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Childhood Developmental Stages in Psychology Essay

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Updated: May 1st, 2020


In addition to hereditary qualities and characteristics, there are certain behavioral features and temperaments that children develop with age. Child development is generally confused with growth but as a matter of fact, both are different. While growth signifies the increase in size and age, development means the growth of capabilities. Various scholars have explained such developments by categorizing the age of children into different stages. Development means enhancement of skills such as:

Gross motor – This means learning to do basic things such as sitting, standing, walking, running, balancing, etc.

Fine motor – This means learning to eat, write, play, etc.

Language – This means learning to speak and use body language to communicate.

Cognitive – This means developing thinking skills by which children start reasoning.

Social – Development of this skill means that a child is capable of interacting with people and understanding the meaning of relationships.

All the aforementioned skills are related to stepwise (stage wise) progress. Each one of the stages is crucial for development. The transition from one stage to other will be successful if the previous one has been passed. Like for example, a child will not be able to play (fine motor skill) if he/she has not passed the gross motor skill (has not learned how to sit, walk and run).

However, Erik H. Erikson’s psychosocial theory (1959) refutes this claim and suggests that it is not necessary to successfully complete all the stages in order to continue growth. At the same time, Erikson believes that the succession of these stages is controlled by nature. If in case any particular stage is skipped, the person might face difficulties in his/her future life to deal with that particular deficiency. So the fact remains that all the stages have to be passed through successfully.

Though each stage has a specific age limit, children with different capabilities might take less or more time (depending on their capabilities and intelligence) to pass through these them. Erikson suggests eight developmental stages: Trust v Mistrust, Autonomy v Doubt, Initiative v Guilt, Industry v Inferiority, Identify v Role confusion, Intimacy v Isolation, Generativity v Stagnation, and Integrity v Despair (McLeod, 2013). For the purpose of this study, we shall discuss the stages pertaining to 4, 6, 13, and 16 years of age.

First child (age 4 years): Relative stage – Initiative v Guilt (Erikson)

By the age of 4 years, a child has already passed the stages of ‘Trust v Mistrust’ and ‘Autonomy v Doubt’. This means that the infancy and early childhood periods are over and the child is entering into the play age. As the name of the stage (Initiative v Guilt) suggests, during this period a child makes initiative actions. The success or failure of such initiatives is immaterial.

The main thing is that the child learns to act on his own behalf. The adventurous behavior of children is enhanced when they are encouraged and appreciated for their actions. They develop self-confidence and understanding to make decisions. This helps them in their future lives to take bold decisions. The problem arises when children are reprimanded for their adventurous actions.

Children become timid and are afraid to take any risks; the guilt of being reprimanded overshadows them. In other words, they are afraid to do anything because of the fear of doing it in a wrong manner. More than the fear of doing wrong, they are afraid of being reprimanded. Gradually, this becomes a reflection of the child’s personality. The child starts believing that he would be safe and free from admonition if he does not initiate anything. This particular belief proves to be very decelerating for the child’s future prospects.

The Initiative v Guilt stage of Erikson’s developmental theory coincides with Phallic stage of Freudian psychosexual theory. Phallic stage signifies the curiosity of children about sexual orientation. They are curious about the differences in organs of males and females.

Answers given by a girl of 4 years of age are in Appendix 1. When asked whether she loved playing with others, the girl replied in the affirmative. According to her, she liked to play with her school friends. She also remembered the names of her school friends. This shows that the girl has the sensibility to choose her friends. This correlates with the basic virtue of Autonomy v Doubt stage of Erikson’s developmental theory. Erikson believes that by this stage, a child has already developed willpower and self-control. During this stage, he/she develops a purpose and direction.

The girl’s answer to the second question (about telling a lie) shows that the parents/guardian of the girl have tried to make her afraid of telling a lie. She thinks that telling a lie would result in elongation of her nose. The girl’s purpose and direction are visible in her answer to the third question about the importance of going to school. She feels that going to school would improve her knowledge. Her answer to the fourth question signifies her likes. She is fond of playing with her school friends.

