Stages of Psychosocial
Autonomy vs Shame & Doubt
As Developed by Erik Erikson
Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
There are 8 stages listed by Erikson in the
development of human beings.
The particular stage this
presentation will focus on is
“Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt.”
This stage is recognized in early childhood, from
approximately ages 1 ½ to 3 years. This is an exciting
time of growth and learning opportunities, with unique
challenges for parents and teachers alike.
Education in Early Childhood
People may wonder exactly how important is formal
education for a child aged 1 ½ to 3 years. Consider the
They are learning constantly by the examples set by
people around them.
They are very curious and eager to learn.
They are beginning to understand such social norms as
making friends, sharing, and listening.
They love stories and imaginative play.
Erikson vs. Piaget
According to our text, Teaching for Spiritual Growth, Jean
Piaget’s concept is that children are taught with content
that is appropriate to the way they think. An educator must
be adaptable when teaching young children, attempting to
present material with the sense of order that is best suited
When considering Erikson’s proposed stage, a child in in
the autonomy vs. shame and doubt stage must be
permitted to learn without criticism, which is a difficult task
if one is teaching outside of the child’s mental capacities.
Piaget’s “Stages of Cognitive Development” seem to work
in concert with Erikson. At the ages being
presented, Piaget would have children in the
“preoperational period,” in which mental functions are
being more fully developed. Children are able to grasp
concepts through symbolism and imaginative play.
Erikson vs. Kohlberg
Lawrence Kohlberg championed the “CognitiveDevelopmental Approach” to moral reasoning in particular.
He developed six stages of moral development, beginning
with “Heteronomous Morality.” He reasoned that at this
stage in a child’s life the basic goal is to avoid
consequences, so therefore the child obeys without any
sense of actual justice.
A very young child who is becoming more aware of his
surroundings is at a crucial stage for learning behavior and
A child on the older spectrum of the autonomy vs shame and doubt
could easily pick on the fact that sin is wrong and must be punished.
While teachers should not go into graphic detail about the
crucifixion, we can teach that Jesus took our punishment for the bad
things we have done.
Young children can also learn that attending church is a positive thing
where they can make friends, play, and learn simple truths.
However, they are also capable of understanding that there are times
to sit quietly and listen and other times during which they can talk and
Erikson vs Fowler
James W. Fowler is highly regarding in his field of the
Psychology of Religion. While Fowler was strongly
influenced by his friendship with Kohlberg, he developed
his own “Six Stages of Faith” through which people
progress. Young children are placed into stage one, the
“intuitive/projective faith” stage. Agreeing with
Piaget, Fowler states that at this stage children learn faith
matters through symbols, stories, and their imaginations.
One very important aspect of stage one of faith
development is the attitude of the parents toward matters
of faith. A child at this young age is highly influenced by
their parents’ words and actions regarding church and
teachings about God. A child easily picks on what is
happening in his environment and will respond according
to what he sees and hears.
If church attendance is spoken of
and presented as a positive in the
family’s life, the child will exhibit a
positive attitude toward attending
church and Sunday School
Our Lord Jesus Christ encouraged the teaching of
children when He walked the earth. He also modeled
various teaching styles, including
stories, symbols, analogies, asking questions, and
lectures. He took time to bless the children brought to Him
and did not turn them away.
Ideas for Teaching Young Children
As the children arrive to class, greet them with smiles
and softly spoken yet enthusiastic words.
Show them to a play area where they can engage in
play with other children and adults.
Allow playtime to continue for approximately 15
minutes, then call the children together for “circle time.”
Ask the children to sit down and listen while you show
them pictures and props depicting a message from the
Bible. Be creative!
Circle time should only last about 3-5 minutes since
most preschoolers’ attention spans are only about one
minute for each year of age.
Following circle time, allow the children to talk with you
and the other adults as you ask them questions about
the story you just presented. This should time should
only last about 5 minutes.
Have the children sit at a table or on the floor in a
different area, if possible, for a light snack of crackers
(such as Gold Fish or Teddy Grahams) and juice or
water. Remember to say a short prayer of thankfulness
for the food! Snack time will take about 10
minutes, including clean up.
Sing songs with hand motions to get the children up
and moving again. This can last for as long as you
choose, but probably no more than 10 minutes.
Give the children the opportunity to color a picture or
put a puzzle together while talking about the day’s
lesson. Encourage the use of fine motor and
developing cognitive skills through these activities until
their parents arrive to pick them up.
Christian educators are tasked with a huge responsibility.
Few churches have trained educators throughout their
children’s department, although there may be a few brave
women and men who enter a traditional school classroom
Monday through Friday and small group on Sunday!
However, with a few hours of simple, basic training on
how to teach children according to their levels of learning
ability, any teacher can improve upon the class
How Important is Children’s Ministry?
Downs, Perry G. Teaching for Spiritual Growth: An
Introduction to Christian Education. Grand
Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1994. Print.
McLeod, Saul. “Erik Erikson.” Simply Psychology.
2008. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.