Erik Erikson


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A developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on the social development of human beings. Through his association with Anna Freud, and his study for a certificate in Montessori education, he became interested in the influence of culture and society on child development, and his book Childhood and Society (1950) is considered a classic text by educators, psychologists, and sociologists. For those professionals working with the early years, Erikson's theory of the eight ages of man shows how children develop the foundation for emotional and social development and mental strength through social interactions with significant adults, and thus are able to assimilate the culture of their own community. The attachments made with adults help to internalize culture, essentially when the child is supported to ‘pass through’ each of the developmental stages which define each individual child's personality. The stages, therefore, are based on psychosocial development rather than, as Piaget's are, on cognitive stages, which Erikson might argue are dependent on a child's well‐being. Erikson's theory, based on attachment to adults, suggests that it is essential for a child to develop trust and empathy in order to be able to achieve higher levels of social functioning. This reflects a similar notion to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Erikson further states that these stages are epigenetic; that is, they are predetermined and sequential. The confidence and self‐esteem gained through the success of the child overcoming each stage of psychosocial ‘crisis’, Erikson suggests, should not be rushed, but can be revisited. In the early years, it is critical for significant adults to help children develop trust, autonomy, and initiative by offering real and practical tasks that the child will be able to accomplish and which will therefore enable them to develop confidence. Requiring children to learn, work, or carry out tasks beyond their stage of personality development, Erikson argues, could have the effect of denying the child an opportunity for their needs to be met, and may result in negative outcomes for the child, their schooling, and their later successful participation as adults in society. Erikson was Danish by parentage but became an American citizen. He is thought to have coined the term ‘identity crisis’.

A. W.

Annie Woods

Subjects: Arts and Humanities — Education.

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