Module 2 Notes
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3

Theories of Psychosocial Development

Section 3, Article 4 - So, why do babies cry when they are hungry or do humans have a universal desire to care for their young? Theorists from various schools of thought have attempted to use their worldview presuppositions and theoretical constructs to answer such questions. Perspectives of development during the first two years of life will be examined through the lens of psychoanalytic, psychosocial, cognitive, humanistic, and evolutionary theories, as well as the biblical perspective.

The psychoanalytic theory is based on the concept that people are driven by subconscious desires to seek self-satisfaction. Freud’s theory consisted of five stages wherein the child seeks pleasure within a specified “erogenous zone” but faces a conflict between what he or she wants (self-satisfaction) and what their parent or authority figure allows. During infancy, Freud focused on the first two stages, oral and anal (). During the oral stage, (from birth to one year) self-satisfaction is achieved through the mouth as observed by the fact that children seek nourishment, find solace or pleasure, and learn about their world through the mouth. Conflict arises when a parent or authority figure does not allow the child to freely pursue his or her quest for oral pleasure, such as when the child is weaned or a parent forces the child to stop sucking his or her thump. The anal stage begins after the child’s first birthday and continues until about age three. Pleasure in this stage is focused on the anus (bowel movements) and the conflict in this stage centers on toilet training. According to Freud, if a child experiences excessive conflict during these early stages of life, they may develop a fixation (a continuing need for satisfaction).

The psychoanalytic theory addresses the fact that mankind innately seeks self-satisfaction. It was man’s quest to fulfill his desires apart from God that lead to the Fall and sin’s entrance into the world (Genesis 3). The conflict that followed means that men and women struggle against wanting their own desires above God’s desires, similar to the struggle that occurs between the will of an infant and their caregiver. It is when an individual realizes that only the person and work of Jesus Christ can satisfy their longings, that they can chose to die to their desires and fully embrace what God has created them for (John 3:16-17; Psalm 16:11, 107:9).

Though Erikson’s psychosocial theory falls under the umbrella of psychoanalytic theory, it will be considered separately as there are significant differences (, ). Erikson looked at the human lifespan and divided his theory into eight comprehensive stages, which will be examined further in subsequent modules. Similar to Freud, Erikson focused on crises that people encounter within each stage of development. Rather than using the term conflict, Erikson used the term crisis as the former is related to relationships while the later is related to pleasure seeking. Erikson’s first stage  occurs during infancy (ages 0-2). When a child is nurtured and well cared for, they understand that the world is a safe place full of trustworthy people. Research indicates that an infant who learns to trust others in this stage of development has an easier time in developing a positive identity in adolescence () and forming social bonds throughout life. Research by Granqvist, Ljungdahl, and Dickie () also indicates that a child who forms a strong attachment bond to their parents in infancy may be more prone to have a secure faith relationship later in life. The biblical perspective would also consider the importance of establishing infant trust and promoting their autonomy, while also being a constant variable in their lives ().

According to cognitive theory, early experiences are important because they provide a framework for later thought. Once this framework of thought is established, the child’s attitudes, actions, feelings, and behaviors will all come under the influence or control of these thoughts. This is called a (). In a similar way, one’s perception of God as his or her caregiver will result in the emotional development of a framework that is built upon that perception and beliefs.

Example: A little girl whose frightened by a dog when she is very young, and thus builds a mental framework around the fact that dogs are frightening and dangerous.

What it comes to the humanistic theory, one of its most prominent voices was Abraham Maslow, who developed the “Hierarchy of Needs” to illustrate man’s needs and motivations. From birth, his theory can be seen in the psychosocial development of infants seeking to have their physiological needs met at all costs. When a baby is hungry, he or she will use whatever tool is at their disposal (typically volume) to insure that his or her need for nourishment is met. For the child to progress toward self-actualization, they must have progressed through the lower levels of the hierarchy (); however, sometimes the baby’s needs and caregiver’s needs are at conflict (). If a parent’s needs for love and belonging are unmet, they may resist situations that cause their child anger, even if it is for the child’s well being, such as disciplining or circumcision. Biblically, it is important for parents to consider where they are looking to have their needs met; recognizing that on every level, only God is able to provide for both their needs, and the needs of their children. 

The two key elements in evolutionary theory are survival and reproduction, which are propelled by emotion, the force that insures survival of the human race (). According to this theory, mankind has evolved to become individuals who will nurture and sacrifice for their offspring, no matter the cost. From the biblical perspective, this theory gives value to the parental activities of nurturing the emotional and physical development of one’s child as a way of honoring God and in so doing, teaching their children to go to their heavenly father as not only a means of physical survival but in order to thrive emotionally and spiritually. 

Emotions and the Brain
Maternal Employment and Childcare Arrangements