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Stages of personality development

Infancy stage of personality development.
Toddler hood stage of personality development.
Preschool stage of personality development.
School age stage of personality development.
Adolescence stage of personality development.
Young adulthood stage personality development.
Middle adulthood stage of personality development.
Older adulthood stage of personality development.



The aspects of the existence of an individual are numerous, most of which are genetically determined and in the majority of cases, environment has a critical role in the completion of what nature has started.  Personality and its changes over life span are a good example on such phenomenon.  Personality is defined as the distinguishing characteristics of an individual which differentiate him/her from others when displayed in a wide variety of situations and circumstances especially social ones (1).  In fact, the development of personality which is the outcome as previously mentioned of interaction between genetic make-up of an individual and his environment, starts prenatally or even before conception since genetics has something to do with it.  In children, personality has a considerable potential for growth and changes i.e. very flexible, but it is rigid i.e. unalterable in adults (1).  Personality and its development are under influence of some determinants.  Environment is considered the major extrinsic one (2).  Cultural, racial, socioeconomic, educational, social guidance and health conditions could be environmental factors playing  a critical role in personality development (3).  The intrinsic factors could be biological drives,  such as the homeostatic, sexual, defensive and assimilatory drives, and hereditary temperamental differences (2).  Parental education, health and emotional states, social interaction are other factors which influence personality development.   Several theories were stated explaining the development of personality, each of which dealt with the concept of personality development from a different point of view.  For example, the Psychoanalytic theory that was developed by Freud dealt with  personality development from a sexual point of view and was concerned mainly with emotional development (4).   The learning theory is another theory of personality development that is concerned mainly with child and his social background and which rose the idea of that behavior is modified by experience (4).   The Psychoanalytic development theory was modified by Erik Erikson and Stack Sullivan.  The later emphasized the importance of interpersonal transactions between parents and child and the child's development in a social system.  Erikson formulated eight stages of psychosocial development focusing upon the specific developmental tasks of each phase (psychosocial crisis) (4).  Generally, the life cycle is divided into eight developmental stages the details of each of which are going to be discussed in the body of this essay.  These stages are: infancy, toddler hood, preschool child, school child, adolescence, young adulthood, middle years and old age (5).

Infancy stage:

The infancy stage is the first year of life.  It occurs from one month to the end of the first year.  This period is characterized by very rapid physical, psychological, and social growth and development (4).     Developmentally, it is during this stage that the infant begins to establish himself as a dependent being and begins to establish self-awareness.  Rudimentary social   interaction is developed as the infant begins to explore the physical world (6).    The nurturing persons must limitate their behavior in addition to fulfilling their needs such as food and warmth.  In addition, attachment is best established during this period of development (5).  Further more, this period of life witnesses the establishment of foundations of future emotional stability and intellectual development (6).  Infants need stimulating and socializing experiences to provide aliment for developing into a person (7).  A critical issue concerning infancy is whether or not a feeling of confidence in the world is established.  The sense of confidence is established when the infant gains a feeling that caregivers on whom they depend to fulfill their needs are dependable (8) , as Erikson has thought about when he considered trust Vs mistrust to be the psychosocial crisis during this period of life (4) .  Establishing a sense of trust in caregiver will constitute the nucleus of confidence and trust in self (9).  One cannot recall infancy experiences although no part of life experience will be as solidly incorporated in the individual as infancy (5). The developmental tasks of infancy have been identified as:  learning to walk, beginning to talk and communicate with others, beginning to have emotional relationships with primary caregivers, learning to eat solid foods and developing stable sleep and eating periods (10).


