Initiative versus Guilt

Human development comprises of different stages from childhood to adulthood and is characterized by development in biological, psychological, physical, and social conditions. To understand the stages of human development, social scientists such as Erik Erikson have delved into research of human behavior at different stages to establish the different characteristics displayed by humans at various developmental stages. Erik Erikson came up with the theory of psychosocial development that discusses human psychosocial development in eight stages. These stages are: trust versus mistrust; shame and doubt; shame and doubt; initiative versus guilt; autonomy versus shame and doubt; initiative versus guilt; industry versus inferiority; identity versus confusion; intimacy versus isolation; generosity versus stagnation; and integrity versus despair (Crain, 2011). According to Erikson’s theory, every human being experiences some form of conflict in each of these developmental stages that shape the course of development. This is to say that the psychological conflict determines whether a person will grow exponentially or will fail (Bee & Boyd, 2009). At the same time, the race and culture as well as the environment do  have a substantial effect on human development.


Focusing on Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development, the third stage of Initiative versus Guilt is experienced during early childhood, especially, by children between the ages of 3 to 5 years old. It is at this stage that children learn how to socialize with their mates through playing. The stage is also characterized by children studying  how to perform their own activities as well as getting in risky situations such as playing on the road or walking on the street alone  (Erikson, 1993). Moreover, children try to be independent and take the initiative to do things for themselves (Allen & Marotz, 2003).

It is worth noting that adults such as parents and teachers are crucial in the development of children at this stage, since it will determine whether they will fail or grow positively. Encouraging a child when they do things on their own will motivate them to become independent and develop a purpose in their life. Conversely, when parents discourage or reprimand their children for doing things on their own, feelings of guilt and frustration befall the children as they feel that they are not good enough. However, I tend to look at this through the perspective of safety: “Does it mean that parents should not warn their children against risky behaviors such as riding a bicycle on a public road or steep road?” Children can still be warned about their behavior and still develop a sense of purpose since they grow up knowing that some behaviors are dangerous.

Moreover, during this developmental crisis of initiative versus guilt, children get to develop their skills in leadership, especially, when they get their peers to do what they have proposed. For example, children, who are used to initiate a game or deciding what game plan to follow, tend to be encouraged to become leaders and assert power over others. On the other hand, children who fail to be in control of situations are often discouraged and, thus, feel guilt. The question here is, “does it really have to be that children develop their leadership potential at this stage?” In my opinion, I tend to believe that children do not necessarily have to feel guilty if they fail to assert their power over others; they can still become leaders in the future provided that their mentors encourage them. I recall my childhood experiences where I used to determine what games to play with my friends. However, later in my teenage years, I discovered that there were other children who were better than me, thus, discouraging me from becoming a leader.

Furthermore, Erikson puts forth that children are very active during this stage and learn through imagination which encourages creativity and innovation (Fleming, 2004). Additionally, children learn through observations. Though Erikson insists that parents who control their children’s behavior instill feeling of guilt and self doubt, I believe that parents have the upper hand in deciding what is right for their children. The reason is that children who are not guided believe that everything they do is right and may grow up with negative behaviors that do not conform to societal norms. For instance, a child, who tries to assert his power over others through bullying, may grow up knowing that bullying is the right way to become a leader if the parents do not correct this behavior.

Factors Affecting the Development of Children in the Initiative versus Guilt Stage

It is also worth noting that the environment, in which a child grows, determines their development. According to Keene (2006), environmental factors such as domestic violence determine how a child develops through the developmental stages leading to adulthood. Children growing under such situations tend to feel insecure, threatened, and helpless, since they believe that everyone is as violent as their parents. This belief will, in turn, transform the children into violent beings, since they practice what they learn through observation. Keene (2006) puts forth that children experiencing domestic violence during the stage of initiative versus guilt display such symptoms as fear, lack of emotional control, and hyperactivity. Additionally, traumatized children also become argumentative and are very alert because they live in fear that somebody might attack them. This can be translated to mean that children can develop feelings of guilt even when their parents are indirectly involved. Moreover, children living in fear will find it difficult to assert their power and control over things around them, and if they do, it will be out of defense as they believe people want to harm them (Stevens, 1983).

When developing his developmental theory of psychosocial development, Erikson failed to consider factors such as race, religion, and gender differences that influence human development. Research shows that these factors affect the growth of humans since different cultures and racial backgrounds have different perspectives regarding how a person should grow to be like. For instance, some cultures such as those of Latin origin believe that children have to grow under strict parental guidance so as to develop strong parent-child relationships (Slater, 2003). Individualistic societies also influence a child’s growth such that they grow believing that everybody should work towards success despite the means used to achieve the success.  Gender differences also determine the growth of females and males, especially, due to biological and physical differences. For instance, culture and gender interact in such a way that some cultures have laid down some rules that govern how young females and males should be brought up. Moreover, due to gender differences, small girls in the initiative versus guilt stage tend to imitate their mothers and are in most cases followers of their male counterparts (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004).

Furthermore, I tend to question Erikson’s theory since it suggests that the stages of psychosocial development are fixed and are identical among all people. This is not true since there are different factors that affect human development, thus, Erikson’s stages of development will have a peculiar impact on people depending on their race, culture, and gender differences. Reflecting on my childhood years, I gather that when playing with my mates, our male counterparts used to exert their power over the females, since they believed that they are natural leaders. As females, we were only subordinates (Wilder, 2003). I could also notice that some of my age mates were violent and liked bullying others around, and after doing a background check on them I realized that they came from violent family backgrounds (Gross, 1987). From all these, it can be noted that children act differently during the stages of psychosocial development due to the influence of different factors.

However, I tend to agree with Erikson’s assertion that if the crisis at a certain stage is not resolved, it recurs in the future and affects the growth of an individual. For example, a child who does not develop a sense of purpose during the initiative versus guilt period tends to grow up to become a reckless and carefree person (Crain, 2011). The reason behind this postulates that such a child will not have a defined path to follow in life and will take whatever comes their way as long as they feel that they are comfortable with it. It is, therefore, recommended that mentors guide their children in deciding the course of their life so that developmental conflicts are resolved to the maximum. 


Human development takes several critical stages that determine the type of person that one grows to be. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development gives eight stages that a person goes through in their lifetime. The theory suggests that a person’s development occurs throughout their lifespan. The third stage of initiative versus guilt is experienced by preschool children aged 3-3 years. At this stage, children learn through play, observation and imagination. Erikson observed that children in this stage are usually very active and talkative as they are curious about everything that they come across. Moreover, parents have a critical role to play at this stage, since their guidance determines the path that the children will develop for themselves. However, Erikson’s theory can be questioned when it comes to his assertion that the stages are fixed and occur at specific age limits (Crain, 2011). The question therefore remains, “are these stages sequential and must they be experienced by people of the stated age limit?”

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