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Childhood Psychosocial Development

by Anna Green, studioD

Childhood psychosocial development is a multistep process in which children learn to trust others, communicate their needs and develop distinct identities. Many theorists have conceptualized the ways in which children develop psychosocial skills, but renowned psychologist Erik Erikson (1902-1904) developed an eight-stage model of human development that is widely accepted among educators and mental health professionals. Five of Erikson's stages of development take place during childhood. Under Erikson’s model, if the child does not progress through one stage successfully, she will have difficulty with the next phase.

Trust vs. Mistrust

Trust vs. mistrust is the first of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, encompassing the first year of a child’s life. During the trust vs. mistrust stage, an infant learns whether he can trust a caregiver to meet his needs. If you are present for your child and respond to his need for security, safety and nutrition, then he will likely develop a trusting relationship and be able to progress to his next stage of psychosocial development.

Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

The second phase of a child’s psychosocial development lasts from ages 1 to 3 years. During this stage, called autonomy vs. shame and doubt, you child begins to separate from you and begins to assert some autonomy by learning to walk, make simple choices and interact with the world on his own. If you give your child room to grow and are not overly critical, he will develop a healthy sense of autonomy and self-esteem, according to AllPsych Online.

Initiative vs. Guilt

The initiative vs. guilt phase of psychosocial development lasts from ages 3 to 6. During this stage of development, children begin to show initiative by engaging in creative play and further assert their independence from their parents. If a parent stifles their child's decision-making skills and creativity during this period, the child might develop feelings of guilt and have an inhibited sense of autonomy, according to Erikson's theories. However, by encouraging your child to think creatively and independently, she can develop a strong sense of personal initiative.

Industry vs. Inferiority

From approximately age 6 until approximately age 12, or the onset of puberty, children often focus on school and academic achievement. When you encourage your child to develop new skills and praise her for her accomplishments, she will often develop a healthy sense of industriousness, according to Erikson's theories. However, if parents do not help their children develop confidence in their abilities, they will feel inferior to their peers, which can lead to both emotional and academic problems.

Identity vs. Role Confusion

The final stage of psychosocial development in childhood is identity vs. role confusion. For most children, this lasts from ages 13 through 18. This is the period in which the child begins to make the transition to adulthood and figures out where he fits in with both society and his peer group. During this period, he might explore his identity and personal identity. Parents can encourage their children during this phase by helping them identify career goals and develop independent living skills.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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