  Toddler hood stage:

The toddler hood stage occurs from one year to three years of age (3).  During this stage, increased motor development permits increased physical autonomy, but the child still lacks skill and judgment,  so limitations are very recommended at this stage for the child's own safety since accidents are very common (2).  On the other hand, this may result in clashes with parental authority.  Autonomy Vs shame and doubt is how Erikson thought about this stage of development in his theory (4).  The desire for autonomy often results in displays of negativism.  This is displayed in that the child now knows the meaning and value of words such as “no” and starts using them frequently.  Moreover, frustration, resulting in temper tantrums, is common (2).  During this stage, the child's curiosity increases, but his verbal and intellectual abilities lag far behind his motor development.   The toddler's psychosocial skills increase at a more rapid rate.  They now explore new and different dimensions of their relationships with their parents.  This fact reveals itself in that in the past the child was used to be provided with his needs but now he must be delimited (3).  In addition, now, in order to maintain a satisfactory relationship with parents, the child has to obey rules and be limited by them (6).  This stage is a critical time during which a toddler establishes a basic trust in self and a sense of initiative (4).  Besides, the bond between caregiver and child becomes intense and  the child strongly resists separation.  Children now recognize that he/she are separate entities and there are boundaries between them and their parents (5).  Consequently, anxiety increases as a result of not being sure yet of their ability to care for themselves (2).    The developmental tasks for this stage are identified as: tolerating separation from the primary caregiver,  gaining control of bowl and bladder function, using words to communicate with others, and becoming less dependent on the primary caregiver (10).

Preschool stage:

The preschool stage, also called early childhood, occurs from three to six years of age (4).  The preschooler's world is expanding.  New experiences and the child's social role are tried during play (3).   During this stage, there is tremendous growth in vocabulary and continuos chatter is a characteristic feature of  this stage as intense curiosity was in the previous one.  In addition, persistent questioning is the tool by which the preschooler explores and knows more and more about his/her world and environment.  Moreover, fantasy characterized by making unbelievable long stories and pretended play mates may worry the parents, but is an important component of the child's growth and development during this period (5) . During this stage, a child becomes more cooperative with his/her family as he/she becomes  amenable to parental demands.    In spite of that the child is still emotionally linked and dependent on his/her parents, the child becomes socially interacting and cooperative patterns of play develop (3).  According to Erikson’s psychosocial theory, this stage represents the stage of initiative when stimulated  Vs  guilt when discouraged (4).  The developmental tasks of the preschool years include: increasing the ability to communicate and understand others, performing self-care activities,  learning the difference between sexes and developing sexual modesty, learning right from wrong and good from bad and developing family relationships (10).

  School age stage:

The school age stage occurs from six years to twelve years of age.  This stage is the time for entering school and includes the preadolescent period (from ten to twelve years of age) (3).  Children move out of their homes  into  worlds where they have to find their places, therefore their self concepts, value systems and cognitive capacities change. In addition, children enter the world of peer groups and their behavior is increasingly influenced by their peers (5).  The child's competence in communication increases as physical, cognitive, and social development increase (1).   Although the child may attend kindergarten or had a sort of  experience with children in neighborhood through playing, attending school implies new expectations from a child.  They now represent their families who want to be proud of their child (4).  At this stage, the child starts comparing him/her self with class mates or playmates (2).  Such circumstances stimulate the child to be as better as possible so that pride of one self if achieved (3).  This is the time when transition from ascribed to achieved status starts to take place.  In school it does not matter how a child is in his/her family (loved, neglected, older or  younger sibling) except when those factors have affected the child's personality in a way or another (5).  In school, a child is treated as a part of a collectivity rather than as individual at home and this requires the child to forget many desires that may not enable him to fit into the group (7).    All the previous demands organize the child's personality so that the child is able to prepare himself to live within a larger society rather than in a family (9).  During this stage of  development, a sense of belonging which makes the child feel accepted and as an integral part of the group and of the broader society occurs.  This sensation involves identification of the society the child is a part of, beside commitment to its values and ethics.  In addition, a sense of responsibility involving a capacity and willingness to live up to the expectations one has aroused evolves at this stage of development in the child's personality (4).  The school child's evaluation of him self starts when adults, school mates and playmates evaluate him/her.  A self concept that enables the child to regulate his ambitions and ways of relating to others is then established.  A new set of values is acquired by the child and he/she starts to view his/her society from different perspectives (6).   At this stage, children have rigid standards of what is right and what is wrong.  Industry Vs inferiority represent this stage in the psychosocial theory of development (4).  The developmental tasks of the school age child are: developing the social and physical skills needed for playing games, learning to get along with others, learning behavioral attitudes appropriate to one's own sex, learning basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, developing a conscience and morals, and  developing a good feeling and attitude about oneself. During the later part of the school age child's development, often called preadolescence, the child begins to show more refinement and maturity in the following areas: becoming an independent adult and learning to depend on oneself, developing and keeping friendships with peers,  understanding the physical, psychological, and social roles of one's sex, developing greater muscular strength, coordination, and balance, learning how to study (10).

