Erik Homburger Erikson

Start Free Trial

Why should early childhood educators know about Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In addition to understanding Erikson’s theories of development for their intrinsic value, it is also important to understand them because they are a foundation upon which further research and theory has been built.

Early Childhood Educators will, for the most part, be working with children who are in the first three stages of Erikson’s psychosocial development framework. These correspond to Freud’s oral, anal, and genital psychosexual stages of development. Erikson’s stages can also be viewed alongside Piaget’s theories of cognitive development which are sensorimotor and preoperational, with some children around seven years old moving into the concrete stage at Piaget’s “age of reason”.

By understanding Erikson’s theories of development, we are better able to critically analyze and interpret other developmental frameworks. It is not that early childhood educators should understand Erikson’s framework in isolation and apply it rigidly; it is important to understand it as it relates to other theories and frameworks. A good example of this is when we look at Noam Chomsky’s ideas about language acquisition. While it is possible to study and understand Chomsky in isolation, we get a broader understanding of his ideas about “biological pre-programming” when we consider other nativist theories of development.

As well as correlative theories, if we understand Erikson’s stages we can also understand the criticisms that have been made. One critique of Erikson’s theory is that it is based on the development of male children in Western Europe and North America. This criticism does not mean we should not learn about Erikson’s theory at all but instead that we should have a good understanding of it so we can see the ways in which it might be modified to be useful—or so that we can know which parts of the theory can help us in our work. It would not be possible to fully appreciate and address these criticisms without having a firm grasp of what it is they are responding to.

Finally, it is important for early childhood educators to understand the professionalization of early childhood education and the history of the occupation. It is important to maintain professional development throughout your career, and having a solid framework of understanding is the best way to begin this endeavor.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

That is like asking why English majors should study Shakespeare or physicists should study Einstein: very simply, Erik Erickson has been an extremely influential figure in the field of child development. He is especially important to early child educators because he moved the conversation about the psychological development of children away from the home and psycho-sexual development. Instead, he put the emphasis on the wider social factors that influence the healthy psychological growth of children and adults.

As early childhood educators will be working with children anywhere between two- to six-years-old, many stages of Erickson's stages of development come in to play. Children in that age range are still negotiating building trust through developing positive relationships with caregivers, gaining independence and autonomy, developing a sense of purpose, and learning to have pride and a sense that they can achieve. A good educator is doing more than imparting information: he must use consistency, praise, and encouragement to help a child develop. He must also avoid blaming, shaming, or making a child feel inferior. Erickson's theories provide a clear roadmap for guiding a child safely through early childhood so that he or she can become an intact and productive adult.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Erikson's psychosocial theory is one of the few developmental theories that spans an entire lifetime. Erikson developed his theory in relation to his training in psychoanalysis, and his first stages are mirrors to Freudian stages. 

The key to Erikson's theory is that it combines an individual's psychological characteristics with that person's interaction with other people. It also takes different developmental periods of life and identifies them with essential questions or crises. The earliest stage, for example, is Trust vs. Mistrust, which infants experience. If they have attentive parents, they learn to trust people. If they are neglected or abused, they learn not to trust. 

It is important for teachers of young children to be aware of these stages in part because how different children resolve these crises can have a lot to do with their behavior in a classroom and also because the teacher becomes a significant person in a child's life and can influence the resolution of developmental crises. 

During pre-school, children will address the issue of being able to take initiative or feeling guilty about taking initiative. Teachers need to help children take initiative and make choices themselves. Pre-school teachers need to support the development of independence in their students. 

In the early grades, children are learning how to work effectively (Industry vs. Inferiority). If children do not learn how to do their schoolwork, then they will have a hard time buckling down to it later in life. For example, sometimes gifted students will be able to handle elementary school-type work without any studying, but then will have a hard time knowing how to learn when they enter higher grades. 

Erikson's theory is one of several theories that early childhood educators need to know so they can appropriately support their students' growth and development.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team