faced the complexities of preparation and developing a sense of judgment on issues concerning them.  The next stage that is major in for parents and teachers to beware of is the industry versus inferiority, where if negated successfully helps the child develop competence in whatever he does. If parents and preschool teachers are aware of each of these childhood stages they can therefore expose the child to warmth, regularity, and dependable affection, hence the children’s view of the world will be a trustworthy one. In case the parents fail to meet their children’s basic needs and offer a secure environment, the children tend to develop a sense of mistrust.

A preschool teacher on the other hand who meets a child who did not achieve trust in the first stage should be able to look at this child from Erikson’s point of view and provide the child with basic needs like food whenever needed in order to reverse this stage early enough. Caution must be taken at the ages between 18months and 3years because a child can attempt to discover some things which are dangerous and harmful to their health. However parents should be careful not to discourage self sufficient behavior as this is a very important stage where skills like toilet training are developed. Parents should also not demand too much too soon as this may discourage major efforts like learning to feed, eat or even dress themselves. Preschool teachers should beware of the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage to be able to help children who come to school without skills like toilet training, feeding or even dressing. The teacher must discourage ridicule as much as possible and keep encouraging every effort.

Parents and preschool teachers should support and encourage children’s effort. At the same time the teachers should help children make appropriate and realistic decisions. This will in turn promote the child’s ability to plan and undertake various initiatives in life. In case the society and the grown up in society regards child’s pursuit of independence as silly and troublesome; a child can start to fill guilty about their desire and needs.  Parents and preschool teachers must therefore beware of this stages and the virtues that are developed at each stage so that as children go through each stage they can be able to support them positively by providing support, care, security, opportunities to explore, and training of the basic life skills so that children will acquire more of the positive and less of the negative. This is because Erikson also points out that children cannot acquire all positive because they require a little of the negative to help them survive in the society. 

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