Posted by: aboutalbion | July 19, 2012

Childhood (4)

Erikson’s third stage, play age, lasts from around three years of age to around five years of age.

In Erikson’s theory, this stage, in which initiative has the opportunity to flourish, also sees the development of conscience and guilt.  The issue to be resolved in this stage is initiative v guilt, and the task for a pre-school infant is to develop initiative without too much guilt.

For Erikson, care givers can stimulate initiative by supporting a pre-school child to try out their ideas and acquire new skills. Care givers should accept and foster fantasy and inquisitiveness and creativity. This is a time for pre-school children to play.  And play of all kinds will be likely to include the opportunity to co-operate with other children – sometimes leading and sometimes following.

In Erikson’s model, the pre-school child will show an ability to make moral judgments during this stage.  “The great governor of initiative is conscience.” (1968 p119)  “The child … hears the ‘inner voice’ of self-observation, self-guidance, and self-punishment … .” (1968 p119)  It follows that the scope for a child’s initiative to blossom depends on the reaction of her/his carers.  If initiatives lead to ‘a mistake’ and/or are judged to ‘wrong’, then the child can be left with strange feelings of guilt which may lead to the development of inhibitions.

Erikson believes that progress through this stage is influenced by the outcomes from the previous two stages.  With trust and independence acquired, a pre-school child now has the opportunity to show that s/he is not unduly dependent on care givers, and not averse to taking (age-appropriate) risks.  With a healthy balance between initiative (on the one hand) and an age-appropriate capacity for guilt (on the other hand), a pre-school child will exhibit a welcome sense of ambition and action with a purpose.

[Erikson, Erik H (1968) Identity: Youth and Crisis.  London: Norton.]

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