Developmental Stages

If one pursues a question long enough, reading various authors from a variety of times and places on the issue, you will be amazed at the many similarities of thought and conclusions arrived at by what seems to be such radically different people. This is just as true of the question of how to raise children as it is of any other.

Modern authors like Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Erik Erikson all considered stages people go through on their way to maturity. This consideration was not unique to them but was also taken up by Aristotle. Similarities between these authors separated by some two and half thousand years is amazing. The differences between their various divisions speaks to the particular parts of a persons maturity each was concerned with.

In his book on the Politics Aristotle makes a division of child development into three parts: infancy, the time of play which extends to the age of five to seven, and then the age of education begins until the youth is able to marry.

Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget considered the earliest years of a childhood, however each from very different perspectives. Frued’s model is called the stages of psychosexual development because it seeks to answer the question of how children learn to balance their desire for pleasure against contrary forces. Jean Piaget observes the means by which children learn and thus his are known as the stage of cognitive development. An Aristotelian might loosely associate Freud’s model with the development of the passions and Piaget’s with the development of intellect.

Freud, viewing sex as the ultimate goal man’s experience of pleasure, describes its experience in terms of erogenous zones which children learn to experience, and manage societal expectation of that experience, one at a time. First is the Oral Stage in which one experiences pleasure primarily through the mouth. Next is the Anal Stage wherein pleasure is felt by the elimination of the bowels. Freud’s third stage is called the Phalic and is a time in which the child has to resolve their experience of pleasure in response to the parent of the opposite gender. If the child successfully resolves these various stages he enters a period of Latency until puberty when the child enters sexual maturity and the Genital Stage and are able to make decisions about their own pursuit of pleasure and societies restrictions upon that pursuit.

In his many years as a child psychologist, Jean Piaget observed that children learned in different ways at different times. First the child experiences his environment through his senses, this period is called the Sensory Motor Stage. During this stage the child learns object permanence. Next comes the Preoperational Stage where the child learns through play. As the child develops the ability to abstract and think logically he moves away from representative play characteristic of the preoperational stage and learns through conversation in the Concrete Operational Stage. However logic and reasoning are not learned overnight but begins rigidly and with out an ability to use deductive reasoning or articulate abstract realities. This done in what Piaget calls the Formal Operational Stage.

Erik Erikson picks up in a similar vein as Freud, and we might expect this as Erikson’s only post secondary studies were conducted at the Psychoanalytic school Freud founded in Vienna and run at that time by Sigmund’s daughter, Anna. Erikson seeks to answer the question, “How does the child develop all of his faculties: intellectual, volitional, and emotional?” We will consider his first three stages as they are the ones about children and adolescents.

First the child is tasked with developing Trust or expecting mistrust in many of their relationships. Next the child seeks to develop Autonomy at the risk of experiencing shame in relation to his parents. Similarly the next stage the child must develop Initiative in school and among his peers or a pervading sense of guilt.As the child grows in a sense of Initiative he learns to apply that initiative and become Industrious. Failing to develop a sense of industry the child learns to feel inferior. Having mastered the Trust, Autonomy, Initiative, and industry, the youth is left with a final task before marriage, the development of their Identity or who they are in relation to rest of society.

While each of these writers considers child development from various angles: the management of pleasure, how to learn, how to relate to the broader society but each recognizes that childhood and adolescence is a series of stages requiring the successful accomplishment each and in a particular order if we are to become happy adults.