Freud, Erikson, Piaget on Development & Play Years


Theorists such as Freud, Erikson, Piaget, and Vigotsky developed different theories centered on human development. Some of these theories are centered on environmental influences, societies role on human development, stages that humans must go through in order to develop, and others speak on theories that say humans are active learners. Although there has been criticism, direct opposition, and newer theories developed, we could use these theories to help us understand human development.

Both Freud and Erikson developed theories based on the psychoanalytic of childhood development. Although both Freud and Erikson’s psychosocial theories are characterized by a challenge or developmental crisis and both believed that early experiences affect adulthood, Erikson expanded and modified Freud’s Psychosexual theory. Erikson’s theory emphasizes family and culture. Freud’s psychosexual stages is centered on the “inner drives, deep motives, and unconscious needs rooted in childhood” (Berger, 2014, p.39).

According to Freud, during the first six years of a child’s life, development occurs in stages called psychosexual. The psychosexual stages come from sexual interest from different parts of the body called genital, latency, phallic, anal and oral stages. Humans must go through and fulfill all the stages in order to move to the next. If humans do not get through and fulfill all of the stages, their adulthood will be conflicted.

Unlike Freud’s six psychosexual stages, Erikson’s psychosocial theory is centered on eight psychosocial stages. The stages are centered on family and culture. These stages are Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Role Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation, and Integrity vs. Despair. If a child doesn’t achieve any of these stages it may arise in adulthood.

A theorist that focused on developmental stages was Jean Piaget. Piaget was interested in the way children think instead of what they know. Piaget’s cognitive theory believed that how children think change with experience and time. Children’s cognitive development occurs in four stages. The first stage is sensorimotor, from birth to 2 years (Berger, 2014). During this stage child are learning through their senses. The next stage is the preoperational stage, from 2-6 years. During the preoperational stage, children think symbolically and are egocentric (Berger, 2014). The next stage is the concrete operational stage, from 6-11 years. During the concrete operational stage children begin to apply logic to their thinking and understanding. The last stage is the formal operational stage, from 12 years through adulthood. During this stage, adolescents use analysis until adulthood.

The last theorist that I studied to understand development was Lev Vigotsky. Vigotsky studied the interaction between the developing person, culture and education.

Vigotsky believed that the community was the children’s mentor. These mentors taught their beliefs and values to shape the developing person. Based on these theories and developmental achievements I could hypothesize about Carrie, the 5 years old girl in vignette #3.

Vignette Interpretation

Developmental achievements are a list of things that a child should be doing at a certain age. Developmental achievements could be seen as a checklist. The checklist includes biosocial development, cognitive development, and psychosocial development. Biosocial development includes body changes, brain development and motor skills. By the age of 6, a well-nourished child should show evidence of increased height and weight. Their brain weight is at 90 percent of an adults brain. The brain weight occurs due to myelination. Myelination grows a significant amount by the age of 6 years which allows for children to have several thoughts, and increase and rapid sensory and motor. According to Berger, “Brain changes enable more reflective, coordinated thought and memory, better planning, and quicker responses” (Berger, 2014, p. 242).

Carrie, shows evidence that bio socially she is developing at an average rate. Carrie is able to walk into the classroom showing evidence that her motor skills are developed at an average rate. Carrie is able to describe things that she did in previous days and is an active listener. Carrie remembers her morning routines in the classroom and does them without assistance. Carrie walks into the classroom wailing and speaking her emotions; then, she is able to control her emotions and get back to her routine. These are all evidence that her brain is maturing and becoming balanced.

Cognitive development includes thinking process, learning and language learning. According to the theorist Piaget, children from the ages of 2-6 years old are at the preoperational intelligence stage. Piaget’s preoperational intelligence stage is the term he uses to describe cognitive development (Berger, 2014). Piaget describes this stage as children being egocentric, disregarding logic, and perceiving life experiences from their perspective. This stage is when children begin to use language to express themselves and socialize.

Carrie’s cognitive development seems to be at an average level. Carrie seems to be at a stage where she is in between being egocentric and disregarding logic and a concrete thinker. Although Carrie is well aware of her school routine and continues to “breeze” through her school day; she is unable to see any other perspective other than her own. Carrie shows these signs when her mother drops her off at school. Carrie expresses herself in wails and states, “I hate coming to school!” Carries also communicates with her peers about what she did in previous days.