It is noticeable that the girl’s answers to the first and the fourth questions are similar. This means that for her, happiness and play are correlated. Her answer to the fifth question depicts that she has been taught to love God and respect His powers. The answers suggest that the girl is behaving according to an elder child. Her understanding of friends, telling a lie, importance of going to school, what makes her happy, and the identity of God clearly depict that she has a better understanding of the world as compared to other children of her age.

Second child (age 6 years): Relative stage – Industry v Inferiority (Erikson)

By industry, Erikson means an action that has some rationale or sense. During this stage, a child develops certain abilities and skills to perform activities. He/she also develops a confidence of doing things using a significant method. Erikson believes that this stage is very crucial because it is in this stage that the child enters life; to be ready to face the challenges.

This stage coincides with the Latency stage of Freud’s psychosexual theory. Latency stage signifies the transformation of a child’s concentration from sexual matters to the desire to develop his/her talents. if a child is satisfied with past achievements, successful completion of this stage will not be a problem. On the contrary, a child who does not perform well at school will develop a sort of inferiority complex and become depressed. Similar would be the fate of a child who has been admonished for his/her actions and has never been encouraged. Such children feel that they are inferior to others and are not capable of doing things straight.

This stage demands the use of available devices and know-how in order to enhance knowledge. It can be understood as preparation of future life; being productive can help in garnering respect of colleagues and superiors. On the other hand, inferiority complex would drive a child to be unproductive and with a low profile (McLeod, 2013).

The answers to the questionnaire given by a boy of 6 years have been included at Appendix 1. The answer to the first question shows that while the 4 year old child had a broader choice of people to play with, this child (6 years old) was happy to play with his relatives. This happened because by now the child has gained understanding of relationships. Answer to question depicts that the fear of telling a lie has been replaced by a feeling of respect. The child feels that it would be disrespectful to tell a lie.

Answer to the third question validates the Industry v Inferiority stage. The child feels that it is important to go to school because only then he can learn new things. According to Erikson, this stage is more about learning and a desire to develop talents. A feeling of competition is evident in the child’s answer. He is determined to go to school, learn and excel. In his answer to the fourth question, the child replies that he is happy because he would have a new brother with whom he would play a lot.

This is a childish reply that is not appropriate for a child of his age. It means that the child has not grown up according to his age. Probably, he missed some of the previous stages. As Erikson said, missing any stage poses difficulties in future life. Answer to the fifth question again shows a change in the understanding as compared to the child of 4 years.

The 4 year child was a bit afraid of the powers of God (while being in love with him). This child (6 years) is aware of some information; God lives in heaven and his birthday is on December 24th. The answers coincide with the basic virtue of the Industry v Inferiority stage. The child shows competence and method in his actions and thoughts.

Third child (age 13 years): Relative stage – Identity v Role confusion (Erikson)

By identity, Erikson means the perception of children about their standing in comparison to others. The children understand themselves and compare their qualities to those of others. On the contrary, there are children who are unable to recognize their talents and as such, cannot compare themselves to other people. Erikson terms this situation as ‘role confusion’. It means that children cannot identify the role that they have to play during communications and interactions with people.

This stage of Erikson’s developmental theory relates to the Genital stage of Freud’s psychosexual theory. Freud believes that during this stage, the sexual urge that had been inactive during the Latency stage is revoked. This happens due to the physical changes experienced by children. Children are confronted with their urge to be close to the opposite sex.

There are certain behavioral changes as well, according to which children start behaving abnormally and disrespectfully. As a result of diversion of attention, children become reckless and take their schoolwork lightly. The reason is that their preferences have changed and they are now concentrating all their energy on something else that is unproductive (McLeod, 2013).

The answers to the questionnaire are included in Appendix 1. According to the answer to the first question, the child is now interested in sharing his problems with his friends. He has imposed faith in them and is happy playing with them. The answer to the second question about telling a lie shows that the feeling of respect (in the previous stage) has been replaced by a feeling of trust. This seems to be a good transition of thoughts. Answers to question numbers three and four suggest that the child is behaving like a younger kid.