  Adolescence stage:

The adolescence stage of growth and development, which represent the industry Vs role confusion stage of the psychosocial theory of development, occurs from 12 to 20 years of age (4).  Adolescence is a transitional stage between childhood and adult life and is characterized by  rapid physical growth and psychological, mental and social maturity (5).  This stage of development officially begins at puberty and ends with person achieving a level of maturity enough to deal with and manage realities of life and be able to bear responsibility of him/her self and his/her actions (6).   The developmental tasks faced by the child at this age are accepting changes in the body and appearance, developing appropriate relationships with males and females of the same age, accepting the male and female role appropriate for one's age, becoming independent from parents and adults ,developing morals, attitudes, and values needed for functioning in society (10).  Adolescence is thought to be the period of emotional upheard and rebellion, sudden changes of mood, shifting ideologies and clashes with authority (4).  During adolescence, although emancipation from parents in order to achieve independence and learning to accept responsibility for one’s self takes place, an adolescent still fluctuates between child-like dependency and stubborn independence.  During this critical stage an adolescent is ambivalent since he or she does not like adults’ control but still seek their guidance.  In addition, sudden fluctuations in mood are common to which erratic behavior can be related (6).   Peer groups play a critical role in the process of socialization and social interaction and self concept is gradually acquired as  a result of reactions of his peers towards him (1).  As mentioned previously, an adolescent undergoes active mental maturity since an adolescent becomes capable of more than abstract mode of thinking and the capacity of receiving new information reaches its peak.   This sort of development results in endless speculations about abstract issues.  In spite of that, the adolescent still feels uncertain i.e. lacks the ability to direct him/her self and the confidence to translate his/her thoughts and ideas into a definite course of action.  Persistent arguing and pretended wisdom are characteristic features of adolescents (7).  Moreover, an adolescent rethinks about matters of life he learnt to be true from his/her parents early in life (3).  What the adolescent needs by the end of this stage is to  find out what sort of person he or she is and what his/her abilities and limitations are, therefore the period of adolescence can be called the period of readjustment (8).


Young adulthood stage:

 The stage of young adulthood occurs from 20 to 40 years of age.  Psychological and social developments continue during this stage.  A personal life-cycle develops during this period.  Generally, it is during this period that a person establishes a relationship with a significant other, a commitment to something, and competence (5).  Marital and vocational choices represent the determinants of one’s overall personality development in general and future personality development in particular, since they are  two of the most significant decisions of a lifetime whose responsibility is beard by the young adult (4).    Commitment of oneself to a specific way in life takes place through marriage and children rising. A person has attained adult status with the  completion of physical maturation, and, he/she has become sufficiently well integrated and emotionally mature to utilize the opportunities and accept the responsibilities that accompany it (6).   His/her independence from their parental families motivates them to achieve an interdependence  and find their places in society.  Through vocation and marriage he/she becomes united to networks of persons, find tasks that demand involvement, and gain roles into which he/she fit which help define their identities (3).  Most individuals will give up their much sought independence to share with another in marriage.  Then the life cycle rounds to the point at which young adults are again confronted by the start of life,  but now as members of the parental generation, and they often undergo profound personality reorientations as they become involved in the unfolding of a child’s life (10).  This stage of life ends when a person has achieved stable positions in society  and the time when his/her children no more need his/her attention.  Intimacy Vs isolation is the representative of this stage in the Psychosocial theory (4).  Developmental tasks of young adulthood include: choosing education and occupation, selecting a marriage partner, learning to live with a spouse or wife and developing a satisfactory sex life (10).