Psychosocial development includes emotional development, play, and morality. Carries shows signs of insecure attachment behaviors. As Carrie enters the classroom she is anxious, wails, and expresses her concerns and emotions. This behavior could be triggered by Carrie not wanting to leave her mother’s side; or triggered by a possible previous incident in her past where Carrie felt that she did not like and hated school. Carrie’s past experience could have influenced her behavior when she entered the classroom. According to Berger, “Infants have difficulty storing new memories in their first year, and older children are often unable to describe events that occurred when they were younger” … “Attachment patterns formed in the first two years continue to influence personality and behaviors throughout the lifespan, although later experiences also play a role” (p. 165,191). It may be that Carrie experienced an emotional trauma at her preverbal stage and she is not able to express those feelings at the age of 5. Carrie may not have an emotional disorder because she is able to adapt and continue her day without signs of anxiety. Carrie’s relationships with her classmates are positive. Carrie talks and listens to her classmates.


In such a way, the discussed case provides several takeaways that should be considered. First, the development of a child is a complex process that presupposes the evolution of cognitive and psychosocial domains (Herman, 1997). The importance of the given process is evidenced by multiple research works devoted to the investigation of the issue. Thus, Freud and Erikson, Piaget, and Vigotsky offered their own ideas of developmental stages that described specific alterations in child behavior regarding their age (Berger, 2014). The main goal of this classification is to attain an improved understanding of the development of a child and processes occurring in his/her brain to conclude whether there are pathologies or deviations that should be given attention (Berger, 2014). The scope of the problem also means that multiple paradigms can be applied to a single case to classify or analyses it and acquire a better vision of a certain child’s behavior.

The offered vignette can also be investigated by using different perspectives and approaches. In general, Carrie’s cognitive and psychosocial development are at an average level, which can be evidenced by her actions. Appropriate cooperation with peers, the ability to memorize and perform daily routine, and close relations with the mother justify the fact that a child does not have crucial or visible deviations in her development (Berger, 2014). Application of the basic theories to analyze Carrie’s actions show that the leading causes for the phrase that triggered adults might include the lack of desire to be separated with mother, or, on the contrary, the attempt to surprise her peers and attract attention to her person (Eliot, 2000). Both these motifs can be considered normal ones for a child in the given age.

The information from the vignette and theories analyzed in terms of the case provides us with the opportunity to make an assumption about events that happen with the child. Accepting the idea that egocentric thinking is peculiar to children at this age and helps them to meet their basic requirements, Carrie’s actions can be considered an attempt to attract her mother’s attention and guarantee that she will stay with the daughter (Berger, 2014). Possessing the average level of cognitive thinking, Carrie can understand that this phrase will trigger a strong reaction and help to become involved in some processes that will guarantee her a high level of attention. At the same time, based on Piaget’s cognitive theory, children’s thought process affects their behavior and occurs in four age periods. The stages are focused on how children think, rather than on their actions or knowledge. At the moment, Carrie is in the preoperational stage, and her behavior is appropriate. In such a way, driven by egocentric motifs, Carrie told a phrase that should not be understood literally as her other actions demonstrate that she does not have problems with peers, or there are no factors that might precondition the evolution of hatred or aggression related to attending school.

Altogether, the case demonstrates the peculiarities of children’s behavior and their actions. The existence of several developmental stages emphasized by multiple researchers such as Freud and Erikson, Piaget, and Vigotsky explains the difference in reactions and motifs that are peculiar to a certain child. For Carrie, her good cognitive and psychosocial skills evidence that there are no deviations in her development but demonstrate her desire to attract attention and stay close with her mother.

Developmental Stage Summary Chart

Psychoanalytic Theory
Sigmund Freud
Psychosexual theory is characterized by sexual interest arising from a particular body part.
Sigmund Freud originated the psychoanalytic theory. Freud believed development occurred in the first six years of life in stages called psychosexual. All of the psychosexual stages arise from sexual interest from different parts of the body.

