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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Psycho-Social Development Made Easy: Stages 3 & 4

(c) 2013 by Tom King

Photo used by permission - Amy Maples, 2013
Put your pants on!” says Mom.

“Okay!,” says Aidan and proceeds to follow mom’s instructions to the letter, with the results seen here.

They're very literal at that age, children are.  At ages 3 to 5, their big psycho-social issue is "Initiative vs. Guilt".  Renowned psychologist Erik Erickson says that children need to begin asserting control and power over their environment at this age. Success in this stage leads to a strong sense of purpose. There are generally natural controls in place that prevent megalomania, however.  Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval from parents or other authority figures, resulting in a sense of guilt. Guilt counterbalances self-assurance and can be a healthy factor in determining one's personality.  

So the good news is that Aidan is likely asserting just enough control, but not too much. If he does not do learn to make choices and exert some measure of control over his environment, he will grow up riddled with guilt. 

So congratulations, Mom.  You are probably raising a relatively guilt-free kid.  As such, he is far more likely to move out of your basement before he is 30.

If, however, the kid has begun to cross over into the stage that happens at about six through 11, he becomes even more concrete in his obedience and outlook.  He will want to know "What happens if....." kinds of things.  Mostly he will want to know the rules and the consequences of breaking them in order to figure out ways around those rules without suffering the consequences.  Kids that age are literalists.  Erickson identified this stage's primary psycho-social issue as "Industry vs. Inferiority".  Children, says Erickson, need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.  

Putting his pants over his head then becomes, for Aidan, a way to successfully obey his mother while maintaining his sense of control over his environment by taking initiative. This obedient rebellion helps the boy not to feel inferior to those around him. If you as a parent or authority figure laugh at him over the joke rather than scolding, you reward the behavior and he is more likely to repeat it.

Congratulations, Mom.  You are probably raising a comedian with a healthy ego. Not an easy task in this modern world.

- Tom

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