Raising A Conscious Child
The Psychology of Early Childhood Development
Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, most known for his theory on the psychosocial development of human beings. His work included a theory called the “life stages” which explores the development of a person from childhood to adulthood. It considers the different impacts of our external world; how our parents treated us, how we interacted with society and the ways in which those experiences molded our personality.
This process has eight distinct stages, five of which focus on our adolescence and three that span into adulthood. Erikson believed that many of the crucial stages that shape our awareness happen within our early childhood.
As we are incredibly sensitive and absorb high amounts of information as young children, it is important that parents are especially mindful during these early stages of development.
1. Trust vs. Mistrust
The first stage we go through is the phase of trust vs. mistrust. This occurs during the first year of our life, when we are in our most vulnerable state. We require a great deal of care as an infant, looking to our parents or caregivers for all of our support. In this stage, we create a level of trust if we receive consistent and reliable care from our parents.
If we are shown that we can trust those to take care of us, the virtue we gain from this phase is hope. This allows us to carry a sense of trust and hope as we grow up, being able to trust those around us and keep a sense of hope when stressful situations arise.
If the infant does not get the basic care they need, they can grow up feeling like they can’t trust other people to support them in life. This will continue into relationships and can result in anxiety and a sense of insecurity in the world around them.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, it is important to give your child a lot of love, attention and be mindful of your energy when you are around them.
Babies are incredibly sensitive and rely on feeling more than logic when they first enter the world. If you are angry, stressed or experiencing some negative emotion, do your best to clear your mind first before being around any young children.
This ensures a positive environment for you and your child, both physically and energetically.
2. Autonomy vs. Shame
The second stage occurs between 18 months and 3 years of age. This is when children begin to find their independence as they begin to walk, feed themselves, play with toys, and so on. This is when it’s important for the parent to allow children to explore their freedom without being too overbearing.
This could look like allowing them to dress themselves, having patience, and a allowing your child a level of freedom that lets the child make some decisions for themselves and promotes them becoming autonomous.
There is a delicate balance of keeping your child safe, ensuring they are not going too far with something, but still allowing them to explore the different aspects of life.
Parents should encourage their child to try to be independent without criticizing their mistakes or doing everything for them. Success in this stage leads to the virtue of will. Children will become more confident in their ability to do things and survive in the world if this phase is completed properly.
3. Initiative vs. Guilt
At around ages three to five, children begin to grow and assert themselves more in the world around them. This is when they begin to go to school, meet new friends and start interacting with the outside world more. This is known as the play stage, as children are inherently curious and enjoying playing because it expands their interpersonal skills through different engaging activities.
This is a time when their imagination kicks into gear, they begin to make up games, create fantasies in their head and explore their creativity. At this point, the child must be allowed to explore these aspects of themselves freely. By allowing them to expand creatively, they will gain the virtue of initiative.
They will ask questions, test things out and want to understand how things work. If supported, the child will feel like they are allowed to open up and in turn will take the initiative to do so.
If they are treated like a nuisance or unintelligent for asking questions or growing in the way they are, they will begin to have feelings of guilt. They may internalize these rejections, especially if given from their primary parental figures and feel punished for simply being themselves. This will slow their interactions with others and stifle their creative potential as they will develop the belief that they are not good enough to try a new activity in the first place.
By supporting their exploration in this stage, they will gain the virtue of purpose. The child will begin to have a sense of value in what they’re doing, and this will continue throughout their adulthood. A healthy sense of purpose as they grow older will allow them to have ambitious dreams and a sense of belonging in the world.
4. Industry vs. Inferiority
This stage is called the school age, as the child will begin to predominantly be influenced by their teachers and friend groups at school, which happens between the ages five and twelve. The child is beginning to learn new subjects and become more independent with their work. Their teachers play a large role in this stage for their self-esteem and feelings of competence.
Naturally, kids will want to seek approval and validation from their friends to gain a feeling of accomplishment. If they already have a solid foundation of initiative, they will believe in themselves and be able to do things like try out for sports teams or join different clubs.
The child at this stage in their development is still really testing their environment and using trial and error as their approach. If they receive positive feedback they can become more industrious and adventurous in their endeavors.
If they don’t have a solid structure to take initiative, or if they receive too much negative feedback or bullying, they may begin to feel inferior in comparison to their peers. If a parent or teacher is too demanding on the child, they can begin to feel like a failure and doubt their own abilities.
If children are continually encouraged, and still supported if they do fail a test or lose at a game, this will help their level of modesty and still grow their feelings of being competent.
5. Ego Identity vs. Role Confusion
This is when the child really starts to grow up and become a teenager or adolescent. This is the fifth stage, taking place between ages of 12 and 18. During this time, there is a lot of searching for the self, growing their personal identity and who they want to become.
At this time, the adolescent will begin to explore their beliefs, ideals and unique perspective of the world. As they get older, the question of career, relationships and family come into play. This is a sensitive time of wanting to fit into society and exploring what suits them best. Especially in the earlier stages of this phase, the adolescent will be going through puberty and many bodily changes will be taking place. This can be an uncomfortable time for some, and loving support from their family is a great base for them to grow from.
