Parenting from a psychoanalytic perspective can be thought of as a journey through a minefield of potential dangers. If parents are overly rigid and moralistic, they risk suppressing positive aspects of the life force residing in the id. If they are too permissive and fail to provide adequate boundaries for the child, they risk allowing the formation of a child with an inadequate superego, resulting in the unchecked id running wild. Effective parenting is a balance of allowing a child’s expression of innate creativity while at the same time taming the child through societal behavioral norms.
According to the psychoanalytic theory of the personality, healthy development is characterized by a strong ego, which can monitor the extreme demands of the id and the superego. During their first six years of life, children move through three developmental stages—oral, anal, and genital—in which they must negotiate their need for gratification with parental and societal approval. In Freud’s theory, eros and thanatos are encapsulated in the sexual organs’ development. Freud’s theory is based in the appropriate expression of id drives that are mainly sexualized in nature (except for the latency stage, where these drives lie in a dormant state). Secure gender identity and self-esteem develop during the latency stage (age seven to twelve) if a firm foundation is established during the first six years of life. If earlier conditions were less than ideal, the child may have difficulty relating to others and experience increasing self-doubt and lack of self- esteem. The internal conflicts (id, ego, and superego) are experienced through each stage of the relationship with parents. When relationships with both parents are strong and unwavering, the child will feel a sense of well-being and worth.
Erikson’s Neopsychoanalytic or Psychosocial Theory: Infancy through Adulthood In traditional psychoanalytic theory, the basic personality is thought to be
formed by puberty, with minimal change likely thereafter. Two major contributions to our understanding of psychoanalytic human development are provided by Erik Erikson (1968, 1985), who argues that development continues into adulthood. First, Erikson suggests eight developmental stages (as opposed to the five stages proposed by Freud), the last emerging at approximately age forty- five. Erikson focuses on how parents and wider psycho-historical and social factors affect a person’s learning each stage-specific developmental task. Mastery of the developmental tasks at each stage is vital to successful achievement of the tasks at the next stage.
The degree of mastery determines the strengths and deficits with which an individual develops. The mastery of these strengths resulted in what Erikson referred to as virtues or vitalities for the individual. To arrive at maturity (the last
stage of development) with a sufficient sense of ego integrity, one must have achieved trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, and generativity during the previous seven sequential stages. At the opposite extreme are those individuals who end up in a state of despair because they have experienced mistrust, shame and doubt, guilt, a sense of inferiority, role confusion, isolation, and stagnation sequentially during the developmental stages.
A major strength of Erikson’s theory is its recognition of the importance of both familial and extrafamilial influences on human development. Recognizing the cumulative effects of experience throughout the life span, the theory also suggests interventions to help those who have been socially or psychologically deprived at a specific stage of development.
Cognitive Structural Theories We now turn to cognitive structural approaches to human development. This
transition is facilitated by a change in how psychologists understand and study humans. First, we notice that both Freud and Erikson attempt to describe more general human characteristics. Their theories are more global. For example, Freud’s theory attempts to explain why people make verbal mistakes (i.e., a Freudian slip) all the way to why a person marries someone else or chooses a specific vocation. Second, in moving toward the cognitive revolution in psychology, theorizing and research focus on more limited human phenomena like language learning or moral development. Finally, there is an increasing emphasis on understanding the interrelationships among biological, neurological, and psychological processes (like thinking) that are reflected in the research. Cognitive structural approaches like those of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Fowler share an emphasis on combining an understanding of the need for brain development to occur before a child is able to achieve a specific level of cognitive, moral, and faith development. In other words, the brain has to have the neurological mechanisms in order for the cognitive, moral, and faith psychological processes to be developed.
Cognitive Development Theory: The Child as a Developing Scientist While cognitive development (CD) theory singles out the cognitive aspects of
human development, it should be noted that Kohlberg’s moral development model and Fowler’s faith process model, while reflected in table 5, will be discussed in chapter 8 as part of the topic of family spirituality. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget starts with the assumption that children are not merely passive objects but also active agents in constructing their personal reality; that is, they turn all life
experiences into action. In a rational fashion, the child continually attempts to make sense of the world. Piaget bases his theory on qualitative data, mainly from observing his own children; he observed how babies make use of their natural reflexes as they contact an object or a person. The child is a “little scientist,” learning by acting upon the world. Children are discovering the scheme into which a thing fits so they can act toward it consistently. A ball is to be bounced, but a dog will bark, growl, move away, or bite. Therefore, the child learns to act accordingly by picking up on these cues. The acquisition of language brings a wide variety of new possibilities. With time, the child learns to discriminate between and distinguish parents as “Mommy” or “Daddy” and strangers as “man” or “woman” (or “boy” or “girl”). In analyzing this process, Piaget uses the terms assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. Assimilation is taking information in and construing it in terms of one’s established way of thinking. Whatever is perceived is made to fit into existing schemes. The more refined a scheme, the less likely it is that new pieces of information will be misplaced (Piaget 1932).
However, if children could assimilate experiences only into existing categories, no new scheme would emerge. And because many things do not fit into existing schemes, new schemes must be formed. This is the process of accommodation: altering the existing cognitive structures to allow for new objects experienced. Children continually engage in assimilation and accommodation. The balance between the two is equilibration. People with mature cognitive structures engage in both assimilation and accommodation. People with immature cognitive structures fail to engage in one or the other and thus do not achieve equilibration (cognitive balance).
According to Piaget, cognitive development in a child takes place in four major stages. The first is the sensorimotor stage, which covers the period from birth until about two years of age. During this stage, children are primarily focused on basic motor skills and learning to adapt their behavior to their external environment. The child classifies objects by acting upon them. In the process, the child begins to grasp the idea of object permanence—that is, to realize that objects that are out of sight have not ceased to exist.
Children also learn to coordinate the different parts of the body during the sensorimotor stage. For example, when trying to reach for an object, they will stand on their tiptoes and stretch their arms as high as they can. Toward the end of the sensorimotor stage, children intentionally engage in goal-directed behavior; that is, they push a chair up to the table and then climb on the chair to get the cookie on the table, all in an orderly sequence.
Mastery of linguistic skills is primary during the preoperational stage, in which children are able to name objects, to place words together into meaningful sentences, and to begin to construct a view of reality.
Because the acquisition of language skills is so complex, the thinking and behavior of a child are characterized by unsettledness, fear, and confusion— precisely why this stage is referred to as preoperational. For example, the child may conclude that firefighters, since they always appear at the scene of a fire, set fires, or that police initiate trouble. Parents must be mindful that children need help in logically explaining the events they experience. It is natural at this stage for children to think everyone else experiences the world as they do. If they are happy, they project happiness onto everyone else; when they are sad, then everyone else must be sad.