The Applicability Of Piaget And Erikson’s Theories Of Cognitive And Psychosocial Development

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On a recent Saturday morning, I went to my boyfriend’s little brother’s football game where I was able to observe a little boy named Leo who was 5 years old. During this observation, I was sitting in the bleachers with my boyfriend, his family, this child’s parents, and many other people. I had absolutely no interaction with this child other than a glance and a giggle since he was acting silly. I was around this child for about an hour during the football game. When interacting with his brothers and other children of different ages, I noticed that this child followed and mimicked whatever his older brother and his friends did; this included things like climbing the bleachers, skipping steps when climbing the bleacher steps, a dance called flossing, and balancing on concrete beams that lined the fence. During the observation, the child went to the bathroom with his father and brothers. Upon returning, I overheard the dad saying that the boy tried to use the urinal like him, but he tried to climb it and touch the water rather than actually using it the way you’re supposed to. While the father was telling his wife this information, the boy had a sad and angry look on his face like he was embarrassed since the dad scolded him and told him he couldn’t use the urinal like that. Another thing I noticed was the things the kid was saying to the others. When making the kids messed with him, he’d reply with “insults” that didn’t make much since. These insults included things like poo-poo booger toilet head and burp face. These insults followed when Leo tried to run and balance on the concrete beams, but fell and skinned his knee. After skinning his knee, his mother scolded him and told him that he knows he’s not supposed to play like that even though the bigger kids are. He was having a harder time controlling his balance than the older kids did, so he appeared to feel embarrassed that he couldn’t do the same thing as well as the others and that he didn’t follow his mother’s rules. The last scenario I observed during this time period was Leo giving his mother his half eaten lollipop when she was talking about how hungry she was. I think all of these situations are important and applicable to the different stages of development by Piaget and Erikson.

The importance of Piaget’s theory of cognition is to describe what stage of cognition children are in through different stages of their life. Piaget’s theories indicate that the way that children act and behave with themselves and each another is directly correlated with the stage of cognition that they are currently experiencing. These stages change over time due to aging and the experience of different things and scenarios. For Leo specifically, he would’ve been in the preoperational phase. This phase typically occurs in children who are between the ages of two and six years old. During the preoperational phase, it’s common for kids to think egocentrically. Having an egocentric way of thinking means children typically think of things in regards to self and they assume that it’s the same for everyone. For instance, children think that because they like or want something, that’s something everyone else would want. In my observation, I felt that when Leo offered his half-eaten, slobbery sucker to his mom when she expressed her hunger, that was a good example of his egocentrism and his thinking that would be something his mom wants since he wants it too.

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Another thing that’s important to the preoperational phase is the language development. At this point, the language has developed, but there’s no logic to it and is more imaginative. These sentences appear to make no sense and are jumbled words put together. An example from my observation of Leo was him calling people poo-poo booger toilet heads and burp faces. These phrases don’t actually make much logical sense, and are more a result of his imagination than anything. Another theorist that’s important in understanding cognitive development is Erik Erikson. Erikson came up with a theory that explains the psychosocial stages of people that spans from infancy to adulthood. These theories explained the “development crisis”, or in other words, the conflict that’s present internally during these stages of life. It’s commonly believed that it’s healthy to have a balance of these conflicts during each stage of development.

For Leo, he would’ve been experiencing the Initiative vs. guilt phase that happens during three to six years old. During this phase, the conflict comes from the choice between trying to be like adults and doing adult-like things, or following a parent’s rules in regards to these certain activities. This conflict gives rise to the feelings of being guilty and shameful, or being adventurous and feeling accomplished. The specific scenarios that come to my mind from observing Leo would be the situation with the urinal and the situation with his older brother and his friends. For the urinal situation, it sounds as if he doesn’t quite use the urinal yet and uses the regular toilet instead. He’s obviously seen his dad use the urinal before or knew what a urinal was used for, which lead to his behaviors in the bathroom. Instead of using the urinal like it’s intended to be used, he was climbing on it and touching the water. This obviously made the dad scold Leo and let him know that it’s not for him to use at the moment if he’s going to use it incorrectly. I think his failed attempt and his father’s replaying of the situation to his mother caused a shameful and guilty feeling for trying to do an adult-like thing and failing. As for the situation with the older children, he tried to copy them and try running and balancing on the concrete beams which lead to a skinned knee and a few tears. Not only did he feel embarrassment and guilt that he couldn’t perform like the older kids, he also felt those same emotions knowing his mom was scolding him for something she specifically told him not to do. In both of these situations, Leo was trying to mimic behavior from older children or adults. I noticed many times him copying the things they did and when he succeeded, I could see a sense of pride and adventure on his face. When failing, I noticed quite the opposite which was because of the guilt and embarrassment that these situations led to.

After this observing project, I realized how applicable Piaget and Erikson’s theories of cognitive and psychosocial development are. I think both theorists were accurate when it comes to ages and specific phases because I was able to observe the exact things that they predicted would be problems or trends during these age periods.

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