Middle adulthood stage:

The stage of middle adulthood occurs from the age of 40 to 65 years.  This stage of development is more stable and comfortable although some people develop a "midlife crisis."  The "midlife crisis" is a term that describes the feelings of distress that affect some people when they realize that they are no longer young.  The term is used most often to describe men who strive to recapture their sense of lost youth by having extramarital affairs, suddenly changing jobs, or adopting youthful fashions (10).   The middle years start when persons achieve maturity, usually in their early thirties having gained the skills, knowledge and assurance  needed to settle into their careers and family  lives (3).  They soon move  into the period most people consider the “prime of life” the years among 35 and 55 during which they reach the midlife transition or crisis as mentioned previously.   It is during this period of growth and development that life-style changes occur because of other changes.  Several physical changes occur during this period. The most important of them is menopause in women.   The changes may occur very gradually and go unnoticed, or they may be seen early (8).  This stage is represented by the stage of generativity Vs stagnation in the Psychosocial theory of development (4).  The developmental tasks faced in middle adulthood are: adjusting to physical change, having grown children, developing leisure-time activities and relating to aging parents (10).


Older adulthood stage:

The stage of older adulthood is considered to begin at 65 years of age.  Many physical, psychological, and social changes occur during later adulthood (1).  The critical transition comes at the time of retirement for both the husband and the wife.  In old age persons are moving toward completion of their life cycles.    Old age can be a time when a person can enjoy his/her  time with his/her grandchildren and leisure time activities, and forget about things caused him/her a great deal of stress and anxiety in the past three or four decades (7). During this stage a person must adapt to changing physical abilities. This stage is characterized by increased wisdom although many other things are lost such as health, friends, family and independence. The aging process of people in this stage of development varies greatly (9).  Ego integrity Vs despair represents this stage in the Psychosocial theory (4). The developmental tasks of the older adult are: adjusting to decreases physical strength and loss of health, adjusting to retirement and reduced income, coping with death of a husband or wife and preparing for one's own deatheating periods (10).


To sum up, individuals are characterized by their personalities which develop over life span under influence of both intrinsic factors such as biological drives and extrinsic factors such as the several components of environment, society and family.  Several theories were stated explaining the development of personality, the most famous of which is the Psychoanalytic theory developed by Freud.  Personality development is divided into eight major stages each with its own features, developmental tasks and abnormalities. Such abnormalities could be repeated frustrations and thumb sucking during infancy, maladjustment, educational problems and nail biting  in school children and in childhood in general and Anorexia nervosa in adolescence (4).


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2. L R, Richardson,  Psychiatry and you. 4th ed. New York: Basic Books, 1990.

3. Atkinson, Rita L., et al.  Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology.  12th ed.  Forth worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.

4. Lidz, Theodore,  The Person.  revised edition.  New York: Basic Books, 1983.

5. Hoare, Peter.  Essential Child Psychiatry.  5th ed.  London: Churchill Livingstone, 1993.

6. R. E. Irvine, et al.  The older patient.  4th ed. London: Hodder and stoughton, 1986.

7. M. K. Bagnall,  Psychiatry.  12th ed.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

8. Smith, Edward E., Personality development over life span, 11th ed.,  New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

9. O'Niell, Damian,  Psychology for Him and Her.  5th ed.  London:  Churchill Iivingstone, 1994.

10. BodyWorks, version 5.0, 1993-1995, Softkey Multimedia Inc.