stages of child development.


Eons later! I must admit I have been aloof from writing on my blog but not out of disinterest for my work (I tooootally love counseling psychology, particularly marriage and family therapy and all that pertains it) It has been a busy couple of months. I have been in between self development courses, training, sessions and family care. While my body took quite a beating in terms of fatigue, the fulfillment I derive from these activities cannot be fathomed. Parenting Miss L has been quite a delight and everyday she teaches me something new with regard to this line of early parenthood. I also had a difficult stint at finding a nanny and that also took me back few miles as I had to just pause and deal……(sigh! whole story for another day.)

Today’s topic is long overdue and I truly look forward to hearing your feedback including you sharing this information.

As a therapist, I may find it easy to explain various stages of development of a child because i am aware and went to school for it. However, following a discussion I engaged in this last week on children, I realized it is not common knowledge as I thought. So in this article, I choose to delve into the child’s world and bring it to us adults as it is. We shall look at a child’s psycho-sexual and psycho-social stages of development. why, you may ask?

A child is a whole being and as Fritz Pearl of Gestalt Theory opines, the whole is better than a sum total of the individual parts. This is to mean that as parent it is so so important that we understand our young ones from a wholesome perspective if we are to make meaningful impact on them. The psycho-sexual and psycho-social stages were proposed by Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson respectively. Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalytic theory and is known as the father of psychology. According to Freud, our behavior is determined by irrational forces, unconscious motivations, and biological and instinctual drives as these evolve through key psycho-sexual stages in the first 6 years of life. Although later criticized, the psycho-sexual stages have provided psychologists with insight as to human behavior development and personality and cannot just be wished away. Erik Erikson built on Freud’s ideas and extended his theory by stressing the psycho-social aspects of development beyond early childhood. His theory of development holds that psycho-sexual growth and psycho-social growth take place together, and that at each stage of life we face the task of establishing equilibrium between ourselves and our social world. He describes development in terms of the entire life span, divided by specific crises to be resolved. According to Erikson, a crisis is equivalent to a turning point in life when we have the potential to move forward or to regress. At these turning points, we can either resolve our conflicts or fail to master the developmental task. To a large extent, our life is the result of the choices we make at each of these stages. This is equivalent to “fixation” or “getting stuck” by Freud.Viewing an individual from a combination of these two perspectives gives us a comprehensive picture as to development of behavior.


When a child is born, they look to their primary caregiver as their source of survival and security. During this stage the child derives satisfaction from suckling the mother’s breasts. The child needs to receive basic nurturing and care. If this nurturing is not present, oral fixation occurs. The implication of this fixation is that the individual retains infant characteristics in adulthood, seen in such behaviors as;
 Excessive drinking
 Back biting/back stubbing
 Chewing
 Gossiping etc.
If the child breastfeeds for too long, they may develop life long feelings of inadequacy and over dependency. Other times when nurturing needs are not met feelings of greediness and acquisitiveness may develop later in life. This is because children learn their view of the world based on this early interaction. The psycho-social pattern learnt here is trust vs mistrust. Again here,if significant others provide for basic physical and emotional needs, infant develops a sense of trust. If basic needs are not met, an attitude of mistrust towards the world, especially toward interpersonal relationships, is the result.

Children who are not well nurtured and experience neglect in infancy generally exhibit inability to trust oneself and others, resulting in the fear of loving and forming close relationships and low self-esteem as they become older. A pointer in this would be to support parents during this stage. Mothers who especially suffer from PostPartum Depression are likely to unintentionally cause their children to experience mistrust and fear especially where the depression is severe and not caught early. This happened to me in the first year of Miss L’s life and she had begun developing signs of fear and low self esteem. I’m glad I received help and now work on repairing some of the damage caused during that first year. ( It’s ok to reach out, should you feel that my example explains what you could be going through or have gone through. I would love to walk with you.)


Here the point of pleasure shifts from the mouth to the anus. Children derive most pleasure from releasing stool, and this is also the age most parents potty train. They also express their will through expulsion or retention of stool. If parents are overly strict , the child may hold back stool and become constipated. If this happens, the child becomes fixated and in adulthood may exhibit : Hoarding (constipation) , Stinginess, Over cleanliness (anal retentive fixation). If parents do not exercise control, and the child defecates as they wish, the child develops anal aggressive fixation exhibited through : Irresponsibility, Carelessness , Carefree lifestyle and Lack of planning in life leading to impulsive behaviors.

The main developmental task here is learning independence, accepting personal power, and learning to express negative feelings such as rage and aggression. Parental discipline patterns and attitudes have significant consequences for child’s later personality development. Many parents have labelled this stage many names including terrible twos, traumatic twos, terriffic twos, terrorising threes. This stage characterizes fight for freedom as children have become more mobile, stable in movement, speech and are learning that they can exist outside their primary care giver. Its like the fight for freedom from colonization, as many parents put it, and tantrums are a signature behavior. Understanding that your child is simply normal and seeking to learn how to be independent will help you as a parent to allow healthy parameters of freedom, teach boundaries and enforce age appropriate discipline. Your child needs to explore and experiment, to make mistakes, and to test limits. If parents promote dependency, child’s autonomy is inhibited and capacity to deal with world successfully is hampered.

