Erikson’s Stages of Psycho-social Development

“The human being, at all times, from the first kick in utero to the last breath is organized into groupings of geographic and historical coherence: family, class, community, nation.”

Erik Erikson

A guiding principle of RIE is trust in the infant’s competency. RIE sees the infant as a capable learner who can be trusted to be an initiator, problem solver, and collaborator. In an environment where infants are trusted, they learn to trust. Early twentieth-century psychologist Erik Erikson believed that humans form their orientation toward the world during infancy and that trust, in particular, forges the foundation of an infant’s healthy emotional development.  The first step in the long road to social-emotional health comes when an Infant begins to see the world (and themselves) as trustworthy or untrustworthy (Erikson, 1963). 

Trust grows from respectful care accounting for individual needs rather than simple “demonstrations of love” (Erikson, 1963).  Mindful care offered by a calm, consistent caregiver allows the infant to manage their emotions . Erikson believed that an infant’s first expression of trust is the ease with which an infant eats, sleeps, and eliminates waste (Erikson, 1963). 

Trust cultivates a child’s sense of identity, security, and their own ability to be trustworthy (Erikson, 1963). The adult’s view of the infant shapes their image of themselves. Their trust in their own parenting figure forms the blueprint for their worldview.  A trustworthy caregiver becomes the model for a trustworthy world. 

A defining feature of this foundational trust is a shared belief between parent and child in the importance of parent’s “prohibitions and permissions” (Erikson, 1963). Erikson believed that parents “must be able to represent to the child a deep, an almost somatic conviction that there is a meaning to what they are doing” (Erikson, 1963). This conviction in their choices is critical to the growing child, as is the explanation. Explaining the reasoning behind limits made on their actions nurtures a child’s trust. The informed child understands why a boundary is necessary, making it easier to accept limitations (Erikson, 1963). 

The development of trust allows the infant to grow self-efficiency, worth, and esteem in years to come. Erikson believed that the mastery of these “crises” as he called them, builds on each other. Healthy development in one stage creates a solid foundation for the next stage. 

An infant who realizes that their needs will be met trusts this will happen in the future. This knowledge secures the belief that the world is fundamentally a trustworthy place. Trust births hope (Erikson, 1963). 

The RIE Approach cultivates the development of this foundational trust. RIE principles echo Erikson’s understanding of early childhood development. RIE caregivers trust the infant’s innate competency and capabilities, and invite the infant’s involvement in their own care. RIE’s practices of designing safe spaces for exploration, considering an infant’s stage in development, and allowing self-initiated movement and self-directed play foster both the caregiver’s trust in the infant and the infant’s trust in themself. 

Erikson, E. H. 1. (1963). Childhood and society. 2d ed., rev. New York, Norton.

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