With our discussion of Freud as our general model, we will examine the remaining theorists on our chart, identify the areas that they agree are essential for successful resolution of the various stages, and then group them together and see where the overlap falls. Ready to do this?
This should not take that long, as we worked out a lot of the kinks in how we move through the successful resolution of stages and build upon those successes. Let's try Erikson, because I like how he represents his stages as a series of conflicts, which I think is a nice metaphor for how it feels to go through the process. In the first stage, Erikson represents this conflict as one of trust vs. mistrust. We want things to come out on the trust side. The key to this is consistent, attentive, accepting parenting. Great. This establishes, among other things, the pattern of emotional reliability, that you can trust people in general, which is the foundation of all future interactions for the individual.
In a way that lends itself well to the construction of an interdependent development model, Erikson acknowledges the importance of potty training in a different way than Freud. Freud concerned himself with the development of the capacity for self-regulation, where Erikson looked at the consequences of that accomplishment. Having exerted control on themselves, the child now wants to set about exerting control on other things. This is a great time to give the child more choices to be in charge of, like what they wear, or what they have for lunch, or what movie the family watches, as a gradual encouragement in the exertion of themselves on their environment. This conflict is characterized as autonomy vs. shame and doubt. Again, there can hardly be much disagreement about which side we are pulling for. Encourage decision making in choice context, where there are no wrong answers, and encourage the act of making the choice.
The third of Erikson's stages is given to the conflict between initiative and guilt. Initiative can be understood as the willingness to act, and this stage is where children learn to extend their influence on the world around them to include their ability to direct play and manage small social situations. This can be fostered by having children in groups take turns deciding what activities the group will engage in, or take turns inventing a game to play and teaching the rules. This expression of creativity builds positively on the creative drive seen in our sexual development.
The fourth stage, kicking off around 5-6 years of age, which corresponds with the latent stage in Freud's aspect, is where the first real seeds of self-identity are sown in the industry vs. inferiority conflict. Through this new found sense of social efficacy, children begin processing feedback on which actions generate a positive response in the social universe. Imagine a blind social self who discovers itself in a dark, undefined space. With a sonar-like experimentation this blind social self sounds out the social universe, defining the accepted/declared boundaries based on the shape of the responses to their social probes, and in so doing defines the limits of its own growth. Children do this by experimenting with a wide variety of skills and abilities (not limited to the social ability set) in the presence of others. Positive responses reinforce the idea of themselves as "a person who can do things like x". The absence of positive response, not only a negative response, stops experimentation in that direction. Negative responses have a negative influence on the emerging sense of self-worth. All of this to say, what is rewarded with praise, or even just attention, is what the individual will define as their self-worth. Natural pattern finders. These become the things that the individual feels pride about for the rest of their life. Much recent research has gone into how kids respond to different reward structures at this age, but I think we will have to save that for future exploration. Suffice to say that if a kid only gets attention from parents when they misbehave, they define their self-worth by misbehaving. Praise, pay attention to, the characteristics you want to see in your child. We will mention this when it can be helpful in resolving some of the challenges in other aspects of development in a bit.
This carries us to adolescence and the identity vs. confusion conflict where, armed with their newly defined self-worth, kids begin testing this identity in real world situations, stretching out their ability to exert their identity in broader contexts and on larger events. Basically, you get about a decade to test out the fit between your experience of the world and what you pride yourself upon, really settling it into a stable platform from which you plan to operate for the rest of your life. I mean, it usually doesn't work like that, and there are a couple of reset options along the way, but it seems like if you do a pretty decent job the first time, which is made a lot easier with the appropriate priming in the fourth stage, you can avoid most of those usually messy world paradigm readjustments. To be clear, the reset options I am talking about usually present as the quarter-life and mid-life crises. You should be able to avoid those by successful resolution of the developmental challenges along the way.
The sixth stage, intimacy vs. isolation, is one that a number of people in contemporary society are worried about right now, and as a 30 year old single man, I can understand why. This is where we learn to have intimate relationships with people. There are a couple other aspects to this particular skill, and we will get to those here in a minute, but what Erikson focused on was the need to have a defined sense of self before real intimacy was even possible. There has been a lot of great research on how this happens, but again, most of that will have to wait. What is important here is that successful resolution of this stage depends on the successful resolution of the self identity challenge of the previous stage. If we wanted to carry on the theme of exerting ones identity into the social universe, this could be seen as a progression in the harmony available for two such defined identities, exploring how deep such connections between people can go.
The seventh stage, generation vs. stagnation, is beyond the scope of our current developmental model, so we will but say that it is the effort of a developed being to explore how far their influence and acceptance can extend, and trying to find a sphere of influence that fits them (bigger is not always better). The eighth stage, integrity vs. despair, is when you look back on life, and if your pride moments out shine your regret moments, you will blossom into a healthy wisdom carrier for your culture. So, again, think about how we decide which characteristics we are choosing to reward when kids are 6-10, because what those characteristics are will also inform whether they age with gratitude and peace or bitter despair. Which would you choose for your child?