The psychosexual development is not only the first aspect that we deal with on the chart, it is also the earliest resolved. Freud, and subsequent theorists, have described in detail the ramifications of not dealing with these stages appropriately, and I imagine that we have all heard enough about the Oedipus Complex to last us for three lifetimes. Here's some good news: as developmentalists, we don't have to pay too much attention to all of that. It is great stuff, and very valuable for people who work in the fields of counseling and clinical psychology, and I am thrilled that there are people doing that work to help people get healthy. That is not our goal. All we want is an idea of what we need to do in order to not become that kind of unhealthy. An added note: sexual development as we are considering it is the development of the sexual impulse, and the progression through which it proceeds. This is not an attempt to explore the differences in sexual identity, or sexual preference, or sexual practice, or an exploration of the cultural or normative value of any of the above.
Freud offers five stages of psychosexual development, but considering that one is a Latent stage, we only really have to deal with four of them. Isn't developmental theorizing fun? The first stage is the oral stage. Kids explore both the shape of mouths, and the taste of things, and want to breastfeed. The important thing to remember here is that kids do not have a great ability to self-regulate, or exhibit patience, so denying these oral impulses will not be understood and will result in some pretty particular dysfunctions. At the same time, excessive indulgence will result in different sorts of dysfunctions. The key appears to be stability from the parental standpoint. Don't make it a big deal, and just try to keep things that you don't want in their mouth out of their reach. Weaning, which is just the transition away from breastfeeding, introduces the concept of self-regulation (self-control) and delayed gratification and that announces the end of the stage. This is the first step the identification/differentiation conflict, which provides the forward momentum for the progress through the developmental landscape. Next we move to the anal stage, where potty training becomes the central task now that self-regulation is a possibility.
One of the things that will come up in our examination of these theories is that trying to institute some of these developmental changes before the child is ready can result in unnecessary pressure on the child in that particular regard. We must keep Time in mind. The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. Sexual exploration, for example. Generally, a pretty healthy thing for a 20 year old to engage in, less so for a 20 month old. Time always matters. This is a child who is just beginning to file away, literally, every single fact about the way they work and the world works around them. When you stress particular developmental changes at early ages children prioritize that. Children pushed into potty training before they are ready become excessively controlling organized, sometimes resulting in an obsessive compulsive disorder. We call it being anal, which is actually short for Freud's technical term, anal retentive. This development of self-regulation can be aided by setting up small patience-reward systems. For example, when a kid asks for a cookie, telling them yes, they can have a cookie, if they are willing to wait for five minutes can help them develop the self-regulation they need to successfully navigate this stage. At this time children also register the concept of creation, as they create their own fecal matter. They can explore other means of creation. In the terms of our identification/differentiation conflict, this is when children comprehend that they can produce from themselves something that becomes not themselves.
The phallic stage is where a lot of the more notorious of Freud's claims originate. This is where the Oedipus Complex, and the corresponding if less widely agreed upon female counterpart the Electra Complex are found. There are two primary characteristics of this stage. The first is that children discover their genitalia, and will begin to play with that body part. This is fine, it is a healthy thing for children to realize that that is a special part of the body, and yes, the sensation available there is awesome and unique. Given that they will already have developed some self-regulation in the last stage, we want to try and emphasize here that, while awesome, you should not do that so much in public.
The second characteristic is the one where children develop one of the complexes mentioned above. This is when children, in the process of discovering their gender identity, have to redefine their relationships with their parents in light of this whole gender reality thing. This usually happens as a shift of identification from the mother to the father, and for girls usually a switch back. This can be a tricky transition, but we will talk a bit more about what we can do to ease it along when we get to our emotional development.
The latent stage, in the behavioral economic context of this developmental model, can be understood as a period of investment in other developmental aspects before the advent of puberty announces the presence of the genital stage. This is the onset of full sexual potency, and is accompanied by tremendous hormonal pressure to use this new skill set. If we have successfully navigated the previous stages, we should have a child with a strong sense of self-control who knows that these body parts cause a great deal of pleasure, and that pleasure is nothing to be ashamed of. Adolescents want to explore, and with the right guidance and precautions it is, developmentally, a beneficial thing to do. TEENAGERS: DON'T STOP READING HERE! This is where individuals develop the sexual and relational habits that will govern the majority of their adult relationships, and what we know about how habits are developed is that you make the path by walking. We learn by doing, and in this aspect of our lives, given the intimate nature of the aspect, it is very important that we provide a stable, secure, safe, loving environment from which adolescents can be comfortable in taking risks with their sexual identity.
Unfortunately, Freud did not understand women. As a man, I can relate. Fortunately, we are standing a century further down the road from Freud, and a lot of brilliant women have considered his work and offered suggestions on how to either change or adapt it to be more inclusive of the feminine experience. Karen Horney, one of the founders of Neo-Freudianism, started that party off by asserting that penis-envy was more appropriately understood as a power-envy, and can be seen in boys as womb-envy. Additionally, she suggested that the Oedipal Complex was, like the Electra Complex, a symptom of uneven attachment between the child and each parent, amplified by anxiety. In this context, the phallic stage can be understood as a further exploration in identification and differentiation.