Children and teens build social skills and emotional intelligence as they grow; changes in moods and behaviours are to be expected. They can be challenging but are a part of child development. A therapist can be beneficial in providing support to the child or teen and the parents or caregivers during these changes.
Many theories address the phases of child development. Knowing these stages can help parents and caregivers understand child behaviour and needs. Erik Erikson was an influential development psychologist, whose theory outlines the stages of development from birth to adulthood. It is one of the most popular stage-based theories. Erikson identified eight stages of life, five of these stages take place in childhood and adolescence.
Infancy: Trust VS Mistrust. Infants explore the world. They learn if their environment is safe and predictable. Infants need attention and comfort from their parents. It is from parents that they develop their first sense of trust or mistrust.
Early Childhood: Autonomy VS Shame and Doubt. Children start asserting independence. They develop preferences and start making choices. Defiance, tantrums and stubbornness are common. Children begin to develop interests, they also gain a sense of autonomy, shame, and doubt.
Preschool Years: Initiative VS Guilt. Children learn about social roles and emotions. They become active and curious. Imaginary play is crucial in this stage. Children continue to display their willpower as they grow. Parents and caregivers’ reactions will impact their child’s behaviour.
School Age: Competence VS Inferiority. Relationships and schoolwork become important in this stage. Children begin to show a wide and complex range of emotions. Problems in school or with friend may lead to mental health challenges. Academic and social tasks become more demanding.
Adolescence : Identity VS Role Confusion. Adolescents, or teens, become more independent. They may form identities by trying new behaviours and roles. Puberty usually occurs in this stage. It brings many physical and emotional changes. Changes during these years may strain parent-teen relationships. New behaviours may go beyond boundary-pushing and cause problems. Emotional highs and lows may persist.
Each phase of development brings specific challenges for children, which are usually worked through, as part of growing up. There may be events or situations that make these changes more challenging, each child responds differently. Some events that may impact a child’s or teen’s mental health may include:
- The birth of a sibling
- The death of a loved one, such as a family member or pet
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Poverty or homelessness
- Domestic Violence
- Parental separation or divorce
- Blending families
- Moving to a new place or attending a new school
- Being bullied
- Taking on more responsibility than is age-appropriate
Seeking the support of a therapist can be particularly helpful for the child or teen to understand their situation, their thoughts and emotions, to heal, to learn strategies and tools to cope and build resilience.