Kids & Parenting

What are emotional development stages

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The importance of emotional development stages in babies and children

Born in 1902, Erik Erikson was a psychoanalyst who helped to describe the emotional, physical, and psychological phases of progression in humans. In his seminal work in 1956, Erikson presented the "eight stages of man," moving from infancy to adulthood. 

He used his experiences in psychotherapy -- with a variety of different ages and classes -- in order to come to an understanding of what defines each particular stage.

He found that each stage was contingent upon the previous one being met; without a strong foundation, the phases (and the learning) will collapse and not progress as they should.

So, what are the emotional development stages, you ask? Below, we'll take a look at changes which take place from infancy to adulthood.

Infant (Hope)

Known as Trust vs. Mistrust, during this phase it is the parent's task to soothe the infant and provide an environment where there is very little uncertainty involved. This will help to build trust due to a mother's nurturing; parents will communicate mainly through eye to eye contact and touch.

The baby will able to move forward into newer levels, developing the wiring required for both compassion and empathy. Thus, the child's most significant relationship is with the mother during this time period (or whoever is the most consistent caregiver). Without trust, the infant may develop intense feelings of worthlessness and mistrust later on in life.


Self-control, courage, and will can be descriptors used for this particular stage. Skills such as walking, talking, feeding oneself, toilet training, and more, will be learned during this time. It will be important to give positive reinforcement to each positive skill learned, which will in turn help to foster an increased self-confidence and further autonomy for the child.

Parents may be saying "No!" more often during this time (especially during those terrible two years); but it's important to note that shaming a child too much (during toilet training, for example) may result in a heightened sense of shame and doubt.

It is important for the parent/s to have empathy and compassion during this time of a child's life. It's about growing their confidence and to do so requires a deft touch.

Preschooler (Purpose)

Children will start to change from imitating what they see to initiating activities. Children will begin to ask, "Why?" as well as create play periods of make-believe with dolls, playhouses, and more. They will learn to cooperate with others as well as both lead and follow.

It is during this time that if the child's basic desires and goals aren't met by parents they may enter into feelings of guilt. Erikson states that the most significant relationship for the child is with the basic family.

School-Age Child (Method and Competence)

Here, children will develop a sense of their own self worth; known as the latency stage, the child will take part in more complex learning. It is during this time, that feelings of inadequacy can emerge. The parent will become an important sounding board for these concerns; listening and paying attention will help to instill self-confidence and self-esteem in your child.

The child will expand their knowledge base and relationships to that of students and teachers in both school and community. Despite the fact that teachers and administrators will begin to influence the child, it is still the parents who will remain guiding forces throughout their life.

Adolescent (Fidelity)

Erikson's emotional development stages continue through the adolescent, young adult, adult, and mature adult. For the adolescent phase -- from around age 13 through 20 --  it becomes a question of "Who am I?" There will be self-doubt and rebellion as youths begin to take on responsibilities of a more complex life.

For more information on the later phases, be sure to head over to Child Development Info or America's Angel to learn more. In the end, the relationship with the parents, filled with love and acceptance, is a large reason for a child's successful navigation of the real world and all its trappings.


America's Erikson's Development Stages.

Child Development Info: Stages of Social-Emotional Development. Child Development Emotional Stages.

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