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Social Development In Children

Social Development in Children

There are many theorists who have developed explanations for the social development of children; Erik Erikson is one of the most highly-renowned and famous of these individuals.


When writing a research paper on Erikson's theory on social development in children, you may want to approach it as follows:

  1. Select one of Erikson's life stages. Describe what occurs during this life stage. What is the psychosocial crisis for this stage according to Erikson's psychosocial theory? Integrate theories of human behavior using information from different human behavior theorists (Erikson, Piaget, Freud, etc.) into this section.
  2. Interview someone as the subject, or use yourself. Please disguise the identity of the subject or yourself. Remember to apply human behavior theories to this person's life throughout this section. Discuss the following:
    1. In your assessment, how did this person negotiate this life stage, the psychosocial crisis and each of the tasks of this life stage? Describe and discuss in detail and include:
      1. How did the subject cope with the developmental crises? What behavior do you assess as adaptive? Maladaptive?
      2. What circumstances and events affected this the development for the subject?
      3. What was the person physical, psychological, cognitive and social functioning like during this stage?
      4. What if the nitpicking relationships affected the person during this life stage? Describe how these relationships affected the person.
    2. What the supported and/or hindered the person development during this life stage?
      1. Discuss specifically parental roles in helping or hindering the process of development.
      2. Describe the impact of siblings or other significant family members upon person.
      3. Specifically note the impact of ALL of the following that apply to the negotiation of the persons life stage:

About Erikson

Erik Homberger Erikson's theory of development is perhaps one of the most widely applied models to emerge from the field of psychology during the last century. Born in Frankfurt, Germany to Danish parents in 1902, the young Dane was an indifferent student who felt he did not "fit in" with regard to formal educational settings. Perhaps his self-awareness helped him to formulate his very unique theory.

Erikson might be described as a disciple of Sigmund Freud. He considered himself psychoanalytic in terms of theoretical or philosophical perspective, and he agreed with Freud on many basic assumptions. Like Jung, Horney, and others, Erikson began with Freudian assumptions and built upon them. The result is a theoretical perspective quite distinct from that of the "master."

Erikson's Theory of Social Development

Erikson's theory of social development in humans is comprised of eight stages, each of which marks a different element of their individualized growth and progress; however, the development in early childhood largely takes place in the first four stages, as the remaining four are dedicated to more complex issues that traditionally manifest in adulthood.

The 8 stages in Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Development Theory are as follows:






Birth to 1.5

Trust vs. Mistrust

The infant must form a first loving, trusting relationship with the caregiver, or develop a sense of mistrust.


1.5 to 3

Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt

The child's energies are directed toward the development of physical skills, including walking, grasping, and rectal sphincter control. The child learns control but may develop shame and doubt if not handled well.


3 to 6

Initiative vs. Guilt

The child continues to become more assertive and to take more initiative, but may be too forceful, leading to guilt feelings.


6 to 12

Industry vs. Inferiority

The child must deal with demands to learn new skills or risk a sense of inferiority, failure and incompetence.

5. Adolescence

12 to 18

Identity vs. Role Confusion

The teenager must achieve a sense of identity in occupation, sex roles, politics, and religion.

Young Adulthood

19 to 40

Intimacy vs. Isolation

The young adult must develop intimate relationships or suffer feelings of isolation.

Middle Adulthood

40 to 65

Generativity vs. Stagnation

Each adult must find some way to satisfy and support the next generation.


65 to death

Ego Integrity vs. Despair

The culmination is a sense of oneself as one is and of feeling fulfilled.



