Erikson’s stages of personality development are useful for understanding the patterns of psychosocial development over the life-span. This paper reviews the first four stages of Erikson’s psychosocial development scale. The key changes at each stage of psychosocial development are described. Literature selections for children at different stages of psychosocial development are recommended and their importance is justified.
Keywords: Erikson, psychosocial, development, personality, literature.
Erikson’s Stages of Personality Development
Erikson’s stages of personality development are crucial for understanding the patterns of psychosocial development throughout the life-span. Erikson emphasized the importance of psychosocial conditions in personality development and growth from the earliest days into senior years. Of particular importance are the first four stages of Erikson’s psychosocial development, which cover the period between infancy and school years. These are the stages that lay the foundation for the development of mature adult personalities. Given the importance of psychological and social factors in children’s development and growth, it comes as no surprise that literature is claimed to play the fundamental role in how the child develops. Children’s personality grows from an innate substratum that is constantly modified by environmental influences (Harris, 1995). Therefore, parents and developmental professionals should be particularly thorough in their choice of literature for infants and children.
Infancy (age 0-1) is the very first stage of Erikson’s personality development scale. This is the stage of personality development when infants engage in their first relationship with the parents (Aiken, 1998). The basic needs of infants at this stage of development include, but are not limited to warmth, nourishment, and physical contact (Aiken, 1998). This is when the infants learn the difference between trust and mistrust (Hassan & Bar-Yam, 1987; Aiken, 1998). As a result, reading aloud books with large pictures and interesting characters, like animals or toys, will become the most appropriate choice for parents. The goal of reading aloud is to establish a close physical contact with the child (Aiken, 1998). Also, reading aloud and showing books with bright pictures will contribute to the development of trusting relationships between the parent and the child. The range of books for infants 0-1 years old is so diverse, that recommending any particular book is virtually impossible. The most important thing to consider is that the book, its pictures and texts should get the infant’s attention and motivate the infant to respond verbally or non-verbally to any questions asked about the book and its content.
After the first year of life, children enter the second stage of psychosocial development. According to Erikson’s personality development theory, the early childhood stage lasts until the child is 3 years old. At this stage of psychosocial development, the child must learn the difference between doubt and autonomy (Aiken, 1998). Children begin mastering the physical environment they are in. They learn to control their activities. They also develop the sense of doubt with regard to their independence capabilities (Aiken, 1998). Additionally, they learn to become autonomous from their parents and develop a better awareness of their parents and other family members. This being said, it is better to choose books that highlight the most important aspects and praise the development of productive parent-child relationships. Moreover, it is useful to choose books that teach children how to cope with their basic daily tasks. For example, Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny is a perfect book for children 2-3 years of age, which tells a colorful story of small bunnies and their mother. Simultaneously, Mem Fox’s Time for Bed with illustrations shows how children are getting ready for bed. Both selections are appropriate for this stage of the child’s psychosocial development, but parents should not limit their choices to these particular books.
After the early childhood stage follows Erikson’s play stage of children’s psychosocial development. Between 3 and 6 years of age, children develop their sexual identity and consciousness (Aiken, 1998). Children no longer limit themselves to imitation but learn how to act on their own (Aiken, 1998). Initiative and guilt are the guiding elements of psychosocial development at this age. Simply stated, children explore new venues but also develop the sense of guilt about trying to be more independent from parents. They develop the feeling of guilt every time their actions and initiatives throw them into a conflict with others, including parents. This is why the most appropriate books at this stage of development are those, which describe children’s actions and responsibilities. Either humorous or serious, these books should teach children to cope with their concerns and conflicts, as they are moving to become more independent. The Story of Ferdinand, written by Munro Leaf and first published in 1936, is one of the best choices parents can make, when their children reach the play stage of psychosocial development. Ferdinand is a bull who spends his time smelling flowers, while other bulls are running and jumping. However, one day, he is stung by a bee, and the accident uncovers his most unusual character features. Other books may include Carson-Dellosa’s Summer Bridge Activities, Rylant’s The Relatives Came, or Long’s How I Became a Pirate. From all these books, children either learn to be more independent or develop better conflict resolution skills.
At the age of 7, children finally enter the school stage, where they finally learn the difference between industry and inferiority (Aiken, 1998). They also develop the sense of self-worth for being successful in their school and out-of-school endeavors. At this stage, children develop new learning skills and learn the pain of inferiority, once they fail to accomplish their tasks. At school, children must work with other children towards their common tasks. They also need to learn how to prove their superiority and capability to do complex things. Therefore, literature selections used at this stage of psychosocial development must teach children how to master various skills and become more successful than their peers. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Thiele’s Blue Fin, or Brooks’ Freddy Goes to Florida support children’s striving to outperform their peers and friends. They teach children to find ways from the most difficult situations. They also support children’s psychosocial development, by empowering them to become more persistent and stubborn in their way to success.
Numerous environmental influences shape children’s personality. Reading is believed to greatly contribute to children’s psychosocial development. Erikson’s stages of personality development provide useful information and can guide parents’ choices in their children’s reading activities. Depending on the stage of personality development, parents will have to focus on teaching their children the basic daily skills, or develop trust in their relationships, or empower their children to move towards their goals. At any stage of psychosocial development, the choice of books will predetermine children’s successes and achievements. Therefore, parents and developmental professionals must be particularly thorough, while choosing books for their children.