Articles, Career Development

Developmental Psychology: Examining Erickson’s Stage of Initiative vs. Guilt and Implications on Preschooler Development

Examining Erickson’s Stage of Initiative vs. Guilt and Implications on Preschooler Development

by Denise N. Fyffe

The stage of “initiative vs. guilt” is psychosocial development, as stated by Erikson. At this point, the child achieves success by behaving in a spontaneous, but socially appropriate manner.

This stage normally occurs at the age of three and deals with the sense of right or wrong. At this age, the child is a preschooler, as they have not yet commenced schooling and do not have a wider spectrum of social contacts at their age or level.


The child shows initiative when he or she begins to play, have social relationships with other children or explore their environment. They will also experience impulses that they must control and determine whether it goes beyond the limits set by their parents. Furthermore, in having make-believe play experimentation commences with who they can become, as they may be curious about various things.

The level of their initiative and occurrence of it is determined by their parents’ or guardians’ response.


Parents may react in two ways, either stifling this process by demanding the child control their impulses, which then leads to the act of overcontrol and guilt from the child’s perspective. Parents may also react by allowing them to explore but with set and guided limitations that maintain the correct control on the child’s part.

During this stage of “initiative vs. guilt,” language and motor skills are developing for the preschooler.

Playing and hero-worshipping are important forms of initiative for children. This helps them to become assertive and independent.

Implications of Not Developing Initiative

If the child is not given a chance to be responsible and do things on their own, a sense of guilt may develop, leading to them not exploring and learning new things on their own. The child will have the notion that what they want to do is always wrong.

An example, of a child at the ‘initiative vs. guilt’ stage, is a four-year-old passing tool to a parent who is fixing a bicycle. If the child is not allowed to partake in this type of activity, how will he learn how one day to fix a bike or even attempt to fix anything in the future?

Implications of Developing Initiative

However, once preschoolers have successfully achieved the stage of ‘initiative vs. guilt’ they grow up to be explorers and may become tomorrow’s scientists, risk takers, and ‘curers’ of cancer, and other diseases. Therefore, the exploration of a child or preschooler should be properly and correctly guided. Not stifling or over-controlling urges but maintaining the limits set by parents.






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