Psychosocial Development: Why it Matters in Kindergarten

Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development refers to the development of an individual’s personality with regard to their social and moral development. It’s called psychosocial because it has to do with balancing the needs of the self (psycho-) with the needs of society (-social). In Kindergarten, children can be at different stages in their psychosocial development and it is the responsibility of teachers to help children navigate through whichever stage or stages they are currently working through. Sounds pretty heavy, right?  Well, it is. Psychosocial development really matters in Kindergarten. Let me explain WHY.

The first 4 stages are:

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust: Children look to caregivers for stability because they are uncertain about the world they live in. If the child’s environment is stable and consistent, they develop a sense of trust. They begin to feel SECURE. A sense of security leads to the feeling of HOPE.
  2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: Children develop a sense of control over physical skills and a sense of independence. If they are encouraged and supported, they will become CONFIDENT.
  3. Initiative vs. Guilt: Children plan activities, ask many questions, and make decisions. If they have ample time, people, and resources to play with, they develop a sense of PURPOSE.
  4. Industry vs. Inferiority: Peer interactions become a major source of a child’s self-esteem. Children develop pride in their accomplishments and develop a sense of COMPETENCE.

When children enter Kindergarten, they need to be in an environment that supports this development. Behaviour management charts that shame children, adults assisting them constantly with tasks they can learn to do themselves,  having their every move scheduled and preplanned according to the teacher — these things all undermine children’s development.

Compliance is valued over competence in many classrooms. Teachers often complain that children are lazy, have no initiative, need constant help, can’t get along with others. Yet, they do not create learning environments for children or behave toward children in a manner that supports them in their psychosocial development. They do everything for them, then ask: Why can’t they do anything for themselves? They make all the decisions about what children can do, shut down many of the questions they have, and then ask: Why can’t they come up with ideas? They punish, shame, and separate children who struggle to fit in socially and then ask: Why do they have such low self-esteem?

A sense of purpose does not grow from a child’s ability to follow the teacher’s directions.

A sense of confidence does not grow from a child’s ability to do what they think the teacher wants.

A sense of accomplishment does not grow from a child’s ability  to complete the task assigned.

If it did, we would not be facing the children we face today in our classrooms.


And it starts in Kindergarten. Children need to be supported in their psychosocial development because without that, frankly, the rest of it won’t matter. There’s a formula that goes: ATTITUDE + ACCESS= OUTCOMES. In other words, access to school, books, teachers — won’t be enough to enable children to meet learning outcomes if the attitude or interest to learn isn’t there. We already know this to be true. We are blessed to live in a country with public education for all; we have ACCESS.

But schools need to focus on children developing the ATTITUDE of a learner. Without hope, confidence, purpose, and competence — the qualities gained through positive psychosocial experiences as we develop — our children have little chance to become lifelong learners, or even learn much of what they have access to in public education.

Peer interactions were at the heart of accomplishment for this game. The goal was to get as many children on the slide at once,without anyone getting bumped off at the bottom. 


Can worms bite? Can we bring them indoors to live? What will they need to survive? – These were just a few questions from this student interest-driven inquiry.


An attempt to build an indoor seesaw morphed into an outdoor seesaw that uncovered questions about equal loads, weight distribution, and eventually the properties of mud. Is it a liquid or solid, I wonder?


It begins in Kindergarten. With zipping your own coat, discovering what you’re good at, making plans, asking questions, working with people and knowing that you can learn whatever your heart desires. That’s what school is for.

And if we ensure that children know that right from the start, in Kindergarten, that they are the ones in charge of themselves and their learning, they will learn something very important about school.

It’s for THEM.


Cathy 🙂













Cathy Baker View All →

Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy

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