Early childhood goes through difficult circumstances. The third phase of Erik Erikson's theory of psychological development involves initiative vs guilt. Children between the ages of three and five practically experience this stage. So, the preschool years are very difficult for them. Children start to express their authority and control over the world during the initiative versus guilt period by deciding how to play and how to connect with others. There are numerous factors that affect this third stage of psychosocial development.
We will examine some of the key developments that occur at this point in psychological development in more detail in this post. So, continue reading if you want to learn them all.
What is Initiative?
Before we start to analyse the development, let’s understand what initiative means. Erikson defined initiative as “a truly free sense of enterprise, manifested at the societal level in a society's economic structure and endeavour” in the context of his theory.
But in reality, initiative manifests as the eagerness to take on new challenges, participate in or create new and challenging activities with others, and try to use their new abilities playfully. Through these, a child gains confidence and starts to realise that they have control over both himself and the outside world.
What are the Advantages of Initiative?
Knowing the meaning of initiative will push you to learn its advantages. If a child gets an environment where they can feel confident, able to make decisions, and get support, they can achieve initiative. And undoubtedly, they are ready for adventures. They try out new things and have no fear of failing. They discover what they can manage and what they cannot. They don't feel bad when they make mistakes because they know they only need to try again. They can grow in desire and direction by taking risks and discovering their own strengths. In other words, children become independent in doing things.
How Do Children Develop Initiative?
What if a child can’t feel enough confidence to show initiative? Nothing to worry about because it's possible to develop the initiative. Things like internal rewards help children to take the initiative. It can be possible through creativity, autonomy, playing independently, etc.
A child feels more eager to exert some influence over what they're engaged in when they are provided with the liberty and support to do things on their own. On the other hand, initiative can’t be developed through outside rewards, such as top grades, money, prizes, etc.
What is Guilt?
According to various psychological surveys, guilt is an emotion that people feel when they think they have done something unethical. Guilt is shame experienced when a task is not properly completed, when someone compromises their standards, when one irritates/ bullies grownups, or when one is generally ashamed of one's efforts. For example, not submitting your homework before the deadline, faking sickness to avoid class tests, or not inviting your friends to your birthday party.
Guilt-ridden kids view mistakes as personal failures and believe that they don’t have enough credibility to do things their way, and somehow, they are part of that group that our society shows as ‘bad.’
What is the Third Stage of Psychosocial Development?
According to Erickson’s theory, Initiative vs Guilt is the third stage in the psychosocial growth process. Following the child's struggle with the Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt crisis, it occurs between the ages of 3 and 5. Children should ideally be capable of making decisions on their own and have a sense of autonomy. They are still of the opinion that the world is reliable throughout this stage of development.
Unfortunately, some children experience guilt and mistrust about their bodies and the decisions they make in society, which causes multiple stress and anxiety. And as a result, this phase raises the bar for decision-making.
Third-stage socially developing children go through a new crisis called Initiative vs Guilt. If they succeed in getting through this phase, they gain the quality of purpose. Relationships with parents, relatives, and even other kids may shape this psychological crisis.
Third Stage Success & Failure
The ability to balance initiative and shame is essential for success in the third stage. Initiative produces a sense of significance and can aid in the development of leadership abilities; failure produces shame. In essence, children who don't show initiative at this point could later develop a phobia of exploring new things. They can think they are acting incorrectly when they make attempts towards something. However, when carers discourage children from playing physically and imaginatively, they start to feel embarrassed by their own initiative. And after a sudden period, failure becomes a staple for those children.
How is a Sense of Guilt Developed?
The initiative is formed in the same way that the second stage was in children who are encouraged to take responsibility or make plans. Role-playing exploration only serves to accelerate this development. Youngsters may start to feel guilty if they are prevented from participating in group play or discouraged from doing so. A youngster may feel bad for asking questions if they are answered incorrectly or not at all if they feel their questions were ignored or discouraged. They can regret expressing their opinions or making requests for what they desire.
Guilt can have highly long-lasting effects, just like mistrust, shame, and doubt. A child won't take risks, establish their own plans, or assume leadership responsibilities if they discover that doing so makes them feel bad. Instead, they could decide to rely on their parents or other parental figures while making life decisions. This has implications for later phases of psychosocial development (identity vs role confusion) when the individual must make choices about their identity and way of life.
