Study of theories that explain child development
Many psychologists have developed theories to explain child development. One area of development is personality development. Two very inspirational theories of personality development were developed by Sigmund Freud (1923) cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams (2009, p.186) and Erik Erikson (1950) cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams (2009, p.191). Both theories have many similarities, but also have many differences and the purpose of this essay is to compare and discuss the similarities and differences between Sigmund Freud's and Erik Erikson's childhood developmental stages.
Freud (1923) cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams (2009, p.186) developed a psychodynamic (one which tries to explain what drives or motivates development) explanation of personality development. Freud (1923) cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams (2009, p.186) suggests that in the early months of a persons life, their behaviour is driven by the pleasure principle. However, it is not the infant which is motivated; it is the part of their personality called the id (the instinctive part of human personality which demands immediate satisfaction). In addition to the id, there is the ego which is the child’s reality principle and develops in the first two years of life as a consequence of their experiences. At about the age of five, the child develops their superego which is a child’s sense of right and wrong.
Alongside the development of the child’s id, ego and superego every child passes through five psychosexual stages as their libido concentrates on a certain area of their body. Freud (1923) cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams (2009, p.187) suggested that fixations during each stage are what develops a child’s personality. In the oral stage which occurs from 0-18 months, the infant’s erogenous zone (sense of pleasure) is the mouth. Fixations may occur during this stage due to insufficient breast/bottle feeding or too much pleasure at the breast and orally fixated children may seek gratification through thumb sucking. The second phase is the anal stage (Freud, 1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) and occurs between 18-36 months. Pleasure is derived from expelling or withholding faeces. During this stage is where the ego starts to develop. A fixation may be caused by strict potty training which may result in an anal retentive personality.
The phallic stage (Freud, 1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) occurs between 3-6 years and the superego is developed. In this stage, the child focuses on their genitals and on the opposite gender. Fixations are caused by a lack or identification with an adult, and may result in the child being impulsive and having authority problems. During the phallic stage, the child rejects the same gender parent and the opposite gender parent becomes the focus and the conflict is resolved differently in boys and girls. For boys, it is known as the Oedipus conflict where a young boy sees his father as a rival for his mother’s love. For girls it is known as the Electra complex, where girls experience penis envy (where they don’t have a penis and blame their mother). The latency stage (Freud, 1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) occurs from the age of 6 up to the beginning of puberty where little personality development takes place, but instead the child focuses on their intellectual development. Boys and girls do not interact with each other much during this stage; however, they do resolve their Oedipus and Electra complexes.
The final stage is the genital stage (Freud, 1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) which occurs during puberty. Again, the genitals are the main source of focus and pleasure. There is also focus on the development of independence. During the last stage, if some issues remain unsolved the individual can’t shift their attention from their immediate needs to having good relationships with members of both sexes.
Erikson’s (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191) theory of development is slightly different to Freud’s (1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187). Erikson proposes a series of conflicts, or developmental tasks that all people face and resolve in some way. These conflicts are centred on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality, and during these times, the potential for personal growth is high, but so is the potential for failure. Previous developmental outcomes set the stage for upcoming issues, but an individual does not become "stuck" in a phase, as Freud (1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) believed. Instead, the old issue is reworked in the context of current tasks.
One of the main elements of Erikson’s (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191) psychosocial stage theory is the development of ego identity which is the conscious sense of self that humans develop through social interaction. According to Erikson (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191), one’s ego identity is constantly changing due to new experience and information acquired in daily interactions with others. In addition to ego identity, Erikson (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191) also believed that a sense of competence also motivates behaviours and actions. Each stage in Erikson’s (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191) theory is concerned with becoming competent in an area of life through resolving a conflict. If the stage is handled well, the person will feel a sense of mastery, which is sometimes referred to as ego strength or ego quality. If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy. There are eight stages in Erikson’s (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191) theory.
The first stage of development occurs from birth up to the age of one. Here the crisis is trust vs. mistrust. If the basic needs of the infant are met then they learn to trust, and will be more trusting as they develop. However if they are neglected and their basic needs are not met, especially by their maternal figure, then they will resolve this crisis in the negative and be mistrustful throughout their development, or until they are able to resolve this crisis in the positive.
