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.