It may be challenging for parents to promote exploration. It's fairly common for kids between the ages of 3 and 5 to make mistakes. They might decide to associate with the wrong people or partake in pursuits that their parents don't view as appropriate for them. However, if a parent exerts too much control, the youngster could begin to feel bad for resisting, which is both mentally and physically bad for them.
Initiative vs Guilt examples
Here are a few examples of the Initiative vs Guilt phase –
- When a child builds something—a sandcastle or a cushion fort, for example—they can feel excitement and satisfaction in their success and become more motivated to take on new challenges.
- Youngsters may experience an elevated feeling of autonomy and control over their appearance if they choose to dress themselves. They may suffer emotional harm and feel ashamed and guilty if their efforts are, however, met with adult judgement or disdain.
- A child could decide to volunteer to help with domestic duties and take pride in their accomplishment. It immediately levels up their confidence.
- A child that is eager to make new acquaintances may feel more confident and upbeat about their ability to build relationships with others.
- When a child learns something new, it's normal for them to be curious and enthusiastic. However, if they struggle to get the hang of the talent or are frequently told they aren't good enough, it could make them feel guilty and make them doubt their capacity to learn or advance.
- When a youngster is given the freedom to communicate their ideas and emotions honestly, they might feel a tremendous sense of expressing themselves and initiative.
- Children can benefit from exploring and taking chances since it helps them develop their confidence and learn new things. If the youngster gets negative feedback, it may ruin their fun and make them feel bad about taking chances.
- A young child could decide to take charge of taking care of a pet or a plant because they feel nurtured and responsible. However, they could feel guilty and doubt their capacity to care for others if they fail to fulfil their obligations or face criticism for their efforts.
- When a kid spends time with other kids, they can take responsibility for cooperating and come up with fresh methods to use their creativity. However, if a child is left out or ridiculed by the group, it can cause guilt and insecurity in them. The backbone of their confidence gets ruined.
- Children can benefit from taking the initiative to settle disputes since it gives them a chance to practice their problem-solving abilities. However, if the dispute is left unresolved or the child's intervention is met with disapproval, they could feel guilty about their inability to control the situation.
Factors that Fail Children at Initiative vs Guilt Stage
Here are some things that can go wrong for kids at this stage. Let’s understand them first –
Constant criticism and punishment
These can make children feel guilty and ashamed, which inhibits their motivation to try new things.
Lack of Opportunities
When kids aren't given the chance to explore and learn new things, they may get bored and uninterested, which makes them lack initiative.
Lack of Encouragement
Kids who don't get encouragement or praise from their parents or other adults may feel discouraged and start to feel bad about trying new things.
Extra possessive or helicopter parenting is an example of overprotective parents that prevent their children from exploring and taking risks, which results in a lack of initiative.
Fear of Failure
Children who are afraid of failing may find it difficult to take the initiative. The primary reason for this can be the fear of making errors and dealing with the repercussions.
Trauma or Stressful Events
Traumatic or stressful events can affect a child's ability to take the initiative because they may be wary or afraid to take chances.
Factors that Make Children Positive in the Initiative vs. Guilt Stage
The following are some elements that can support a child's success at this age –
Children require a setting that supports their exploration and willingness to take chances. They can feel comfortable enough to explore new things when parents and other adults who care for them provide a comfortable and encouraging atmosphere.
Independence is encouraged because it gives kids a sense of freedom and authority over their lives. Children can develop more self-confidence and initiative by being given the freedom to choose their own activities and attire, for instance. Giving kids the freedom to choose can help them grow more independent and self-assured. They may have a sense of empowerment that encourages initiative and experimentation.
Assistance for Emotional Development
Children who receive assistance for their emotional growth are more likely to feel safe and assured. They are more likely to take action and feel free to explore their surroundings.
The initiative vs guilt stage, where children learn to discover and take risks while establishing their sense of freedom and authority over their life, is a crucial period in a child's psychological and psychosocial development. Adults are the motivating power throughout this time, encouraging kids to take responsibility and actively building an atmosphere of encouragement that fosters self-confidence. When kids are allowed to explore their surroundings and make choices, they can establish a sense of direction and purpose that will be helpful to them in the future. However, severe criticism or punishment may result in guilt sentiments that obstruct personal development.
Therefore, adults must make an effort to create a nurturing and encouraging environment that promotes initiative and self-assurance, laying the groundwork for success in the future.