Even a small child knows that schools are meant for learning. A child of thirteen years should have given a better reply with appropriate explanation. His answer to the fourth question informs that he is happy when he plays football. This coincides with identity v Role confusion stage of Erikson’s developmental theory. Erikson suggests that during stage children deviate from the reality and search pleasure in things that are unproductive. It is true that if he plays football sincerely, he could excel in the game but not everyone can become a Pele. In today’s competitive world, studies are more important that games and sports. The child’s answer to the fifth question is again childish and makes us believe that his thoughts about God are still those of a younger child. By the age of thirteen, a child should know a lot about religion and God.

Fourth child (age 17 years): Relative stages – Identity v Role confusion and Intimacy v Isolation (Erikson)

The age of 17 years is a mix of two stages: Identity v Role confusion and Intimacy v Isolation. In addition to the traits of Identity v Role confusion, this age also has some traces of Intimacy v Isolation. This stage stresses more on the importance relationships and that is why Erikson has used the word ‘intimacy’. As a reflection to Freud’s theory, Erikson also refers to sexual relation in this particular stage.

During this stage, people exert more on building and strengthening relationships with family and those related to marital bliss. Since an attraction towards the opposite sex has already developed in the previous stage, people start feeling lonely due to lack of a partner. They become lonely and feel great need of a partner. They feel that some void has been created in their lives and try to fill this void by entering into relationships with the opposite sex. In event of their unsuccessful attempt, they become aloof from the society and desist from participating in any activity (social or academic).

Answers to the questionnaire are included in Appendix 1. All the answers given by the child of 17 years are appropriate to his age. His answer to the first question shows that he is burdened with his school work and has great stress. In order to get relief from such stress, he wants to get involved in some games. The answer to second question shows the manipulative behavior of the child. Even though he knows that telling a lie is not good, he feels that sometimes it is beneficial to tell a lie.

What situations those might be? This question could be best answered by the child himself. Situations where telling a lie does not harm anyone, might be right for the child. His answer to the third question shows that the child has better understanding of life and is well aware of his aims in life. He accepts the fact that studying inculcates knowledge that can prove helpful in his future life. Fourth question’s answer relates to Intimation v Isolation stage of Erikson’s developmental theory. The child is happy being with his family. It means that he is trying to establish a strong bond with his family.

The questionnaire did not include questions on love and opposite sex otherwise the answer could have further strengthened the theory. Such questions were deliberately omitted because the same questions had to be asked to children of all ages and asking questions pertaining to love to younger children did not seem appropriate. The child has a better understanding of religion and God. This is witnessed in his answer to the fifth question wherein he feels that God is present everywhere but cannot be seen; this is a fact.


Each child has his own intelligence and the power of grasping things and as such, the development is not the same in all children. Some of them develop skills faster while the others are slow in responding to learning activities. Even though the rate of development is different, children have to pass through certain milestones in order to follow a normal development process. Such milestones can be divided into four major categories of development: Physical, Social and emotional, thinking talent, and communication talent. Each milestone is correlated to the preceding and the next milestone; they overlap each other.

Physical development relates to the physical activities of a child wherein he learns to perform the initial activities such as sitting, standing, walking, running, etc. Social and emotional development relates to the abilities of children pertaining to being attentive, making transitions, and teamwork. Developing thinking skills is very crucial for being innovative in life.

If this particular skill is developed perfectly, children can excel in life. Thinking can facilitate innovations. Children are well aware of the things to be done and use innovative methods to perform activities. Gradually, with the increase in age, children start acquiring communication talents. Apart from Erikson’s developmental theory, there is another theory that is widely accepted. It is the theory of cognitive development by Jean Piaget. While Piaget relates the developmental stages to sex, Erikson relates them to various activities.

As mentioned by Erikson, all children don’t develop in the same manner and within the same timeframe. So parents should not press the panic button if their child shows signs of slow development. One of the main reasons for the slow development of a child might be less availability of opportunities to use and/or express his understanding.

Parents generally do not allow their children to take up risky jobs. In such instances, children develop a kind of fear for that particular activity. Similarly, if a child seems to communicate sluggishly, it might be possible that his hearing might not be perfect and he might not have heard the instructions clearly. Genetic disorders (that the child might have acquired from his parents) might also be a reason for slow development.


McLeod, S. (2013). .

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