The second stage of development occurs in early childhood between the ages of two and three. Here the crisis is autonomy vs. shame and doubt (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191). The major influential people in their life are the parental figures. This crisis involves the development of self-reliance skills like toileting, feeding one’s self, dressing, and hygiene. If the crisis is resolved in the negative, and these basic skills are not attained to the satisfaction of the child, then they will be ashamed they have not mastered these skills and have longing pains of guilt.
The third stage occurs during the play age years, or between the ages of four and five. Here the crisis is initiative vs. guilt (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191). The influential people at this stage are the child’s family. During this stage the child strives for more independence, and they are more focused on specific goals.
The fourth stage occurs during the school years, or between the ages of six and twelve. The crisis here is industry vs. inferiority. (Erikson, 1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191). Success in attaining knowledge and educational skills and development are the goals to reach at this stage. Failure, or slow progress, can cause this stage to resolve in the negative and lead to feelings of inferiority.
The fifth stage of development is in adolescence, between the ages of 13 and 18. It is during this stage that identity or identity confusion is contemplated. (Erikson, 1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191). Peers play a vital role in the child’s development from child to young adult. It is normal for a trial of various identities during this period. Resolution in the positive results in a firm definition of the self. Trying to find one’s identity during adolescents is a challenge.
Stage six begins as the adolescent arrives in young adulthood. Here sexual development leads to a crisis of intimacy vs. isolation (Erikson, 1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191). Here the person must decide between forming intimate relationships with others, or to spend their life isolated from other relationships. The influential people in this stage of development are friends, lovers, and colleagues.
Once adulthood in well underway a choice between generativity and stagnation must be made. This stage lasts from the age of 26 to the age of 40 (Erikson, 1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191). The person must decide on striving for success in their business or personal life or to take what’s given to them.
The final stage occurs during old age. Here integrity vs. despair is contemplated (Erikson, 1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191). This stage may be one of the more difficult to resolve in the positive. Towards the end of life, adults need to look back on their life. Those who are unsuccessful during the final stage may feel that their life has been wasted, and those who are successful will feel a sense of integrity.
There are many similarities between the two theories. Both theories suggest that development is a staged process that follows a discrete pattern with each stage building upon itself to create a normal or, where a stage goes undeveloped, an abnormal psychology in the individual. The first five stages of Erikson’s (1950, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.191) psychosocial theory and all stages of Freud’s psychosexual theory occur during the same age gaps. Furthermore during the second stage both psychologists believe toilet training was an important part. However, Erikson's (1950, cited by Bee and Boyd, 2004, p.257) reasoning was quite different then that of Freud's (1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187). Erikson believed that learning to control one’s body functions leads to a feeling of control and a sense of independence where as Freud believed it was due to sexual pleasure. Another stage which is also similar is the latency stage in Freud’s (1923 cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) psychosexual theory with Erikson’s (1950, cited by Bee and Boyd, 2004, p.257) fourth stage of industry vs. inferiority because both theorists suggest that during this stage the child concentrates on developing their intelligence. The fifth stages are also quite similar as both theorists suggest the adolescent concentrates on the development of their identity and independence.
There are also many differences in the two theories. The first difference that is immediately noticeable about the two theories is their childhood stages are different in number. Freud’s (1923, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) theory consists of five stages, and Erikson’s (1950, cited by Bee and Boyd, 2004, p.257) eight. Also, Erikson’s (1950, cited by Bee and Boyd, 2004, p.257) theory describes the impact of social experiences across a person’s whole life span; where as Freud’s (1923, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) theory ends at the end of adolescence and assumes that a person does not develop anymore once they reach adulthood. Furthermore, Erikson (1950, cited by Bee and Boyd, 2004, p.257) places a lot less emphasis on the individuals sex drive as a factor of normal development, but instead focuses on social development and a sense of identity. In addition, unlike Freud (1923, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187), Erikson focuses on cultural demands places on children during specific age transitions in their life (Bee and Boyd, 2004, p.257). For example, potty training at an early age is culturally demanded in industrialized countries where the child is going to go to nursery and it is easier for the child to use a toilet than have their nappy changed. Erikson would say that toilet training is culturally influenced where as Freud (1923, cited by Johnston and Nahmad Williams, 2009, p.187) would say it is needed to meet the needs of an anal psychosexual tension (Bee and Boyd, 2004, p.257).
Bee, H., Boyd, D. (2007). The Developing Child. London: Allyn and Bacon
Jphnston, J., Nahmad-Williams, L. (2009) Early Childhood Studies. Harlow: Pearsons Education Limited.
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