Erik Erikson was a stage theorist who developed Freud’s “Psychosexual Theory” and adapted it
into a psychosocial (having both psychological and social aspects) theory encompassing eight
According to Erikson, we experience eight stages of development during our life span. Within
each stage, there is a dilemma that we must resolve in order to feel a sense of competence and
will allow us to develop as a well-adjusted adult.
Erikson’s 8 Stages.
1. Trust Vs. Mistrust (Age 0 – 1.5). In this first stage, infants must learn that adults can be
trusted. If treated poorly children may grow up feeling mistrust towards people.
2. Autonomy Vs. Shame (Age 1.5 – 3). The “me do it’ stage, children start to make
decisions and show preferences of elements in their environment such as what clothes
to wear or what toy they prefer. If children are not allowed to explore these preferences
they may develop low self-esteem and shame.
3. Initiative Vs. Guilt (Age 3 – 5) . This stage involves children learning to plan and achieve
goals involving others. If parents or teachers allow children to explore this and support
their choices they will develop a sense of purpose and strong self-confidence.
4. Industry Vs. Inferiority (Age 5 – 12). In this stage, children start comparing themselves
with their peers. Success at this will result in a sense of accomplishment in their school
work, social and family activities and sports.
5. Identity Vs. Role Confusion (Age 12 – 18). Students in this stage are asking
themselves “Who am I” and “What do I want to do in my life”. They will try out multiple
roles during this time to find what one “fits” best. A strong sense of identity and an ability
to defend their core beliefs in the face of other opinions would be considered success at
6. Intimacy Vs. Isolation (Age 18 – 40). As students progress into early adulthood their
focus shifts to making and maintaining strong, intimate relationships with others.
7. Generativity Vs. Stagnation (Age 40 – 65). In middle adulthood, people are concerned
with contributing to society either through their work or parenthood. Continued
self-improvement for the benefit of other people figures strongly here.
8. Ego Integrity Vs. Despair (Age 65+). Those in late adulthood reflect on their lives,
feeling a sense of satisfaction or failure. Those who feel failure will often obsess with
ideas of what they “should have” or “could have” done.
Educational Implications of Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial
Within an educational frame, Erikson’s work gives us as teachers a framework to base our
teaching on. Knowing what questions our students are asking of themselves and the world
around them allows us to plan effectively.
Problems arise when our class has children at different stages in it, in this case, we must
carefully differentiate our pedagogy to allow supportive learning for all students.