What Are the Stages of Emotional Development in Children?

According to psychologist Erik Erikson, the first stages of emotional development in children are learning basic trust versus mistrust and learning autonomy versus shame. These are followed by the child learning initiative versus guilt and industry versus inferiority.

In the first stage, which takes place in the first one or two years of life, the child develops trust and security if well handled, or he becomes insecure or mistrustful if badly handled. A child learns autonomy versus shame between 18 months and 4 years. Ideally, the child emerges sure of himself and proud, rather than ashamed.

When learning initiative versus guilt, which occurs from the approximate age of 3 1/2 to school entry, the healthy child learns to imagine, to cooperate with others, and to lead and follow. The less healthy child, who learns guilt, becomes fearful, hangs on the fringe of groups, depends on adults, and is restricted in development of play skills and imagination.

The developmental stage regarding industry verses inferiority occurs during school age, where the child learns to relate with peers according to rules, progresses from free play to play with rules and teamwork, and masters social studies, reading and arithmetic. A healthy child becomes autonomous and industrious, while a mistrusting child with shame and guilt experiences defeat and inferiority.