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What Are the Developmental Tasks of Childhood?

What Are the Developmental Tasks of Childhood?

Psychosocial Development in Childhood: Erikson’s Stages In the first section of this chapter, we introduced you to Erikson’s theory of lifespan development and exam- ined his first stage of trust versus mistrust. In childhood, individuals progress through three more of Erikson’s stages, each time encountering a new “crossroad” and develop- ing another key component in their schemas about themselves and their relation to the world. What do these stages reveal about what the social world looks like through a child’s eyes?

Autonomy versus Shame or Self-Doubt In the second stage, which runs from about 18 months to 3 years of age, toddlers are rapidly learning to walk and talk. This increasing level of interaction with the world is laden with opportunities to directly influence outcomes. To develop a sense of independence or autonomy—the main devel- opmental task in this stage—children need freedom (and sometimes encouragement) to try to do things on their own when appropriate. Too much restriction or criticism can lead to self-doubt, whereas harsh demands made too early, such as attempting toilet training before the child is ready, can lead to shame and discourage efforts to persevere in mastering new tasks; hence the name for this stage, autonomy versus shame or self-doubt. Children who enter this stage with a general sense of trust in the world are more likely to successfully develop autonomy than children who did not master the first stage.

Although Erikson didn’t address the role of temperament in psychosocial devel- opment, we should point out its influence: We would expect shy children to need more gentle encouragement than bold children. Thus, although a nurturing and supportive environment is key to development of autonomy, nature plays a role as well.

Initiative versus Guilt Once a child develops trust and autonomy, the third challenge is to cultivate initiative, or the ability to initiate activities oneself, rather than merely responding to others. During the preschool years, autonomous children will become more purpose- ful, wanting to choose what to wear, what to eat, or how to spend their time. The danger at this stage comes from overcontrolling adults, who may demand an impossible degree of self-control (“Why can’t you sit still?”), which can result in the child feeling overcome by inadequacy and guilt. The term for this stage reflects these two alternatives: initiative versus guilt. Caregivers’ responses to self-initiated activities either encourage or discour- age the freedom and self-confidence needed for the next stage.

Industry versus Inferiority Children who successfully master Erikson’s first three stages enter elementary school ready to develop their skills and competencies in a more systematic way. From ages 6 to 12, school activities and sports offer arenas for learning more complex intellectual and motor skills, while peer interaction offers the chance to develop social skills. Successful efforts in these pursuits lead to feel- ings of competence, which Erikson called industry. Nurturing and supportive parent- ing at this stage helps children reflect on their experiences, learning from both their successes and failures and also recognizing that some failures are inevitable. On the other hand, children with overly demanding or disengaged parents may have trouble seeing their failures in perspective and ultimately develop a sense of inferi- ority. Likewise, youngsters who had trouble with one or more of the earlier stages may become discouraged spectators rather than performers, leading also to feelings of inferiority rather than competence. The term for this stage, therefore, is industry versus inferiority.

In summary, we have seen how development of language, cognitive skills, and social competencies all interact during the rapid growth and changes of childhood. Individual gains in each of these areas progress on a general biological timetable, but the pace and nature of the gains are heavily influenced by our environment. In the next section, we will see how these achievements of childhood lay the foundation for another period of rapid changes: the world of adolescence.

autonomy In Erikson’s theory, autonomy is the major developmental task of the second stage in childhood. Achieving autonomy involves developing a sense of independence, as opposed to being plagued by self-doubt.

initiative In Erikson’s theory, initiative is the major developmental task in the third stage of childhood. Initiative is characterized by the ability to initiate activities oneself, rather than merely responding to others or feeling guilt at not measuring up to other’s expectations.

industry Erikson’s term for a sense of confidence that characterizes the main goal of the fourth develop- mental stage in childhood. Children who do not develop industry (confidence) will slip into a self-perception of inferiority.

Development Over the Lifespan


The Puzzle of ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is a psychological disorder found in 3 to 5 percent of school-age children in America, with cross-cultural prevalence similar at about 5 percent (Faraone et al., 2003). Symptoms of ADHD include poor impulse control, difficulty concentrating on a task for a sustained period of time, high distract- ibility, and excessive activity. In boys, these symptoms often manifest themselves in dis- ruptive behavior—such as the boy who frequently jumps out of his seat in class, blurts out answers, or interrupts a conversation. In girls, however—who comprise only about 20 percent of ADHD diagnoses—the disorder more often looks like lack of organiza- tion or a tendency to lose things. In both boys and girls, these difficulties bleed over into multiple domains, often resulting in poor academic performance and unstable peer relationships. In fact, the impact of symptoms on multiple domains in life is a key crite- rion for diagnosis of ADHD and necessary to distinguish true ADHD from commonly occurring symptoms of stressful lives or features of normal childhood development. The disorder seems to follow a predictable developmental path, with symptoms ap- pearing in the early childhood years and, in roughly 50 percent of cases, spontaneously fading away as the child enters adolescence. Nonetheless, some individuals continue to exhibit symptoms of ADHD throughout adulthood.

ADHD has received quite a bit of public attention in recent years, and as a result, most people know something about it. As is often the case, though, the layperson’s knowledge of a psychological disorder may rely on media reports, Hollywood por- trayals, and the words of a well-meaning (but sometimes misinformed) friend or even teacher—and consequently isn’t as factual as he or she thinks it is. And overconfidence in one’s knowledge about something medical or psychological sometimes leads to self- diagnosis, which may or may not be accurate. Given the increasing numbers of our students who report having symptoms of ADHD, we think it’s important to set the re- cord straight about what ADHD is, what we know about its causes, and what research tells us about effective treatments.

What Causes ADHD? Research to determine the causes of ADHD is in the early stages, although twin studies and other heritability research point to a strong genetic component. From a nurture perspective, prenatal exposure to nicotine and alcohol have been found to increase incidence of ADHD. And while some theories of environmental causes—such as a diet too high in sugar—have been debunked, recent research has revealed some provocative findings. As we know, the first few years of life are a time when the brain is developing synaptic connections at a furious pace. A recent longitudinal study with a nationally representative sample now provides strong evidence that viewing noneducational tele- vision prior to the age of 3 predicts attention deficits later in childhood (Zimmerman & Christakis, 2007). What’s more, the culprit wasn’t only violent television—even non- violent entertainment programs and DVDs produced this effect. Researchers suggest it is the fast-paced movement of entertainment programming driving the finding: In other words, watching programs that quickly and frequently switch from one scene to another—during a time when brain connections are forming—limits the brain’s opportunities to create pathways for more extended focus and concentration. Instead, it trains the brain to seek rapid changes in stimulation. It’s easy to see how this sets a child up for problems with attention span later in life. This also explains why viewing similar amounts of educational television (which moves more slowly) did not increase incidence of attention deficits later in childhood. The study controlled for other fac- tors that may influence development of attention deficits, such as family environment, parenting style, and cognitive stimulation. According to a companion study, 90 percent of children under 24 months regularly watch television, and half of what they view is entertainment television (Zimmerman et al., 2007).

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