The years between childhood and maturity can be difficult for many of us. In some ways, the various struggles that we face have become something of a rite of passage or considered a necessary part of growing up. Often, too little thought is given by parents and mentors about how providing our kids with some insight into personal development might help them on their journey.
In many countries, this is — to an extent — treated as a part of the general education curriculum. However, this is rarely comprehensive and is usually provided at a later stage in their childhood development; at a time that adults might consider it age-appropriate. The German-American psychologist Erik Erikson posited that there are eight stages of personal development that each person goes through and that their social experiences during each stage impact their development and growth. Is it not, therefore, vital to provide our children with information that can help them successfully navigate their psychosocial growth from their very earliest stages?
We’re going to take a closer look at the importance of helping children to understand the stages of personal development. How can this knowledge help their growth? What effect can this have on their journey through adolescence to adulthood?
Prepares Coping Mechanisms
Providing children with the knowledge of developmental stages from an early age is a critical preparatory tool. According to Erikson, one of the consistent aspects of every stage is the presence of conflict. These conflicts are defining characteristics that children must overcome or learn to coexist with in order to achieve vital psychosocial qualities at each milestone — also known as “virtues.” When parents begin a dialogue with their kids during each stage, the knowledge they gain helps them to identify and build mechanisms that can help them address and cope with the difficulties they’ll face.
These mechanisms aren’t only for children to discover for themselves. Having foreknowledge of the stages their child will go through, and insight into the obstacles evident during the period they’re transitioning through can help parents to identify the best time to broach the subject of personal development. They can then offer ideas, resources, support, and potential solutions.
As an example, between the ages of 6 and 11, children are likely to face the conflict between industry vs. inferiority. This is a time at which they start to develop self-confidence based on their competence at tasks — primarily defined by their success at school. By discussing this with children early on, parents can also introduce the importance of positive thought, and explain how academics and peer comparison are not always accurate assessments of their competence.
This can also be assisted by incorporating activities that help them manage day-to-day pressures. Spending time outside in nature will help to reduce the stress they feel from external influences and internal negative thought. This not only gives them tools to help through their present stage of development but also for future conflicts they’ll face both personally and professionally.
Supports Mental Health
Life can be confusing even at the best of times. Childhood and adolescence can be particularly turbulent, and this can have a detrimental effect on kids’ mental health. There is often a tendency for parents to minimize their teens’ low moods and anxious behavior as natural aspects of early adulthood. However, it’s important to note that these can also be potential signs that they’re experiencing suicidal ideation; the sad truth is that suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens. By helping them to understand and identify their stages of personal development, parents can help the period feel less confusing and isolating.
The most common stage of development experienced during the teenage years is identity vs. confusion. This is a time at which events, thoughts, and behavior can feel very much outside of teens’ control. This period commonly features a struggle to develop a solid sense of their identity. Without navigating this phase successfully, young adults can experience prolonged uncertainty and insecurity, which can feed or exacerbate psychological issues such as anxiety.
Explaining the theory behind personal development is just the start. It’s also important to provide encouragement and support that can help kids to navigate their current stage. Offer opportunities that help them to safely and effectively explore their identity and reinforce the importance of behavior such as social interactions and new experiences that empower them to develop their sense of self. In doing this, parents can help reduce the feeling of confusion and loneliness that can contribute to poor mental health.
Helps Create Balance
Successfully navigating the stages of personal development isn’t just about overcoming the conflicts. Rather, it’s understanding that the conflicts themselves are a necessary part of our growth, and our journey through these stages provides us with the personal characteristics we need to address crises that occur throughout our lives. As an example, the developmental stage of initiative vs. guilt is not about removing guilt entirely from our experience. Guilt has a fundamental role to play in our lives. Successful transition is about creating a healthy balance between the two and creating the tools to deal with them.
This means that teaching your children about personal development from an early age is empowering them to create balance in their lives. In understanding that the conflict they experience isn’t harmful but necessary, they have the opportunity to gain greater insight into what they are feeling, and how it affects their growth.
As with many aspects of personal development, helping children to understand this from an early age can have implications upon their later lives. Developing a habit of seeking balance now can help them enact it in various aspects of their lives, such as study and recreation, and work and family life as adults. It’s not just about getting through the stage as quickly and painlessly as possible, it’s making sure that our psychosocial tools are robust, and we have the perspective to see how it holistically affects our lives.
The stages of personal development introduced by Erik Erikson are not just guidelines for psychologists. They can also be useful, practical tools for both parents and kids as they navigate the difficult periods of growth. By understanding the conflicts, parents can help their kids create coping mechanisms, bolster their mental health, and achieve balance in their lives.