From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Going Through a Stage? We All Are!
What does it take to grow up strong?
Beginning at birth, life is filled with developmental challenges which affect us all.
Although we tend to think of our major growth period as the first 20 years, the truth is
that growth continues throughout life... each stage affecting the next. As a result, it is
not uncommon for members of the same family to be undergoing important personal changes
simultaneously, which can create quite a bit of confusion at times. Back in 1963,
developmental psychologist, Eric Erickson identified 8 developmental stages across the
life-span. Some 35 years later, his ideas have withstood the test of time. In the effort
to better understand the individuals in your family, consider the following developmental
tasks which we all must face.
- Infancy (0-2 years). The most important task of infancy is the
development of trust.Consider the plight of infants and toddlers who must be carried
around, fed, changed, and who must learn ways to communicate even before they can
pronounce words. A basic sense of trust is fostered when infants are held securely and
lovingly, when their hunger is satisfied, and when they learn that they can count on
others. In contrast, the lack of basic trust is likely to produce insecurity in all future
relationships for that individual.
- Early Childhood (2-4 years). The critical issue in early childhood is
the development of autonomy over one's bodily functions. As children master their toilet
training, they develop a sense of pride and self-confidence. They learn how to "hold
on" and they learn how to "let go". When children fail to master this task,
they become subject to feelings of guilt and shame, and doubt their ability to exercise
any control over themselves.
- Preschool and Kindergarten (4-7 years). The developmental task for this
period of time is the child's ability to exercise initiative. During this time, kids begin
to direct their own lives through mobility, decision-making, and taking new risks.
Children in this stage are exploring their preferences and delight in making their own
decisions. Exercising their own initiative gives rise to a sense of self-worth. However,
when initiative is punished, the child develops a sense of guilt over his/her desire to
- Elementary (7-12 years). As children enter the social world of school,
their task is to develop a sense of industry and ability. At school, they must learn to
display their competence in the classroom and compatibility with others. In their
neighborhoods, they must demonstrate the ability to play successfully with other children
and maintain friendships. When previous developmental tasks have not been successful, it
is easy for children to develop a sense of inadequacy, which often results in feelings of
being an outcast.
- Adolescence (12-19 years). The task of the adolescent is to define a
separate and distinct identity. While a teenager's distinct personality often manifests as
rebelliousness, the alternative is the lack of a personal identity, known as role
diffusion, wherein the young person tries to be acceptable to others. Adolescents who are
unable to think for themselves, are more susceptible to peer pressure and less able to
function independently. So while it may be more difficult to put up with a headstrong
teenager, a distinct identity is a good predictor of adult self- confidence and common
- Young Adulthood (19-30 years). Young adulthood is the time when
individuals learn to establish intimacy and interdependence with others, or when they
become increasingly isolated. Here again, the effects of childhood influence one's ability
to find a life mate, to become a committed partner in a relationship, and to become a
dedicated parent. Prior life experiences also influence one's ability to find meaningful
work, and one's ability to work cooperatively with others. Without a strong foundation,
young adults often find themselves lonely, alone, and alienated from the world in which
- Middle Adulthood (30-60 years). Middle adulthood is a time for
production and creativity. During these years, individuals either find their niche and
become productive human beings, or they become stuck and unable to achieve the goals they
have set for themselves. Fears of failure and desires for success often manifest in
so-called mid-life crises, which are periods of self-reflection on one's past
accomplishments and future potential. As a rule of thumb, adults who actively participate
in life are more satisfied than those who simply observe.
- Later Adulthood (60+ years). In later adulthood, individuals develop a
sense of personal integrity or a sense of despair. Typically, the individual who has a
sense of integrity is able to accept both their successes and failures as part of life.
For them, success was largely defined as having had the courage to try. However,
individuals who lack self-confidence, are often faced with a sense of regret. For them,
life may have been a series of missed opportunities which resulted from playing it too
In short, family members are constantly negotiating specific developmental tasks which
affect their mood, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships. From the very youngest to
the very oldest members of a family system, each of us is involved in a constant state of
growth and change, which at times brings us closer together, and at times, moves us
further apart. Thus, at each stage, healthy family relationships are built on flexibility,
tolerance, interpersonal support, and a healthy respect for similarities and differences
© Copyright 1998, 1999 by Jane R. Rosen-Grandon, Ph.D.
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Last Updated February 27, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon,