Erik Erikson, the late Harvard developmental psychologist, described eight stages of psycho-social development, beginning at birth and concluding with death and dying or what professionals like to refer to as “from womb to tomb.” What makes Erikson’s theory so important to your child’s learning potential and intelligence is that much of the child’s successful skill development can be traced directly to early childhood social experiences.

Further, Erickson’s theory should be especially interesting to teachers and parents because of two distinct stages representing the 7 to 11 year old age group called “industry versus inferiority” and the 11 to 16 year old age group called “identity versus role confusion.” The “industry” or “industrious” stage comes at a time when most children are preoccupied with being industrious or creative with their learning and intelligence, particularly in the skill building of everyday play activities and of course school performance. Erickson defined the negative aspects of the “industry” stage as “inferiority” caused by failures associated with school or general childhood activities. With this in mind, it is critical that we find strategies in skill development and industrious self – expression to support the industrious nature of the 7 to 11 year old age group.

One strategy could be Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory that zones in on the child’s preferred learning and intelligence and allows a feeling of “industry” to dominate. Another theory is echoed by Joseph Pearce, author of “Magical Child,” who believes that true learning and intelligence will unfold when skill development is connected with what the child loves to learn or create — hence the saying, “I learned it by heart.”

We often center on the child’s first six years of life as being the most important period for the unfolding of children’s learning and intelligence. However, the 7 to 11 age group or stage is also most critical because it precedes or serves as a bridge to adolescence or the “identity versus role confusion” stage.” Most of us have experienced the ups and downs of adolescence and which is why Erickson defines this stage as “identity versus role confusion.” The upside is “identity” or when students express themselves successfully in schools, clubs, peer groups, sports and overall personal creativity. On the other hand, the downsides are those adolescents who do not carry into the “identity versus role confusion” stage positive industrious skills. Instead they often experience a sense of “inferiority” and ultimately confused roles of experimentation.

Our juvenile halls and school drop-out rates are filled with adolescents whose lack of “industry” and skill development during the 7 to11 age period ushers in a sense of “role confusion” or an “identity” driven by drugs, sexual exploration and toward peers of similar persuasions. Our society must recognize that the last siren call of childhood, the 7 to 11 age group, is a critical foundation for most adolescents to form a positive “identity” prior to adulthood. In short, we must never take lightly the child’s need to develop a sense of “industry’ because future identities are generally build upon the 7 to 11 year old stage of social intelligence. Therefore, the next time someone speaks about critical childhood learning periods, we must not only look seriously at the child’s first six years of life, but the 7 to 11 year old period — the last siren call of childhood?

*David Sortino, Ed.M, Ph.D. For further information (blog) at or 707-829-8315