younger brother’s development since he was born in 1985, I would not have been able to until the beginning of this century. Until the early 1900s, no one was studying the changes that occurred in individuals from childhood to adulthood.
Now psychologists and other social scientists recognize that children go through similar behavioral, intellectual and mental, and physical steps while growing up. By using these theoretical steps as a guide, I can keep track of the development of my brother and any other child. It should always be remembered, however, that the time frames presented are averages and some children may achieve various developmental milestones earlier or later than the average but still be within the normal range. This information is presented to help interested parties understand what to expect from a child.
The idea that specific development stages exist for adults as well as children began with the initial concepts of Austrian physician Sigmund Freud at the end of the 19th century, as he expanded upon his theory of psychoanalysis. In his psychoanalytic view, early experiences shape one’s personality for a lifetime, and psychological problems in adulthood may have their origins in problematic childhood experiences (Murray, 1999).
According to Freud, child development consists of five psychosexual stages in which a particular body region is involved with sensual satisfactions. During the oral stage — from birth to one — the mouth, tongue, and gums are the focus of sensual pleasure, and the baby develops an emotional attachment anyone providing them (primarily through feeding). This occurred during my brothers first eight months, when he was more interested in activities as sucking, biting, swallowing and manipulating various parts of the mouth. Because he could not yet talk, he often entertained himself with making noises such as smacking. During the anal stage, from two to three, children focus on pleasures associated with control and self-control, primarily with respect to defecation and toilet training. My brother was about three years old when he became potty trained. He was about 2 1/2 when he began realizing that “no” meant “no,” and was able to stop certain behaviors.
In the phallic stage — from ages three to six — children derive satisfaction from genital stimulation. They are also interested in physical differences between the sexes and identify with their same-sex parent. This started taking place when my brother was about 3 1/2 years old. He started watching my dad get dressed in the morning and tried to do the same. The latency phase — from ages seven to puberty — is when sensual motives lessen and psychological focus is channeled into normal activities, such as schoolwork. Finally, during the genital stage — from adolescence through adulthood — individuals develop mature sexual interests. My brother used to hate girls when he was little. Then something completely changed when he turned 14.
With Freud’s stages as a foundation, in 1956 psychiatrist Eric Erickson noted eight stages of social development (Murray, 1999). He observed these development patterns within the context of social structures, along with the child’s efforts to become a member of the social group. These theories help developmental specialists prepare for some of the awkward moments in a person’s life. In Stage 1, Infancy until age one, a child will develop trust or mistrust. My brother was well taken care of by all family members, so he has a strong self-esteem and has a trusting nature; In Stage 2, Toddler until age two, autonomy or doubt are built. The child learns to walk, talk, use toilets and begins self-control. My brother was encouraged to be independent and allowed to make mistakes so he has the confidence to try new things; During Stage 3, Early Childhood until age six, initiative vs. guilt are established. This is when my brother began to learn self-restraint, although he was quite stubborn (and still is!). However, he does listen to what my parents have to say and does not rebel. In Stage 4, Elementary and Middle School, six to 12, a youth acquires competence / industry or inferiority. At school, children acquire skills to be a worker and a potential provider. If learning correctly, they will not develop a sense of inferiority.
In Stage 5, Adolescence, 12 to 18, young adults learn identity or role confusion. The youth begins to incorporate all the other resolutions in order to know who he/she is and a strong sense of identity. My brother just got through this stage before going to college. At times it was tough, since he did have an identity crisis here and there — what child hasn’t? But he’s doing well now and narrowing in on what he wants to do when he graduates down the road. At Stage 6, Young Adulthood, 19 to 40 (where I am at now), one establishes male/female intimate relationships. Someone who is strong in this area, will not have making long-term decisions and feel comfortable making a commitment; At Stage 7, Middle Adulthood, 40 to 65, is a time for generativity or the ability to care for others or stagnation. Self-centered people have not resolved this challenge; and In Stage 8, Late Adulthood, 65 to death, a period of integrity vs. despair. If an individual is pleased with what has been achieved in life, he/she will be able to accept, rather than fear, death.
These are only two of several different types of stage theories. Development biologist, Jean Piaget, for example, devoted his life to closely observing and recording the intellectual or cognitive abilities of infants, children and adolescents that were related to major developments in brain growth (Singer, 1996) Too often, adults expect that children are going to have the capacity of forming decisions or mental abilities before they are capable. Knowing stage theories will encourage them to not push a child into doing something before reaching his/her capacity. Piaget’s stages consisted of four primary cognitive structures: sensorimotor, preoperations, concrete operations, and formal operations. In the sensorimotor stage (birth to two), intelligence takes the form of motor actions. The child, through physical interaction with his or her environment, builds a set of concepts about reality and how it works. This is the stage where a child does not know that physical objects remain in existence even when out of sight. (Hiding things from my brother was not any fun!). Intelligence in the preoperation period (three to seven) is intuitive in nature. The child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations. (I had to show a picture to my brother rather than describe something). The cognitive structure during the concrete operational stage (8 to 11) is logical but depends upon concrete referents. At this point, the child starts to conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his/her physical experiences. Abstract problem solving is also possible at this stage. For example, arithmetic equations can be solved with numbers, not just with objects. (I quickly learned my brother was much better in math than I was.) In the final stage of formal operations (12 to15), thinking involves abstractions. (I thought he would never get to this point.)
There are other stages for speech and language, temperament and personality, moral and physical development. By seeing where a child falls at these various stages, it is very possible to get a well-rounded idea of his/her degree of success as an adult.
As noted previously, there is enough leeway among each of these stages to take in account the differences between one child and another. No two youths are exactly alike, even twins, and cannot be expected to reach each stage at the same time. If a child consistently lags behind at a significant degree, then a specialist should be consulted. For example, if a child cannot walk or talk by ages 2-1/2 to…