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Child Development


Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development considers the impact of external factors, parents and society on personality development from childhood to adulthood. According to Erikson’s theory, every person must pass through a series of eight interrelated stages over the entire life cycle.

  • Infant (Hope) – Basic Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Toddler (Will) – Autonomy vs. Shame
  • Preschooler (Purpose) – Initiative vs. Guilt
  • School-Age Child (Competence) – Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Adolescent (Fidelity) – Identity vs. Identity Diffusion
  • Young Adult (Love) – Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Middle-aged Adult (Care) – Generativity vs. Self-absorption
  • Older Adult (Wisdom) – Integrity vs. Despair

According to the above theory, successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and successful interactions with others. Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self.

Trust Versus Mistrust. From ages birth to one year, children begin to learn the ability to trust others based upon the consistency of their caregiver(s). If trust develops successfully, the child gains confidence and security in the world around him and is able to feel secure even when threatened. Unsuccessful completion of this stage can result in an inability to trust, and therefore a sense of fear about the inconsistent world. It may result in anxiety, heightened insecurities, and an over feeling of mistrust in the world around them.

Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Between the ages of one and three, children begin to assert their independence, by walking away from their mother, picking which toy to play with, and making choices about what they like to wear, to eat, etc. If children in this stage are encouraged and supported in their increased independence, they become more confident and secure in their own ability to survive in the world. If children are criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, they begin to feel inadequate in their ability to survive, and may then become overly dependent upon others, lack self-esteem, and feel a sense of shame or doubt in their own abilities.

Initiative vs. Guilt. Around age three and continuing to age six, children assert themselves more frequently. They begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate activities with others. If given this opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative, and feel secure in their ability to lead others and make decisions. Conversely, if this tendency is muffled, either through criticism or control, children develop a sense of guilt. They may feel like a nuisance to others and will therefore remain followers, lacking in self-initiative.

Industry vs. Inferiority. From age six years to puberty, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. They initiate projects, see them through to completion, and feel good about what they have achieved. During this time, teachers play an increased role in the child’s development. If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and feel confident in their ability to achieve goals. If this initiative is not encouraged, if it is restricted by parents or teacher, then the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his own abilities and therefore may not reach his potential.

Challenges in Childhood

Learning Disorders: We say a child has a learning disorder when his or her performance is significantly below his or her IQ, i.e. they are not learning "up to their potential."

Reading DisorderDyslexia is the most common learning disorder. Here, the child's reading scores are significantly below their IQ, their expected age level, or their general abilities. These kids seem to have trouble with the usual left to right scanning of words, which leads them to reverse letters and jumble the spelling.

Helping children with learning disorders has become a significant part of educational research. Basically the help involves slow, careful teaching that gives the child an opportunity to work without the pressures of competition and frustration that exist in the ordinary classroom setting.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Inattention or attention deficit may not become obvious until a child enters the demanding environment of elementary school. Such children then have difficulty paying attention to details and are easily distracted by other events that are occurring at the same time; they find it difficult and unpleasant to finish their schoolwork; they put off anything that requires a continued mental effort; they are prone to make careless mistakes, and are disorganized, losing their school books and assignments; fail to follow through on tasks.

The symptoms of hyperactivity include fidgeting, squirming around when seated, and having to get up frequently to walk or run around. Hyperactive children have difficulty playing quietly, and they may talk excessively. They often behave in an inappropriate and uninhibited way, blurting out answers in class before the teacher’s question has been completed, not waiting their turn.

Separation Anxiety Separation anxiety is a very common problem among children, especially younger ones. The problem is excessive anxiety about separation from the child's parents, other family members, or even their home. When separated, they become withdrawn and depressed and may have difficulty concentrating. They often develop other fears, anxiety about death, and nightmares.

Conduct Disorder Children or adolescents with conduct disorder behave aggressively by fighting, bullying, intimidating, physically assaulting, sexually coercing, and/or being cruel to people or animals. Harm with deliberate destruction of property, for example, setting fires or smashing windows, is common, as are theft; truancy; and early tobacco, alcohol, and substance use and abuse; and precocious sexual activity. The behavior interferes with performance at school or work, so that individuals with this disorder rarely perform at the level predicted by their IQ or age. Their relationships with peers and adults are often poor. Treatment of children with conduct disorder tends to focus on making their family lives happier and more consistent