Erikson’s Developmental Stages

Physical, Emotional and Psychological Stages of Development

KNOWING what, when and how to meet the needs of your child’s development, supports you as a parent - committed to providing the environment your child needs to grow up happy, healthy, and whole. Remember, too, to trust your child to lead you in how best to meet their needs through each exciting, extraordinary developmental stage. Scroll down and click the age you are looking for.

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (1902 - 1994) described the physical, emotional and psychological stages of development, and related the specific issues, or developmental work or tasks, to each stage. For example,  as you meet your infant’s physical and emotional need, (i.e. his cries are soothed, her smiles are met with yours) your actions effect the connections in your infant’s brain necessary to complete the primary task of learning it is safe to trust.

Developing trust is the most crucial of all tasks. As you meet your baby’s needs, your actions wire the limbic brain for a lifelong secure sense of self through the consistent, pleasurable bonding between baby and you. The quality of this most critical period of primary bonding is the foundation for all development to follow. Joy-based family bonding is the foundation that establishes your child’s lifelong ability to share emotional intimacy, attain optimal intellectual potential, develop compassion, empathy, and the ability to trust in relationships, form self-identity and self-esteem, control emotions, develop language and motor control, and strengthen brain structures and organization of the nervous system. However, a child whose parents compromise the infant’s biological desperation to trust will physically move through each subsequent stage, but will emotionally carry with him or her the remnants of their incomplete, foundational rupture of what mattered most. With this crack in the foundation of the child’s developing personality, normal completion of the following stages is placed at-risk. All stages are dependent upon the healthy process and completion of the task before. For instance, what happens when a parent interrupts or denies a toddler opportunities to experiment with the objects in his world, such as discovering dirt and water = mud, or the wonder of gravity as he watches his food drop to the floor over and over again? The child’s brain misses the critical neural wiring those experiences would have provided, including the emotional awareness of feeling confidence in his or her abilities. When normal curiosity and “hands on” experiences are thwarted, the neural building blocks necessary for later developmentally-appropriate steps towards independence and self-confidence are compromised, as well. Similarly, a pre-schooler who is made to feel that the activities that he or she initiates are “silly”, “bad”, or interrupting of the caregivers schedule, is at-risk for developing a sense of self-doubt, inhibition, and/or lack of motivation later in life.

Click on the Developmental Stage below:



Ego Developmental Task: Trust vs Mistrust

Healthy brain development requires prompt soothing with minimal uncertainty in order to establish the infant’s trust within the primary maternal relationship.

Basic strength: Drive and Hope

Erikson referred to infancy as the Oral Sensory Stage, as baby puts everything in her mouth. The primary emphasis is on the mother’s consistent, nurturing care for her infant, interpreted by the baby through her eye to eye contact and touch. If the mother earns the trust of her child through this period of life, her baby will learn to trust that relationship with others is pleasurable, thus developing the neural wiring required for compassion and empathy.

If the infant lacks a consistent experience of trust, such as feeling frustrated because their needs are not met, the infant becomes vulnerable for developing a sense of worthlessness and mistrust of the world, in general.

Research of emotional and social difficulties developing in later stages points to the importance of these early years for developing the basic belief that the world is trustworthy, and that every individual has value.

The infant’s most significant primary relationship is with the mother, or whoever is the child’s most consistent caregiver.



Ego Developmental Task: Autonomy vs. Shame

Basic Strengths: Self-control, Courage, and Will

Task is to master physical environment while developing self-esteem

During this stage, the toddler learns to master skills for himself. Not only does he learn to walk, talk and feed himself, he is also learning fine-motor development, and the much appreciated toilet training. As your child gains more control over his body, and develops cognitive skills such as language and expected social behaviors, your positive reactions and encouragement will support his emerging self-confidence and autonomy.

One critical skill during the “Terrible Two’s” is discovering the power of “NO!” It may become bothersome for parents, but this display of rugged independence develops crucial skills for growing towards autonomy in later years.

Paradoxically, as your child becomes more empowered in controlling his world, he may also feel frightened and vulnerable. If he is shamed in the complicated process of toilet training, or in learning other important skills, he may develop a crippling sense of shame and doubt in his capabilities.

