Ages and Stages of Development (according to Erikson, Piaget and Freud)

As a parent, most of us spend a lot of our time trying to figure out how to manage our households and the people within them, the best that we can. We will dip in and out of blogs, Wikipedia, Google searched articles and maybe even a book or two on how to be a better parent or how not to totally screw up our kids!

With our Parenting In My Pocket podcast (check them out here), Allen and Mary try to break down different theories and make them more applicable to every day life, which our listeners say is really helpful in supporting them to make simple but effective changes at home. To try and expand on this and bring a bit more value, Mary put together this article on three of the most well-known developmental psychologists.

Over time many psychologists have studied and created theories on the development of human beings. In this article we look at three of these theories.


Erikson divides the stages of life into eight different ages.

Infancy: Trust versus Mistrust.  The basic task of a baby is to develop a sense of trust in themselves, others and the world.  They need to feel wanted and secure.  This trust is developed by being cared for, loved and caressed.  If significant others in the infant’s life provide this the baby develops a sense of trust.  When love is absent, the result is a general sense of mistrust towards the world, especially towards interpersonal relationships.

Early Childhood: Autonomy versus shame and doubt.  This is a time for developing autonomy.  The struggle is between a sense of self-reliance and a sense of self-doubt.  The child needs to explore and experiment, to make mistakes and test limits.  If parents create dependency, the child’s autonomy is inhibited and their ability to deal with the world successfully is hampered.

Preschool age: Initiative versus guilt. The 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.

School age: Industry versus inferiority. The child needs to expand understanding of the world, continue to develop appropriate sex role identity and learn the basic skills required for school success.  The task is to achieve a sense of industry, to set and attain personal goals.  Failure to do so results in a sense of inadequacy.

Adolescence: Identity versus role confusion.  This is a time for testing limits, breaking dependent ties and establishing a new identity.  Major conflicts over clarification of self-identity, life goals, amid life meaning. Failure to achieve a sense of identity results in role confusion.

Young adulthood: Intimacy versus isolation.  Development task at this time is to form intimate relationships.  Failure to achieve intimacy can lead to alienation and isolation.

Middle age: Generativity versus stagnation. 

Later life: Integrity versus despair.


First year of life: Oral stage.  Sucking at the mother’s breast satisfies the need for food and pleasure. The infant needs to get basic nurturing or later feelings of greediness or acquisitiveness may develop.  Oral fixations result from deprivation of oral gratification in infancy. Later personality problems can include mistrust of others, rejecting others love and fear and inability to form intimate relationships.

Ages 1 – 3 Anal stage: Anal zone becomes of major significance in formation of personality.  Main development tasks include 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 the child’s later personality development.

Ages 3 – 6 Phallic stage: Basic conflict centres on unconscious incestuous desires that the child develops for the parent of the opposite sex and that, because of their threatening nature, are repressed. How parents respond verbally and non-verbally to the child’s emerging sexuality has an impact on sexual attitudes and feelings that the child develops.

Ages 6 – 12 Latency stage: After the torment of sexual impulses of preceding years, this period is relatively quiescent.  Sexual interests are replaced by interests in school, playmates, sports and a range of new activities.  This is a time of socialisation as a child turns outward and forms relationships with others.

Ages 12 – 18 Genital stage: This stage begins. With puberty and lasts until senility sets in.  Despite social restrictions and taboos, adolescents can deal with sexual energy by investing in various socially acceptable activities such as forming friendships, engaging in art or in sports and preparing for a career.

Ages 18 – 35 Genital stage continues.

Ages 35 – 60 Genital stage continues

Ages 60+ Genital stage continues.


The Sensorimotor stage – from birth to 2: during this stage, infants and toddlers acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects.  At this point, a child’s intelligence consists of their basic motor and sensory explorations of the world.  Piaget believed that developing object permanence or object consistently, the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, was an important element at this point of development. By learning that objects are separate and distinct entities and that they have an existence of their own outside of individual perception, children are then able to begin to attach names and words to objects.

The Preoperational stage – from age 2 to about 7:

At this stage children learn through pretend play, but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of others.  They often struggle with understanding the ideal of constancy. E.g. a researcher might take a lump of clay, divide it into two equal pieces and give the child the choice between two pieces of clay to play with.  One piece of clay is rolled into a compact ball, the other into a flat pancake shape.  Since the flat shape looks larger, the Preoperational child will likely choose that piece, even though the two pieces are exactly the same size.

The Concrete operational stage – from age 7 – 11: children at this point of development begin to think more logically, but their thinking can also be very rigid.  They tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts.  At this point children also become less egocentric and begin to think about how other people might think and feel.  Children in the concrete operational stage also begin to understand that their thoughts are unique to them and that not everyone necessarily shares their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

The Formal operational stage – adolescence – adulthood: the final stage of Paget’s theory involves an increase of logic, the ability to use deductive reasoning and an understanding of abstract ideas.  At this point people become capable of seeing multiple potential solutions to problems and think more scientifically about the world around them.

We hope you found this breakdown interesting and would love to hear your feedback.

(Excerpts taken from Theory and Practice of a Counselling and Psychotherapy (fifth edition) by Gerald Corey 1996. And Kendra Cherry 2016)