How to Explain Socioemotional Development


Eric Erikson, a psychoanalyst who fell out with Freud, developed the theory that humans move through a series of "crises" during their lifespan, from infancy to death. Unlike Maslow or Piaget who argued that one stage had to be resolved before moving on to the next level, Erickson believed that people kept going --- whether or not their issues were successfully resolved. Individuals who did not deal with the subsequent developments carried the baggage with them to the next stage. Although the theory of socioemotional development seems complicated, if you break the stages down into what happens at the various times, it is easy to explain.

  • Start with birth. A baby quickly learns whether or not he can trust his primary caregiver to provide for his basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and his social requirements. If a child's needs are not met at this level, the child can experience devastating physical and psychological consequences. Ask students how they think inadequacies at this level might play out later in life.

  • Move on to toddlers. At this stage, youngsters learn about free will and they start to feel autonomous. In conjunction with this development, they discover the consequences of misusing free will and they begin to develop a conscience that makes them feel ashamed or to question whether they acted correctly. Observe young children playing together and see what sorts of indications of this behavior you can observe.

  • Examine initiative versus guilt in early childhood. As children begin to explore their worlds, they take initiatives and risks. Get the students to reflect on their own childhoods and see if they can offer examples of socioemotional crises when they went through this stage.

  • Discuss middle childhood where children are compared with others and labeled "advanced" or "inferior." Talk about the effects that writing standardized tests have on children's perception of themselves.

  • Scrutinize adolescence --- the turbulent time when puberty kicks in and teenagers begin to define themselves in relation to others. Guide the discussion around how the students went through this socioemotional period that everyone remembers.

  • Discuss how young adults progress through the process of identity as opposed to isolation. Some people are ready to love and commit, whereas others are not. At this point, link it back to the other stages of development and have students speculate on how earlier crises may affect socioemotional behavior at this level.

  • Consider the roles of "generativity" or "stagnation" at the care stage of life. At this point in life --- middle age --- some people become concerned with the development of the subsequent generation. Others, however, withdraw into their shells, with no interest in the external world. Question students about whether they can identify people they know who fall into the two categories.

  • Wrap it up with a discussion about how seniors view their worlds. In some instances, they develop "ego integrity" and feel a sense of accomplishment --- that their lives were worthwhile. Others, however, spend their last years in despair about what might have been or what they should have done.

  • Review the socioemotional stages Erickson identified: hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, care and wisdom. Have students reflect on where they are at this point in their lives. If is also a good time to explain that if they have unresolved crises, now is a good time to deal with them.


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