What happens when parents remember their own early sense of childhood - how so much of a child’s experience involves a courageous step into the unknown when learning how the world works, and learning how to control themselves and the world around them? Our normal adult reactions of frustration, impatience, or the need to punish are replaced with compassion, empathy, and the joy of embracing just how precious and full of wonder your child truly is.

The joy-based interplay between parent and child is the most significant component to prepare your toddler’s confidence for growing forward.



Ego Developmental Task: Initiative vs Guilt

Basic Strength: Purpose

Begins to initiate, not imitate, activities; begins to develop conscience and sexual identity

During this period your child experiences a desire to copy adults, and take initiative in creating play situations. This is the time of make believe stories with dolls and play houses, toy phones and miniature cars, playing out roles in a trial universe, experimenting with the blueprint for what your child believes it means to be an adult.

And, what about that wonderful word, “WHY?”

Yes, this word can try your patience, but when you answer with an authentic and understandable answer, your curious child’s neurological wiring strengthens in preparation for future learning.

Erikson emphasized the psychosocial features of conflict between child and parents as a foundational task. For instance, during this stage the child usually becomes involved in the classic “Oedipal struggle,” and resolves this struggle through “gender role identification.” If her natural desires and goals are not recognized and honored by us as parents, she may easily experience guilt.

The most significant relationship is with the basic family.

School-Age Child


Ego Developmental Task: Industry vs Inferiority

Child develops a sense of self-worth by refining skills

Basic Strengths: Method and Competence
During this stage, often called the Latency stage, the child becomes capable of more complex learning, creating and accomplishing numerous new skills and knowledge, building a personal sense of industry. And, as your child’s world expands into the realm of school expectations and increasing opportunities for peer relationships, feelings of inadequacy or inferiority can emerge. Your compassion and listening ear will support her in developing competence and self-esteem as she negotiates through these early school years.

As the world expands outside of the home environment, your child’s most significant relationships expand into the school and community. You, as the parent, are no longer the sole authority you once were. Authority figures such as teachers, school administrators, and coaches now influence your child. You, as the parent, will remain crucial throughout the lifetime.



12 TO 18 YEARS
Ego Developmental Task: Identity vs Role Confusion

The teen’s primary task is to integrate social roles – child, sibling, student, athlete, worker – into a self-image that has been greatly influenced by you, and now also influenced by adult and peer role models, and significant peer pressure.

Basic Strengths: Devotion and Fidelity

Up to this stage, according to Erikson, development mostly depends upon what is done to us. From here on out, development depends primarily upon what a person does. As adolescence is a stage in which the person negotiates between leaving childhood and entering adulthood, life is definitely becoming more complex as the child attempts to find his own identity, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues.

The child’s task is to discover who they are as individuals, emotionally begin to separate from their family of origin, and become members of the wider society. Unfortunately for those around them, as they navigate this highly complex, and often confusing process, teens may sink into a period of withdrawing from responsibilities, which Erikson termed a “moratorium.” You, as the parent, confront a significant challenge to steer your teen through this time. Authentic listening, patience, and respect with reasonable limits are critical for your teen to feel supported and understood. Often, the basis for withdrawal is a fear of the unknown and / or a teen’s perception that he lacks the ability to meet the increasing demands of adult responsibilities. Threats, punishment, and parental withdrawal are often counterproductive, with the teen staying “stuck.” Feeling supported by you and/or a therapist, will often improve the chance for success in regaining your teen’s momentum to progress through this challenging stage.

Another significant task for the teen is to begin to establish a personal philosophy of life. Adolescent thinking targets ideals, which are conflict free, rather than reality, which is not. The problem becomes that, lacking adequate experience, the teen trusts the ideals of youth, rather than the adult’s authentic, tried and tested experience.

Just as importantly, the teen develops strong devotion to his friends, as well as political, religious, or social causes.

For the teen, the most significant relationships are with peer groups.

Note: Neuroscience demonstrates that teenagers and young adults are not fully mature in their judgment, problem-solving and decision-making capacities. Adolescence, roughly defined as the period between the onset of puberty and maturity, may last from age 10 to age 25.