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Growth and Development: What Do I Need to Know? Part I

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

The developmental phase from infancy to toddlerhood is described as a pivotal growth period of drastic change in the beginning of a human’s life. This phase, like all other developmental stages, has many milestones involving developmental, physical, emotional, spiritual and cognitive components. Infancy to toddlerhood is one of the most remarkable and fast paced times of development where extreme changes in the body and brain occur that support motor skills and learning. Cognitive and psychosocial development grow rapidly and many experiences and crucial events during this time period impact the person’s personality that comes out later in life. Freud, Erikson and Piaget break this stage down into three different categories: psychosexual stages, psychosocial stages, and cognitive stages.

Psychosexual Stages

Freud explains the psychosexual stages through oral and anal sensual gratifications amidst early development. He clarifies how sensual pleasure moves from one zone of the body to the other. For the first year to year and a half, babies seek out pleasure by engaging in mouth related activities, such as feeding and sucking. From twelve months to three years old, babies are sensually gratified by activities of the anal region. They do so by releasing feces, and toilet training is a monumental activity for this age group. While Freud’s theories are focused on physical aspects of the body, Erikson’s theories are based on the mental elements. Although Freud’s theories are sound, he did not focus on society and culture, which Erikson and Piaget reference in their theories. His main emphasis was on sexual urges and early experience, but there is a lack of concentration on personality. 

Psychosocial Stages

Erikson describes this developmental phase as psychosocial through basic trust or mistrust and autonomy versus shame. He believes that the baby decides if the world is a good place or not from birth to twelve months. Once the child grows older, he or she is able to gain a sense of independence, self-control and self-sufficiency. Erikson’s ideas are significant due to their emphasis on social and cultural influences. Similarly, Piaget’s theories are also mental in the organizational part of the brain, but they incorporate physical movements and activity as well. 

Cognitive Stages

Piaget’s ideas are wrapped around sensorimotor and preoperational theories as well as the importance of education in children’s lives. The sensorimotor stage claims that from birth to two years old, the infant slowly organizes activities within the environment through using their senses and physical movements. During the preoperational stage, the child develops a system in which they use symbols in order to represent people, places and events. They create a mental model of the world. Piaget focused on how children count, spell and solve problems, which signified their ideas of essential concepts such as numbers, quantity and time. Although children are still not thinking logically at this point, play and the usage of language during this stage are significant.  

How Are the Theories Different? 

Some of the differences I found between the three distinctive theories of this development stage were that Freud’s theories seemed the most simplistic approach of the three. Erikson and Piaget enhanced Freud’s ideas and incorporated other elements such as society, culture, activity and mental organization. Erikson’s ideas are focused more heavily on identity as opposed to sexuality. Piaget emphasizes object permanence and cognitive development within the sensorimotor phase. These abilities and senses that a child has within the first developmental stage are pivotal to help him or her to organize their activities in relation to their environment. 

Check out part two to this two-part blog series to learn more about developmental phases and why learning about this is important to understanding personality development.

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