Erik Erikson & the Classroom: Teaching Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory attempts to explain changes that occur in social relationships and self-understanding. Erikson seeks to do this by describing the relationship between psychological, biological, and societal development and its connection with a person's relationship to their own society (B. Newman & P. Newman, 2007). Erikson's theory has provided a foundation for describing the role that adolescence plays in a person's life. Throughout adolescence a person must confront the predicament they are faced with regarding the issue of intimacy versus isolation. A second crisis during this time period that must be resolved is identity versus identity diffusion (Meacham, 1982). The next few paragraphs will take a look at Erikson's eight psychosocial stages.

Before getting into the actual stages it is important to note that if the conflict an adolescent faces during a certain stage is not resolved this same conflict may occur in a future stage. Past conflicts may also arise during certain life experiences. This experience might be a divorce or a change in jobs. Stage one takes place from the ages of 1-2 years old and it deals primarily with trust versus mistrust. If the needs of an infant are met at this stage they will most likely develop a sense of trust in others and vice versa when needs are not meet. Autonomy versus shame and doubt is the key conflict that occurs during stage two. This stage primarily deals with individuals between the ages of 2 to 4and during this stage individuals are focusing on their mental and motor abilities and how to accomplish certain tasks within their reach regarding these abilities without the help of others. Stage three deals with initiative versus guilt and fantasies play a big role in this stage (Waymire, n.d.).

Stage four takes place at the ages of 6-11and industry versus inferiority is the main conflict. Rules take center stage during this part of an adolescent's life. Identity versus identity diffusion is the conflict that needs to be resolved during stage five. Individuals in this stage are normally around 12-18 years old and sexual issues are the primary concern during this stage. As a person becomes a young adult they must deal with the issue of intimacy versus isolation and this is stage six. Stage seven occurs during middle age and generativity versus self-absorption must be resolved at this time. Finally, stage eight deals with integrity versus despair and this occurs during the time period in the life cycle defined as old age (Waymire, n.d.).

Teachers may use Erikson's theory of psychosocial stages in a variety of ways. Stages three through five will be the main stages that teachers will need to focus on. While most elementary and high school teacher's deal primarily with individuals between the ages of 5 and 18 some teachers may also need to study stage six if they will be teaching students entering the phase of young adulthood. Preschool teachers may need to brush up on stages one and two if they have students between the ages of 1 and 4 in their classroom. For the sake of this article the next few paragraphs will deal primarily with stages three through five.

It has already been mentioned that fantasies play a key role in stage three. Language activities also play a main part during this stage. All teachers understand the significance of language development and comprehension at a young age and for teachers who teach this age group it will be important that they understand the critical role that language plays during this time period in an individual's life. Teachers will need to develop their lesson plans with this in mind. How teachers respond to their students questions is also of vital importance during this time period (Waymire, n.d.).

During stage four rules become very important. Because of this importance, teachers must be clear and fair with the rules they make. During this stage rules need to be something that students come to respect and if teachers are not clear and fair regarding their rules students may have a negative image of rules. This could have a negative effect on a student's life as they proceed through the stages of psychosocial development. Because success takes on a major role during a student's life at this time it will be important that teachers give the student plenty of opportunities to succeed in a challenging environment. During stage five teachers must manage their students in a positive and constructive way and this task will be difficult because of the many difficulties that individuals face during this stage. There could be sexual issues as well as role confusion and teachers must be able to help their students learn while also realizing the added pressures that come with this stage (Waymire, n.d.). Any teacher can take what is in Erikson's theory and use it in the classroom to produce positive outcomes in a student's life.


Meacham, J. A., Santilli, N. R. (December, 1982). Interstage relationships in Erikson's theory:

Identity and intimacy [Electronic version]. Child Development, 53(6). 1461-1467.

Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2007). Theories of human development, 212.

Waymire, C. (1998). Erik Erikson: 1902-1994 [PowerPoint slides].

Retrieved from

Published by Jacob Horn

Bachelor of Arts in History and M.Ed. from Freed-Hardeman University. Interned in Washington D.C. under U.S. Congressman Marion Berry. Served as Team Leader for the Tennessee Youth Conservation Corp at Pic...  View profile