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The Theory of Psychosocial Development (1959) written by one of the most influent psychoanalyst of the 20th century, Erik Erikson (1902-1944), is compounded by eight different stages of psychosocial development. In each stage a psychosocial crisis is experienced and will lead to a positive or negative outcome for the development of the personality. Since there is involvement of the psychological needs of the individual (i.e. psycho) in conflict with the society needs (i.e. social) it is considered a psychosocial crisis. Two conflicting ideas must be resolved successfully in order to a person to become a confident, contributing member of the society ( , “Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development”, para 2). The successful completion of which one will result in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues that are going to be used to solve future crisis. In the other hand, the failure to complete the stages successfully are associated to a reduced capacity to complete further stages and consequently the development of an unhealthy personality and the feeling of inadequacy. Each stage is associated with a time of life and a general age span. ( , “Erik Erikson and Child Development”, para 2). However, the stages can be successfully completed later in life.
The third Stage of Erik Erikson Theory
This paper is going to focus on the third stage of Erikson’s Theory, the Initiative vs Guilt, that occurs during preschool years, between 3-5 years old. At this age the children are prepared to take control and power over the environment by taking initiative by planning activities, accomplishing tasks and facing challenges (, ” Understanding Initiative vs Guilt”, para 2). Playing has a fundamental importance since it offers the possibility of exploring the interpersonal skills when initiating activities. Children begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate activities with others (, “Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development”, para 21).
It is mandatory that the parents allow the children to explore within limits and support their choices, a tough task since the natural sense of protection to avoid danger might restrict the initiatives. The children take initiatives which parents will often try to stop in order protect the child ( , “Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development”, para 5). An excellent scenario would be the conjunction of safe boundaries and encouragement of the children to make their own choices. If given the opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative and feel secure in their ability to lead others and make decisions. (, “Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development”, para 3).
And why would the children feel guilty? They may feel guilty over things that logically should not cause guilt. They may feel guilty when this self-initiative does not produce desired results ( , “Erik Erikson’s Third Stage Initiative vs Guilt”, para 6). When the children’s initiative is misfire or stifled by over-controlling parents, fear of trying new things and making mistakes bring the feeling of guilt. Frustration is another possible reaction when parents want to take more of the control and the children are looking for more independency. Children may engage in behavior that seem aggressive, ruthless, and overly assertive to parents when they are not able to achieve a goal as planned ( , Erik Erikson’s Third Stage Initiative vs Guilt, para 7). It’s very common to see at this age children throwing objects, yelling or even hitting when the results are not the expected!
Trying to make these explanations clearer, let’s give some real examples. The names were changed to protect identity.
Peter is a 4 year olds child. He in is the daycare since he is two. He has no siblings. He can be described as a very curious boy with endless energy. At 3 year olds he discovered that he could do many things by himself. He wouldn’t accept any help. And if you do something instead of him, be aware that it will be the begin of a war! He wants to shower and change by himself but sometimes his parents don’t have enough time for him since it takes longer and they try to show how to do it faster. The result is a very mad boy that hits the parents and yells non-stop “me, me, me” meaning that they should leave him so he can continue trying by himself. Here the sense of frustration and guilt is clear by Peter as he feels that he can’t achieve success in his goals.
Martina is a 3 year olds girl. She has a 7 year olds brother. She can be described as an independent girl since ever. She adapted to the nursery very well. She likes to play with the neighbors without the company of her mom or dad. Trying to avoid that she leaves the house by herself, her parents put a lock very high in the door. She couldn’t reach it. But Martina fixed this “problem”. She first took a plastic chair, step on it but still couldn’t reach the lock. She had a better idea: taking the plastic table where she plays. But she also couldn’t reach it. Martina finally found the solution: putting the chair on top of the table and stepping o it! She reached the lock and almost killed the parents when they saw the scene! Her parents were very concerned about the consequences that could have happened. But instead of yelling at her or putting her on the corner to think about her act, they explained her the situation showing her how dangerous it was. They believe that her creativity to solve a situation is extremely important and should be stimulated. This way Martina builds her self-initiative and independency.
Erik Erikson’s Theory: just a theory or reality?
The third stage of Erik Erikson Theory can easily clarify the behavior of toddlers putting on the side the ideas that at that age, 3-5, the children are just stubborn, spoiled or bad educated. It shows, based on the science, the importance of independency in the childhood and its results as well as the damage that might happen when ignoring these early self-initiatives. This stage can describe with trustworthiness the daily situations experienced in this age and can be applied to real situations.

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