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The Stages Explained


  • The first stage is trust versus mistrust, where the child learns in the first year or two of life who it can depend on to have its basic needs met, such as food, shelter, and comfort.
  • The second stage is autonomy versus shame. In this stage, children engage in behavior that many associate with the "terrible twos". The child learns that he can do things independently, and will often refuse to go along with the wishes or commands of his caregivers. He is, in turn, developing a sense of independence.
  • The third stage is initiative versus guilt, and usually occurs between the ages of about three and five; here, the child learns how to use his imagination to initiate play, how to engage in play with others, and how to both lead as well as follow. The child traditionally departs from this stage of development when he enters formalized schooling, usually kindergarten at the age of five.
  • The fourth stage is a struggle between industry and inferiority, and takes place when the child learns how to be a productive, contributing member of his society, both through the development of positive relationships with his peers and friends, but also in the awareness of where he might want his life to lead. This stage traditionally lasts from late elementary school well into high school, and marks the child’s ultimate transition from childhood into adolescence and then adulthood.
  • Stage five, Adolescence, ends at age 18.Adolescents must resolve the conflict of Identity versus Role Confusion through exploration of various roles.
  • Once role identity is established, humans move into adulthood. This is defined through Erikson’s three stages of Young Adulthood, which occurs through age 40 as individuals seek loving and committed relationships.
  • Middle Adulthood, which occurs through age 65 and involves caring for children and others.
  • Maturity, which lasts until death, involves the opportunity to reflect upon the successes and failures of life. Conflicts resolved during these three stages are Intimacy versus Isolation, Generativity versus Stagnation, and Integrity versus Despair, respectively.

Erikson's Contribution to Psychology

Erikson’s theory, then, is characterized by several "points of departure" from his mentor’s approach. The most immediately obvious difference is that Erikson places considerably less emphasis on the role of sexual instincts and drives and more on the social context in which the individual grows and develops. This deviation from Freudian theory is apparent even in the labels placed on stages described by the two – Freud speaks of psychosexual stages, while the developmental sequence described by Erikson is usually referred to as psychosocial. Erikson’s theory, then, gives considerable attention to interpersonal elements – such as the infant’s development of trust through consistent caregivers in the first year of life. Freud’s approach emphasizes intrapsychic phenomena – the major "happenings" that impact personality occur within the mind of the individual rather than as a result of interaction between individuals.

Perhaps even more importantly, Erikson was the first major theorist to suggest an "epigenetic sequence of personality development over the lifespan". Freud suggested strongly that that personality was essentially established when the Oedipus and Electra complexes were successfully resolved. Thus, many historians of psychology believe that Erikson’s major contribution to the field was his proposal that intellectual and emotional development continue until death.

As the developing individual progresses through the sequence, each crisis contributes to the ultimate outcome of ego integrity or despair noted in the last stage. Thus, at any given point in time, the theorist believed that one’s identity could be characterized as "lying on a continuum somewhere between positive and negative poles".

Another distinctive aspect of Erikson’s theory involves the fact that each of the eight stages proposed "consists of a unique developmental task that confronts individuals with a crisis that must be faced". Resolution of the crisis may be either positive or negative. These two valences are represented in the stage names. For example, during the first year of life, the infant comes either to trust or mistrust the environment. Resolution of the task in a positive way enhances the possibility that development will continue in a healthy way. If there is a negative outcome, on the other hand, the individual passes to the next stage with "psychological baggage" that hampers his or her resolution of the next task. Again, this distinguishes Erikson’s theory from that of Freud in that the latter proposed fixation at a psychosexual stage rather than negative resolution and passage to the next stage in the sequence.

Another of Erik’s unique contributions can be recognized by reading through descriptions of the eight stages. This theorist tied development to real-life events – school years, dating years, early years on the job, and so on. With Freud and others using very esoteric language and speaking "above" the typical reader, Erikson made his theory much more accessible intellectually by explaining it in relatively simple terms and tying concepts to life experiences.

Perhaps the contribution to psychology mentioned in the paragraph above partially accounts for the fact that Erik Erikson’s theory is one of the most influential in the field of counseling, nursing, and other diverse arenas. A search of very recent literature reveals that innovative treatment programs continue to use the Dane’s model. One example is a program in New York targeting troubled adolescents. Clients are encouraged to experience anew the early psychosocial stages. The goal is healthier resolution of sequential crises with the assistance of therapists and peers.

Erik Erikson’s major contributions to the field of psychology include new emphasis on the interpersonal and social factors impacting development, recognition of development as a lifelong process, and tying development to real events that real people could identify and understand. His influence continues in diverse fields -- his mark on psychology and society is indelible.

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