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Piaget vs. Erikson: Psychosocial Development Free Essays Example


Child development has been a fascinating area of study to many theorists including Jean Piaget, Sigmund Freud, and Erik Erikson. Though the theorists were interested in a similar topic, namely psychosocial development of children, their views were occasionally divergent and sometimes opposing in nature. However, their insight into how children develop and integrate into the society exhibited philosophical views that have been attracting the attention of philosophers until now. In this paper, stances of theorists Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson on key issues of developmental psychology are discussed. Unlike Piaget whose focus was on mental development, Erickson was preoccupied with socialization and its effects on children as they grow to the latter stages of life. This paper specifically addresses relevant information on those issues and the position that each theorist takes with regard to them. It also addresses the reasons for the particular view from each theorist and highlights some of the issues that were not addressed. Erik Erikson focused on the human psychosocial development arguing that people, especially children, experienced two extreme ends in their stage wise development. According to Erikson, the stages that people underwent as they developed psychologically started from infancy to 18 months which he referred to as oral sensory and emphasized that mother’s positive and loving care as well as visual and touch contact are crucial aspects of psychological development in this initial stage. The importance of this stage is the development of deep-rooted feeling of trust or mistrust of the world around the human being. The ego development stage leads to acquisition of drive and hope in the child.

Erikson also identifies the development of self-control, courage, and will are all founded on autonomy or shame that the person experiences while growing. According to Erikson, this developmental stage is important, as it helps in the acquisition of skills such as walking, talking, and feeding (Fadiman & Frager, 2002). Erikson views this stage as involving finer motor and toilet training skills. This, according to Erikson, is a stage of vulnerability that requires the attention of the parents so that the child does not develop shame and feel incapable, which may lead to low self-esteem (Engler, 2008). On his part, Piaget views the first stage of development in children as sensor motor, which lasts between birth and 2 years and allows for cognitive development which is limited to motor reflexes. Erikson noted that visual and touch contacts develop during the earlier stages of development. On the other hand, Piaget views development of motor sensory in children as sophisticated processes taking place later in life, although he also theorises that children are able to develop object of permanence and the knowledge that objects do not exist (Burman, 2012).

Both theorists identify the role that parents play at this stage of development like teaching them how to talk/communicate through simple sounds and words as well as behaviours. However, the two do not explain the effect of the environment on the child at this stage though environmental factors such as coldness or hotness of the weather may determine the reaction of the child even in infancy. Both Piaget and Erikson emphasize that the role which parents play in the initial development of the child is important, because they presume that those at this stage of development are completely unable to do anything for themselves without the assistance of their parents. Nevertheless, this stance of the role of parents in child development during infancy could be challenged by examples from other animals where young ones are given birth to and are ready to go on their own.

Another issue is the way children think between the ages of two and seven years. According to Piaget, children in this stage experience development of imagery and language in what he calls the pre-operational period. According to him, the stage lasts for between two and seven years (Burman, 2012). The important information here is that the child is egocentric in that he/she views things happening around her/him in a single point of view. According to the theorist, children at this stage think in an illogical and irreversible pattern. Piaget probably maintained this view from looking at how his children behaved whereby he theorized that they could not understand the way their parents felt about what the child did (Valsiner, 2005). Thus, the argument is that children at this stage are in their own world where they are detached from that of their parent. However, he does not offer an explanation of the continuity of communication between the child and their parents given that consistent studies reveal that children in this stage can communicate through signs and sound; though not explicitly coherent with their parents. On his part, Erikson argued that children in this stage can assert power and control of their environment leading to a sense of purpose with too much assertiveness, leading to disapproval and subsequent sense of guilt. Erikson probably maintained this view because children in this stage are capable of manipulating their environment, including parents, to do what they want to be done to them. Still, he does not offer explanations on how the environment conspires to allow the child to assert control and power. For instance, loving parents who would always yield to the assertiveness of their child in cases like when the child cries and any other form of an enabling environment where the child can also access everything that they demand could contribute to the assertive nature of the child at this stage.

Erikson discusses the industry versus inferiority stage at which children require to cope with social and educational demands whose achievements contribute to the development of a sense of competence or inferiority. According to him, children at this stage learn from various sources of knowledge including the society in which they leave and schools. On the outcomes of learning, that is, competence or inferiority, he does not explain how unwelcome circumstances such as difficult parenthood at this stage of development could foster competence in some children. This has been the case in so many examples where children with poor upbringing at this stage have developed unprecedented competence in a number of skills. As per his theory, all children who are not able to cope with social and learning demands should develop a sense of inferiority and, therefore, fail to make it in life. This is not the case with a good number of children who fail in coping with social and learning demands at this stage (Engler, 2008). Piaget on his part, views children at this stage which he refers to as concrete operational stage as being capable of thinking logically and systematically. To him, the children at this stage are able to solve simple problems that require only facts but not abstract. Piaget’s view is hinged on the fact that most children in this stage can make inferential conclusions in areas like conservation of number, liquid, length, mass, weight, area, and volume. Children at this level, thus, participate in active, as opposed to passive, learning where they can ask questions and provide answers to simple problems (Valsiner, 2005). However, he does not explain why they cannot comprehend philosophical or social insights though they are able to grasp the areas that he identifies. The reason he thinks so is because he feels that such areas are too much abstract in their nature that children at this age cannot infer something important from them. Most likely, children in this stage can only learn from other people’s view, making them incapable of developing their own independent views.


Erikson and Piaget’s stances on child development seek to understand the psychology of a child from birth. The two theorists take divergent positions on the psychological development of a child; each providing different information on what actually happens to the psychology of a child, as they develop mentally and socially. However, both theorists agree that the environmental impact and parental influence play a significant role in the psychological development of the child.

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