Freud believed that adult behavior was influenced by experiences a child had in these stages. The experiences affect the adult’s lifelong libido. Freud believed that the genital stage last throughout adulthood.

1 Oral Stage Birth-1yr Pleasure arises from the mouth.
2 Anal Stage 1-3yrs Pleasure arises from the anus.
3 Phallic Stage 3-6yrs Pleasure arises from genital stimulation
4 Latency 6-11yrs Sexual urges are quiet
5 Genital Stage Adolescence-
Pleasure arises from the genitals.
Erik Erikson– Psychosocial theory is characterized by a challenge or developmental crisis. Erik Erikson expanded and modified Freud’s Psychosexual theory.

Erikson’s theory emphasizes family and culture. Like Freud, Erikson believed that early experiences affect adulthood.

1 Birth-1yr Trust vs. Mistrust Babies either trust or mistrust that others will take care of their needs.
2 1-3yrs Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt Children become self-sufficient or doubt their abilities.
3 3-6yrs Initiative vs. Guilt Children experiment with adult like activities and are more adventurous or internalize the limits set by parents.
4 6-11yrs Industry vs. Inferiority Children practice and master new skills or lack confidence/don’t feel adventurous
5 Adolescence Identity vs. Role confusion Adolescence are more aware of who they are. They establish their identity (politically, sexually, religion, etc). Or they are confused as to where they stand and who they are.
6 Adulthood Intimacy vs. Despair Young adults seek companionship or become isolated
Adulthood Generativity vs. Stagnation Middle-aged adults contribute to future generations through parenthood, work, etc. or stagnate
Adulthood Integrity vs. despair Older adults try to make sense of their lives; did they accomplish their goals or despair at goals never reached.
Cognitive Theory
Jean Piaget- Cognitive theory focuses on how children think instead of what they know. Jean Piaget’s cognitive theory focuses on how children think instead of what they know. How children think changes with time and experiences. Children’s thought process affect their behavior. Cognitive development occurs in four age-related periods.
Birth-2yrs Sensorimotor Infants use senses and motor skills to learn and understand the world. Infants learn that when objects are out of sight they still exist.
2-6yrs Preoperational Children think symbolically and are egocentric, perceiving from their perspective. Imagination expands and language becomes significant for expressing and socializing.
6-11 Concrete operational Children understand and apply logic. Applying logic allows children to understand math and science concepts.
12yrs- Adulthood Formal operational Adolescents and adults are more analytical using abstract and theoretical reasoning. Politics, social and moral issues become interesting.
Lev Vygotsky
Sociocultural TheoryLev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory studies the human development between the developing person and their surrounding society. Vygotsky believed that customs are powerful, and shape development in every person. Vygotsky describes the interaction between culture and education as:
  • Culture is viewed as an integral part of human development.
  • Communities teach children the beliefs and habits that are valued in each culture.
  • Each person develops with the guidance of more skilled member/mentor in an apprenticeship.
  • The apprenticeship is described by Vygotsky in a process called guided participation.
  • Guided participation is used by parents, teachers, and entire societies to teach learners the skills and habits expected with their culture.
  • Guided participation offers, instructions, and mutual involvement.
  • During guided participation the teacher/mentor must find the learner’s one of proximal development (ZPD).
  • ZPD contains the learner’s skills, knowledge and concepts that the learner is close to acquiring but cannot yet master without help.
  • Through assessments of the learner, the teacher/mentor engages the learner within the zone; within this zone the learner gains new knowledge.

B. F. Skinner
Behaviorism/Learning Theory

Operant Conditioning- People or animals act and then something follows the action. If the action is enjoyable the person or animal will repeat the behavior. If the action is unpleasant, the person or animal may not repeat the behavior. Learning occurs through reinforcement and punishment.
– Learning occurs only after several repetitions with consequences.
– Misbehavior is best stopped by encouraging good behavior.


Berger, K. (2014). Developing person through life span. Worth Publishers Inc.

Eliot, L. (2000) What’s going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life. Bantam.

Herman, J. (1997). Trauma and recovery. The aftermath of violence–from domestic abuse to political terror. Basic Books.

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PsychologyWriting. "Freud, Erikson, Piaget on Development & Play Years." September 13, 2023.