Continuing on with our series, today we are going to cover Stages Two and Three in Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development: Autonomy (aka Independence) and Initiative.
Between the ages of one and three, most children start to want their independence. They like life and want more of it. They are into and trying everything they can get their hands on, and once they discover how their legs work, they are off and running. Now, you may think you have a problem child, but what you really have is a healthy one.
Yes, it’s a bit frustrating to hear “No!” in response to requests to behave, or to have perfectly decent food spit back out at you when you are trying to get them to eat. What children want at this stage is to make choices on their own. Now, do they understand the world of choices? No. What you want to do is provide them with a couple (or three) choices and let them choose. You get what you want, helping them along the maturity path, and they get to feel independent.
It’s the child that sits still and is afraid to try who gets stuck on this second rung. You want them to work toward independence, otherwise you have adults who cannot make decisions on their own. They are constantly asking others to choose for them, sometimes from fear of making a mistake. Remember, as an adult, these folks have the opportunity to go back and fix the past.
From the ages of about four to six, a child’s imagination starts to come into play. They are testing out a wider world, using their initiative. You want to encourage this, even if they imagine things they are afraid of. This is the time to work through those irrational fears of the dark, or something hiding under the bed. Children may create imaginary friends to help them cope, and that’s OK at age 6. If they are still doing it at age 26, then there’s a problem.
If you are running into people who don’t seem very creative or imaginative, they may have had “chains” put on their imaginations by parents who didn’t appreciate purple-colored trees or spotted “blog monsters” in the coloring book. If they were scolded, they interpreted their wild imaginations as bad things and now refuse to let their creativity express itself.
Children gradually come out of this world of imagination and into the world of reality. That’s healthy. If they don’t, then it’s a measure of maturity in handling these stages. If a sense of trust is never developed, then independence is not attained. And if independence is missing, the imagination doesn’t function correctly, either. Each following stage, or step, is negatively impacted, as well.