With Miss L , who is two years and 4 months, understanding how this stage works has allowed me to exercise grace albeit sometimes with flare ups here and there. I am learning to be very aware of my emotional processes as i discipline her lest I instill shame. I create opportunities for her to exercise independence eg allowing her to feed herself, clean the table, put on her shoes, pick specific cartoon to watch, walk without holding her hand when safe, play with water (very rarely but she thoroughly enjoys it) etc. These activities almost always end up in messes I have to clean after but leave a very satisfied child whose self esteem has been boosted. Even when I have to discipline, first thing is to squat to eye level and explain calmly why we can/ cannot have our way at that time, encouraging use of words instead of screams and sometimes simply allowing her to cry and express anger in safe ways. I discourage throwing or breaking things as allowing anger to express in this way teaches aggression and out of control behavior. Again parents or caregivers suffering from post partum depression, stress or any kind of metal illness may find it difficult to balance discipline while maintaining calm and allow independence.

In this stage, modelling behavior works wonders. Let your children see and hear you being kind, expressing emotions in a safe, open and mature way, exercising healthy boundaries such as saying and respecting NO and loving yourself. It is important to have a healthy relationship with self to help your child navigate this stage. Sadly, many parents are stuck in shame instilled in them when they were at this age and subconsciously and unintentionally pass it on. (Children who internalize rejection from the oral stage and shame from this stage have a difficult time expressing emotions as adults. I personally had to confront childhood shame and pent up anger in order to love myself unconditionally and subsequently pass on health to Miss L.)Feel free to reach out should you feel stuck in shame, rejection which you may not even know its root. I’ll be glad to explore with you in a safe space. I would also love to hear your experience with your lil’ ones at this stage, how you are fairing on and how I can help.


Phallic comes from the Greek word, phallus meaning penis. This psycho-sexual stage draws from Greek mythology, the Oedipus complex and Electra complex. Read the story : ,

At this stage, the genital area becomes the primary erotic zone and genital masturbation is common, especially among young boys. According to Freud, the boy develops an unconscious incestuous sexual feelings for his mother and becomes sensitive to the differences between him and the female counterparts. He suffers castration anxiety for fear that if the father finds out, he will be castrated. If the stage is well negotiated, the boy identifies with the father figure. If the boy is stuck due to lack of the father figure in his life, he is said to be having a fixation at the phallic stage. This feelings of a boy towards his mother is known as Oedipus complex.
On the other hand, the girl develops Electra complex whereby, she suffers from penis envy, assuming the mother must have cut it off, hence they dislike their mothers.
If this stage is well negotiated, the girl identifies with the mother. If not well negotiated, it may lead to homosexuality and other sexual related difficulties in adulthood.

Children this age, love touching their genitalia and are curious. Sadly, abuse is likely to happen, should children explore with the wrong people. Being comfortable with your own sexuality will help you teach your child about their own sexuality. I find this age of curiosity a great place to start. Let their questions lead you, explain in words they can understand and avoid information overload.

This is also the age most children start school, and the basic task is to achieve a sense of competence and initiative. If children are given freedom to select personally meaningful activities, they tend to develop a positive view of self and follow through with their projects. If they are not allowed to make their own decisions, they tend to develop guilt over taking initiative. They then refrain from taking an active stance and allow others to choose for them. Parents are discouraged from doing their children’s homework or rushing to rescue, ‘help’ children complete tasks.Should you find yourself afraid of seeing your child ‘struggle’ with a task and instead rush to do it for them, please interrogate internal struggles from your own childhood. Could you be filling a need you lacked from childhood? While allowing initiative, know when to step in when the child genuinely asks for help. Sometimes parents push their children too much and the child develops guilt that they shouldn’t ask for help.

There are other stages all the way to adulthood, however this article covers the formative 0-6 years. Why is this important you may ask? According to the Freudian psychoanalytic view, these three areas of personal and social development—love and trust, autonomy and dealing with negative feelings, and developing a positive acceptance of sexuality—are all grounded in the first 6 years of life. This period is the foundation on which later personality development is built. When a child’s needs are not adequately met during these stages of development, an individual may become fixated at that stage and behave in psychologically immature ways later on in life.

Are you stuck in one of these stages?

Reach out today!

Drop me a message and I’ll be more than happy to reply and walk with you!

What are your thoughts after reading this? share with me in the comment section below

Happy parenting and Sharing.



0728 047 318


Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Eighth Edition Gerald Corey, pgs 63,65-67.


3 thoughts on “stages of child development.

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