Erik Erikson’s Theories of Human Development


Any form of growth occurs in stages. Similarly, human development occurs in different stages from infancy through childhood to adulthood. Erik Erikson’s approach to life of an individual from infancy to adulthood is one of the most recognized theories of human development. The theory breaks down the life of a person into eight key stages. The theory is an addition to the Freud’s theory, which only outlines five stages of life (Tale & Parker, 2007). The theory explains the impacts of social experiences on the life of a child from birth to adulthood. The first stage of development according to this theory starts when a child is born and it continues up to the second year of the child’s life. During this period, the child is defenseless and s/he must rely on a caregiver for protection and provision of all necessities. The theory asserts that a child can develop trust or mistrust towards the caregiver depending on the care given at this stage. Additionally, this stage lays the foundation on which a child develops through the subsequent stages (Capps, 2008). This paper analyzes the first stage of development, viz. trust vs. mistrust, which sets the foundation of a child’s development. The paper will also explore the importance of this stage in later stages of development of a child.

When the theoretical orientation was first developed?

A German scholar, Erik Erikson, developed the theory in the year 1965 and it describes the eight stages of development in the life of humans (Capps, 2008). The theory describes what transpires in the eight stages of life right from infancy to adulthood. According to Eric Erickson, the first stage of development starts immediately a child is born and it continues for 2 years after which the infant graduates to the second stage of development.

Major arguments

The phase of trust vs. mistrust according to Erik Erikson is the first stage in a child’s development (Tale & Parker, 2007). The stage commences right at birth and it continues for the first two years (Capps, 2008). The stage centers on the infant’s basic needs that are provided by the caretaker. During this stage developmental stage, a child solely depends on the mother or caregiver for all his/her requirements (Ciccarelli, & Meyer, 2011). The child does not have the ability to understand the world and he/she has to depend on his/her parents in every undertaking.

When a child is first introduced to the world, his/her mind is shallow and it can rarely understand the surroundings. Therefore, the infant requires time to build rapport and set up a relationship with his/her caregiver. The infant must thus be protected under the watch of a grownup person who also provides the basic needs necessary for his/her development (Ciccarelli, & Meyer, 2011). The mother or caregiver is the primary provider of these basic needs. In the process of providing the care and meeting the child’s needs, a positive or a negative relationship between the mother and the child is established. Erik Erikson argues that trust between the infant and the mother develops at this stage (Dunkel & Sefcek, 2009). If the parent or caregiver shows love and care to the child, s/he automatically develops a sense of trust towards the caregiver. On the other hand, if a parent fails to show love and care for the infant, a sense of mistrust develops in the child’s mind and s/he grows in a world of mistrust (Capps, 2008). This stage is important as it determines the infant’s view of the world coupled with shaping one’s adulthood behaviors.

The theory of development centers on the ability of a caregiver to provide the necessary support to a child. The basic needs include food, shelter, protection, comfort, and affection (Dunkel & Sefcek, 2009). If a caregiver is in a position to provide all the aforementioned basic needs, the child will reciprocate by developing trust towards the same individual. The basic needs ought to be made available regularly in order for the child to retain the trust in the process of developing. Lack of any of the above-mentioned necessities provides an incentive for the child to develop the opinion of doubt on the caregiver. Therefore, the child will develop the perception that the world is unfair and unreliable (Tale & Parker, 2007).

The stage as a foundation for success of other stages

The kind of treatment that is afforded to a child at this crucial stage determines his/her future feelings and behaviors (Dunkel & Sefcek, 2009). It determines a child’s view about the world and response to challenges that come along in the future. The theory asserts that children, who successfully develop trust towards their mothers at this stage, have high confidence levels in the future (Capps, 2008). Therefore, this stage is important since it forms the foundation through which the child successfully undergoes the other stages. A child who has the best treatment at this stage stands a higher chance of responding positively in all other stages of the development cycle. In addition, the treatment afforded to the child at this stage of life determines one’s level of confidence in adulthood (Ciccarelli, & Meyer, 2011). A well-treated child will have higher confidence levels than a child who is abused and denied the necessities at this stage.

How it has changed over the years

When the theory was developed, it emphasized the need for parents to provide their children with the basic needs so that trust can be built (Tale & Parker, 2007). However, in the recent years, the theory has evolved and the basic needs go beyond the initial food, shelter, and protection requirements (Capps, 2008). The child is now taken to understand the mother’s feelings and attitudes. For example, if a mother opts to quit her job in order to take care of the child at home, but in doing so, she feels guilty of her action, the feeling will be transferred to the child and in this case, s/he will not develop total trust (Ciccarelli, & Meyer, 2011). Therefore, it can be concluded that the theory now takes in not only the basic needs, but also the attitudes of the mother.

Common treatment techniques

The theory advocates for regular provision of the basic needs to the child at all costs. A child should be provided with regular food and care (Dunkel & Sefcek, 2009). Other privileges that ought to be provided to the child include shelter and protection. In availing all the aforementioned necessities, trust is built between the caregiver and the child. In addition, a sense of the world being predictable and dependable is instilled in the child’s mind (Capps, 2008). A child communicates through crying and the response of a mother to the cry from the baby determines the relationship between the two, and thus it can either have positive or negative impacts on the child’s future development (Tale & Parker, 2007). If the mother responds to the cry in time and provides the baby with the relevant needs, a routine will be developed and communication will be enhanced thus paving way for the development of positive behaviors in both childhood and adulthood (Ciccarelli, & Meyer, 2011).


Eric Ericson developed the psychosocial theory of development in 1965. It is similar to the Freud’s theory though it goes further to add three extra stages to the initial five stages described in the Freud’s theory. The theory outlines eight stages of development of a child from childhood to adulthood. However, in this paper, only the first stage, viz. trust vs. mistrust, is discussed and it primarily defines the first 2 years of a child’s life. The theory asserts that a child develops trust or mistrust depending on the treatment afforded at this stage of life. A child who is provided with all the basic needs will tend to develop a sense of trust towards the caregiver. On the other hand, a child who is abused will grow in a world of mistrust. According to this theory, the first stage determines the success of the subsequent stages; hence, the success of this stage means that the subsequent stages will be a success too. In light of the above description of the first stage of infant’s development, it can be concluded that an infant’s wellbeing entirely depends on the caregiver.


Capps, D. (2008). Mother, melancholia, and dreams in Erik H. Erikson’s Insight and Responsibility. Journal of religion and health, 47(1), 103-117.

Ciccarelli, K., & Meyer, G. (2011). Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Dunkel, S., & Sefcek, J. (2009). Eriksonian lifespan theory and life history theory: An integration using the example of identity formation. Review of General Psychology, 13(1), 13-23.

Tale, Y., & Parker, S. (2007). Using Erikson’s developmental theory to understand and nurture spiritual development in Christians. Journal of Psychology & Christianity, 26(3), 218-226.