Erikson’s psychosocial theory comprises of 8 different
stages, 5 of which develop in the first 18 years of life, explained below.
Stage 1 is trust vs. mistrust which occurs during the first
year of life where an infant displays uncertainty about their environment and
will be dependent on their primary care giver for reassurance and stability. As
long as the response from care givers is reliable and consistent then they will
begin to develop a sense of trust and security. A failure in reliable support
will result in mistrust.
Stage 2 is autonomy vs. shame which occurs from around 18
months where the infant begins to develop a sense for personal control and
independence. They may begin to choose what to eat or which clothes to wear. Erickson believed that parents should allow
children to explore their new-found abilities in a supportive environment
without criticism for failure. Successful environments will lead the child to
have feelings of autonomy and failure can result in them feeling doubtful and
Stage 3 is initiative vs. guilt which occurs between the
ages of 3 and 5 where a child begins to assert control over their environment
by planning activities with other children, meeting challenges and completing
simple tasks. They begin to ask more questions as their thirst for knowledge
increases. Successful outcomes bring a
sense of purpose for the child. Children can develop a sense of guilt if their
initiative is dismissed or criticised.
Stage 4 is industry vs. inferiority which occurs between the
ages of 5 and 12 where a child is experiencing new social demands and greater
learning expectancy. Children begin to take part in learning activities at
school such as reading, writing and maths and their teachers become an
important part of their life. Also, their peer groups become much more
important as they are a major source of the child’s self esteem as they begin
to seek approval for their accomplishments. As long as the child’s is
encouraged and praised for their initiative they will be begin to feel more
confident in their achievements. However, if their initiative is met with
criticism then they will begin to doubt themselves and their own abilities and
may be prevented from reaching their full potential resulting in them
experiencing feelings of inferiority.
Stage 5 is identity vs. role confusion which occurs during
the ages of 12-18 where the young person begins to establish a sense of self
and explore who they are as individuals and may experiment with different
behaviours, roles and activities. Erickson believed this to be an important
part of the process for developing a sense of direction in their life and
forming a strong sense of identity. Failure to establish a sense of identity
can lead to role confusion meaning that they will be unsure of themselves and
their place in society.
Skinner was a famous American behaviourist who believed that
it was more productive to study behaviour through observation by looking at the
cause of actions and their consequences. He named it ‘operant conditioning’-
operants being intentional actions that have an effect on the surrounding
environment and what factors make them more or less likely to occur. He
identified 3 types of response that usually follow behaviour.
operant: a response that neither increases or decreases the likelihood of
behaviours being repeated.
(positive or negative) a response that increases the likelihood of a behaviour
being repeated. (strengthens behaviour)
a response that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated. (weakens
Skinner demonstrated how the use of positive reinforcement strengthens behaviour by providing the
individual with a rewarding consequence. E.g. If a child is rewarded with a
treat each time they display good behaviour then they are more likely to repeat
reinforcement is the removal of an adverse stimulus which is regarded as
rewarding to the child. E.g. If each
time a child displays poor behaviour they must provide their adults with treats
then they will quickly stop the poor behaviour, strengthening the importance of
Skinner defined punishers
as being the opposite of reinforcers as they are designed to weaken or decrease
behaviours rather than strengthen or
increase them. He identified many problems in the use of punishers such as:
Punished behaviour not being forgotten resulting
in the return of poor behaviour when the punishment is not present.
Teaching children that the use of aggression is
a way to deal with problems.
Can create certain fears – e.g. of school or
Not very effective in guiding children towards
desired behaviours, e.g. Punishment points out what not to do whereas reinforcement
shows what to do.
Schools can put this into
practice by rewarding positive behaviour with such things as reward stickers,
house points are certificates during assembly time. Staff must be consistent
also with negative reinforcement by informing children of consequences for
negative behaviour and always carry out what they intend to do. This may be
time- out or loss of break time etc…
Bandura’s social learning theory states that people learn
from each other through observation, imitation and modelling and is often
referred to as bridge between cognitive and behaviourist learning as it entails attention, memory and
motivation. He believes that learning was not simply the result of
reinforcement but also the influence of others around them. He noted that after
observing consequences of certain behaviours it affected whether or not the
children copied those behaviours themselves.
One particular experiment to corroborate this theory
involved children observing adults attacking a Bobo doll. When the dolls were
hit by the adults they bounced back up again. Next, the children were allowed
to do the same and proceeded to copy the adults’ aggressive behaviour. After
witnessing the adults acting aggressively and then being punished for such
behaviour, the children, Bandura noticed, were far less willing to imitate the
As a result of his research, Bandura formulated 4 principles
of social learning:
Attention: We cannot learn if we are not focused
on the task, however if something is unusual in some way then we are more
likely to make it the focus of our attention.
Retention: We learn by storing information in
our memory and can recall such information when it is required. For instance,
it can help us react to a situation which is similar to the situation from
where we first gained the information.
Reproduction: we can use previously learned
behaviour, skills and knowledge when needed.
Motivation: we must be motivated to do
something, this can be encouraged by the observation of others being rewarded
or even punished for something. This type of learning usually motivates us
either to do or indeed not do the same thing.
This type of theory is important when working with children
because if they see positive consequences for certain behaviours then they are
far more likely to adopt these positive behaviours themselves. Also, when staff
demonstrate positive behaviours then children are more likely to imitate them.
John B Watson (1878-1958)
Watson is best known for applying his behaviourist theory to
child development. He believed that the main factor in shaping a child’s
behaviour was their environment. He claimed to be able to take a dozen healthy
infants and train them to become any type of specialist by exposing them to
certain types of environment over a period of time. To put it to the test, he
conducted a somewhat controversial experiment known as the ‘Little Albert’ experiment.
An 11 month old infant was given animals to play with that he was not initially
afraid of. With subsequent sessions, the animal interaction was paired with
loud noises whenever the child touched the animal which resulted in the child
being conditioned to fear the animals. It was Watson’s belief that emotional
responses could be conditioned. This experiment is, today, regarded as
unethical due to the fear it instilled within the child and would never be
allowed to take place.
Watson’s theories are used today by rewarding good
behaviours and punishing negative ones. Negative behaviour may be a tiered
warning system, e.g. Stop and think, warning of next step and finally some form
of punishment. Ignoring some negative behaviours can be beneficial in some
cases too. This is defined as ‘social pedagogy’ which is a framework that influences
current practice by teaching those working with children and young people to
adopt a holistic approach to teaching them. It combines concepts from
education, psychology and sociology. Aiming to treat children as a whole and
can be particularly beneficial to those with additional educational needs.
A humanist who studied a person’s needs and motivation,
suggesting that we have certain basic needs that must be met before we are able
to reach our full potential or, as he called it: ‘self- actualisation’.He
formulated a hierarchy of needs which are: physiological, safety, love and
belonging, self esteem and finally self-actualisation. Each need in turn must
be met before self-actualisation can be achieved. This theory is extremely
important when working with children and young people as it teaches us to
always consider the environment we create for them and how we can provide a
more supportive and encouraging environment. One way of supporting this theory
when working with children and young people is to allow access to drinking
water during lessons and snack breaks between lessons, thus meeting their basic
needs and helping them to stay focused.GD1
done Debbie, you have explored a variety of theories, and how they link in to
current day practice.