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Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
girl at desk with teacher

Sigmund Freud's focus interest was the unconscious self. His ideas are not empirically testable but are enormously influential:

  • The unconscious: mental activity inaccessible to the self.
  • Id: the primary drive; motivated by pleasure alone – impulses, emotions, desires; present from birth.
  • Libido: 'an unconscious drive [providing] the energy and motivation for all development'; primarily sexual; present from birth.
  • Ego: channels id and libido impulses into socially acceptable outlets; maintains balance between id and super ego; emerges at ages two-five years.
  • Super ego: internalised parental restraint (same sex parent).

(See: Tilstone and Layton, 2004)

Psychosexual developmental stages and tasks

[Freud] believed that the way in which gratification of urges is handled during each of these stages determines the nature of an adult's personality and character.

Levine and Munsch, 2011

0-1 years Oral stage (mouth, lips, tongue); task - weaning


1-3 years Anal stage (anus); task – toilet training


3-5 years Phallic stage (genitals); task – identification with same sex parent (Oedipus complex)


5-12 years Latent stage (no activity); task – ego defence mechanisms


12+ years Genital stage (genitals); working towards mature sexual intimacy


(Adapted from Bee and Boyd, 2010)

Freud and challenging behaviour

We should pay particular attention to the Freudian view that the handling of challenging behaviour ... is instrumental in determining the adult personality ... some challenging behaviour may be the acting out of id impulses for which a socially acceptable outlet could be substituted ... challenging behaviour can be understood as a response that [possibly] has meaning for the person who engages in it ...

Tilstone and Layton, 2004

Erik Erikson (1902-1994)
girl at desk with teacher

Erik Erikson was interested in the conscious self and the development of identity in the context of environment and culture. He proposed eight psycho-social stages of life span development, five of which are based in childhood.


Each stage is associated with a developmental crisis, and 'developmental tasks' or skills enabling optimal child development. Important factors in the task at each stage include:

  • The child's interaction with adults and their responses.
  • The child's level of success in achieving earlier tasks.

(See Tilstone and Layton, 2004; Bee and Boyd, 2010)

Erickson's psychosocial stages and tasks
girl at desk with teacher

An outline of the first five of eight psychosocial stages/conflicts/tasks is below. For a fuller overview refer to Tilstone and Layton (2004) and Bee (2010).


0-1 years trust vs mistrust

Task: develop trust in the primary caregiver, and in own causal ability


2-3 years autonomy vs shame

Task: Develop physical skills leading to free choice; complete toilet training


4-5 years initiative vs guilt

Task: Organise goal-oriented activities; become more assertive

6-12 years industry vs inferiority

Task: assimilate cultural skills and norms


13-20 years identity vs role confusion

Adaption to puberty and achieve sexual identity; adopt new values; make occupational choice.


(Adapted from Bee and Boyd, 2010)

John Bowlby and attachment theory (1)

The theory of attachment was initially proposed by John Bowlby (1907-1990) in the 1950s. He wrote:


The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals is a basic component of human nature.

Bowlby, 1988

Attachment theory is the study of how we attach to people in the early stages of our development, and its impact on how we view ourselves and develop relationships throughout our lives.

Golding, 2008

John Bowlby and attachment theory (2)

Attachments and relationships us to maintain our emotional wellbeing.

CLDD Research Project, 2010

Bowlby's ideas have been further developed by Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main and Kim Golding.


Erikson and Freud believed that a child's relationship with their primary caregiver would affect subsequent relationships throughout life (Bee and Boyd, 2010).

Research [in the area of attachment] provides a good deal of support for the basic psychoanalytic hypothesis that the quality of a child's earliest relationship affects the whole course of her later development.

Bee and Boyd, 2010

To read more on attachment click here.



In the context of Erikson's first two psycho-social stages, research how as an educator you can support the children you work with to:

  • Develop trust and move away
    from mistrust.
  • Develop autonomy and move away
    from doubt.
Find out more (1)
opened book

Bee, H. and Boyd, D. (2010) The Developing Child (12th edition). New York: Allyn & Bacon.


Levine, L.E. and Munsch, J. (2011) Child Development: An active learning approach. London: Sage.


Tilstone, C. and Layton, L. (2004) Child Development and Teaching Pupils with Special Educational Needs. London: Routledge

Find out more (2)
opened book

Bowlby, J. (1988) A Secure Base. New York: Basic Books.


Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project (2011) 'Attachment' (Information sheet).


Golding, K. (2008) Nurturing Attachments: Supporting children who are fostered or adopted. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.