The virtue that comes from this stage is fidelity, which involves being able to commit themselves to others even if there may be differences between them. This comes through accepting others for who they are and themselves being accepted as well. If they cannot establish a sense of identity within society, this can lead them to what is called role confusion. This can look like the adolescent trying on many different identities to try to fit in, switching careers, relationships or lifestyles merely to try and gain a sense of self. This can also be considered an early identity crisis, for the adolescent doesn’t know what they truly like, so they cannot decide on any particular thing.
By allowing your child to explore their passions as they begin to enter into this stage, you will be making it very easy for them to freely flow into their identity. By not pressuring or projecting your expectations of what they should be like, your child will be free to explore different ways of expressing themselves, and finally fit into a way of being that is truly their own.
6. Intimacy vs. Isolation
This stage has a large age range, spanning from ages 18 all the way to age 40. In this young adult stage, your child will begin to open up intimately with more people besides their family members. This leads to relationships and long term commitments with people that they love and care about.
If they received an open and free flowing love as a child, without feeling restricted or guilty, they will be able to give and receive love from others. If your child felt a lack of love, they may avoid being intimate or fear having to be open and vulnerable with others. Further, if they experience lots of rejection in the early parts of this phase, they may in turn develop a mental schema that they are not worthy of intimacy and will therefore shut themselves down from pursuing further relationships.
This can lead to isolation from intimacy of any kind, even if it’s just a friendship. However, at this point in their life, your child can begin to work on themselves and move beyond these limitations by doing their own inner emotional work. This can look like learning about the psychology of early childhood development, to identify the places in their own past where they did not learn or grow as healthily as they could have, then choosing to overcome any past limitations and use this information to further their growth and development.
Success in this stage leads to the virtue of love, allowing others to love them and giving love out to those in their life.
7. Generativity vs. Stagnation
During the adulthood stage, your child will potentially begin to establish their career and settle down with someone, if this is the path they choose. They will begin to start their own family and see a bigger picture of their life. This is a time when they should interact more with their community and feel productive in their life.
If they don’t enjoy their job, or feel like they aren’t living out their true purpose, they may begin to feel a stagnation in their life. This can also be described as a midlife crisis; when people continue doing something that isn’t in alignment with their values, and only truly realize it as they get older. This could lead to a drastic shift in their life path to properly align with what they want to be doing.
Generativity means to have care and concern for others, so at this stage a success looks like your child caring about those around them, their friends and their community and especially their own family.
8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair
As a person enters their final stages of life, their level of productivity slows down and generally people start to retire at this stage. During this time, people will look back on their life and see the accumulation of their life story, the goals they reached, challenges they faced, and will contemplate if they had a successful life in their perspective.
If they have lived a life full of fear, guilt or regret, they may not be able to look back on their lifetime with compassion and a feeling of accomplishment. This will lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness as they are already nearing the end of their lifetime.
If they were able to enjoy their life, seeing that they tried their best and accomplished all that they could have, they will have a level of integrity with themselves, which leads to the virtue of wisdom. This allows them to look at the entire span of their life with a feeling of completeness and a sense of closure. In turn, they will be able to accept death without fear or regret of wanting to change things in the past.
The Spiritual Aspects of Parenting
This psychological system is an important foundation for parents to work off of, as each level builds off the other to ensure the child has a healthy life from infancy to adulthood. To add onto it, there is also an aspect of openness that comes with wanting to raise a child in a conscious household.
One of the most important points to remember is to not project any specific belief system on your child. Even if you consider yourself a spiritual person with open views, allow your child to explore for themselves. See what intrigues them and what they are drawn to. Teaching them about many different faiths, cultures and ways of being is a great way to show them information without forcing them to have to subscribe to any particular belief system.
Ultimately, do what feels right for you and your family, but limiting the time your child is allowed to watch TV, be on the computer or play video games will greatly benefit them in the future. This allows them to learn from many different sources and interact with the world outside of a screen. It is highly beneficial for all forms of personal and spiritual development. In this modern day, especially if they go to public school, your child will be drawn to virtual worlds and want to play online games or watch TV.
If you can be gentle in your approach and direct their attention to finding enjoyment from outdoor activities, reading a book or creating something themselves instead through art or music, this will drastically boost their level of creativity, intelligence and in turn, help them in school and their future careers.
There are also beautiful benefits to practicing meditation and yoga with your child at a young age, as this will boost their intuition and increase their mindfulness. Having an open mind to others and their own self is incredibly important for children in this fast paced modern world.
One way to get your child to be mindful is to gamify it, create fun games around being mindful, doing yoga or meditation. Again, do not force any of this on your child if they strongly resist as this will only create resentment towards the practice or to your as the parent. Allow them to be themselves and explore what they like, but if they are left too free they may not challenge themselves so search for the balance between freedom and guidance without becoming overbearing or controlling.
As they get older, they will observe your behavior and can take on your mannerisms or ways of being. If you do your best to stay calm, compassionate and kind, they will learn the same from you. If you practice meditation or mindfulness yourself, they will eventually learn that from you.
Be the example you want to see your child grow into, and they will learn from you over the course of their lives.