Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Child Development and Mental Disorders

Sigmund Freud believed that each stage of a child’s development beginning at birth is directly related to specific needs and demands, each based on a particular body part and all rooted in a sexual base.

Freud offered dynamic and psychosocial explanations for human behavior. He conceptualized what we call the psycho-sexual stages of development.

Freud believed that there are specific stages in which an individual has a specific need, and gratification during each stage is important to prevent an individual from becoming fixated in any particular level.

Fixation, as Freud described it, is attaching oneself in an unreasonable or exaggerated way to another individual or one particular stage of development. Freud claimed that such a fixation at one particular stage can cause bad habits or problems in an individual’s adult life.

Freud’s explanation of these developmental stages provided early psychosocial explanations for an individual’s deviance or abnormal behavior.

According to this theory , there is a delicate of balance that must be met at each stage.

In a historical perspective, Freudian psychoanalysis can be seen as one of the first systematic, psycho-dynamic approaches to show how human psychological processes can result in mental disorders.

He demonstrated that certain abnormal mental phenomena occur during the attempt to cope with difficult problems. He also developed techniques such as free association and dream analysis for becoming acquainted with conscious and unconscious aspects of personality. These techniques are still widely used in therapy to treat a number of mental disorders.

Freud’s psycho-dynamic perspective has come under attack by several critics. An important criticism to Freud’s stages of development is that no scientific data supports any of the stages.

This theory has also been criticized for its overemphasis on sex drive, and also for failing to consider motives toward personal growth and fulfillment.

Regardless of how correct it is, Freud’s theory of development paved the way for other psychologists to develop theories on how a child develops. It led scientists to take a further look into the developmental processes of human behaviors. It also led to the start of theories that describe the abnormal behaviors of individuals.

As mentioned before, Sigmund Freud’s developmental stages consists of many stages, and Freud outlined five stages of development: the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latency stage, and the genital stage.

In order to understand the basics of his developmental stages, it is important to note a few things: Freud’s age ranges varied a bit over the course of his work, largely because he acknowledged that development can vary a bit from individual to individual. Additionally, experience of the stages may overlap at times. Finally, Freud believed that the way that parents handle their children during each of the stages has a profound and lasting impact on the overall development of the child’s psyche.

The Oral Stage: Birth to 18 Months

The first stage that we encounter is the oral stage. This stage occurs during the first two years of life.

The mouth is the principal erogenous zone. An erogenous zone according to Freud was a particular part of the body where we seek and gain pleasure from.

For example, according to Freud an infant’s greatest source of gratification is sucking. It is often common to see an infant between the ages of one to two to be constantly putting objects in his or her mouth. A baby’s first nourishment is received through suckling, and the sucking instinct is usually strong, even in newborns. Freud theorized that an infant’s oral focus brought not only nourishment, but pleasure.

For example if a person is orally fixated (according to Freud, the are stuck in the oral stage of development), a person may bite their nails, chew on pens.

Freud also blamed smoking on fixation at the oral stage. On the other hand, if an infant does not receive adequate oral gratification, the individual may be prone to excessive eating or drinking in adult life.

The Anal Stage: 18 Months to Three Years

The anal stage occurs from age two to three. The membranes of the anal region provide the major source of pleasurable stimulation.

Freud believed that during this time period, children derive much pleasure from the process of either retaining or eliminating faeces, and are quite focused on the process. This is often the time frame in which many parents choose to potty train their children.

If an individual a strict anal stage and had a tough toilet training, Freud said that individual was more likely to be obsessively neat in adulthood. This is where the expression “anal-retentive” comes from when describing someone that is excessively neat and orderly.

On the other hand if the child had a not so strict toilet training experience, Freud claimed it was more likely that the individual would grow up to be a creative adult.

The Phallic Stage: 3 Years to 6 Years

The phallic stage occurs from ages three to six. Freud believed that children’s pleasure centres focused on their genitals. It focuses on self-manipulation of the genitals as providing the major source of pleasurable stimulation.

He further theorized that young boys develop unconscious sexual feelings for their mothers, complicating their relationships with both parents. Struggling with a feeling that they are in competition with their fathers for the attention of their mums, Freud felt that boys from 3-6 years also fear that their fathers will punish them for these sexual feelings.

In general each stage of development places demands on an individual and arouses conflicts that must be resolved. One of the most important conflicts occurs during the phallic stage when the pleasures of self-stimulation pave the way for what is called the Oedipus complex. Oedipus, according to Greek mythology, unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.

According to Freud, each young boy symbolically relives the Oedipus drama. He has incestuous cravings for his mother and views his father as a hated rival. Even though the father is considered a rival, the boy also fears his father.

Freud suggested that the boy feels castration anxiety and as a result repressed his sexual desire for his mother . Eventually if all goes well, the boy identifies with the father and comes to have harmless affection for the mother.

The Electra complex is the female counterpart. It is based on the view that each girl wants to possess her father and replace her mother. For either sex, resolution of this conflict is considered essential if a young adult is to develop.

Latency Stage: 6 Years to Onset of Puberty

The latency stage occurs from age six to twelve. In this stage, sexual motivations recede in importance. At this stage a child is more preoccupied with developing skills and other activities.

Freud seemed to view this time as the least complicated in childhood, believing that during these years, children focus their energies on their schooling as well as forming friendship bonds with other children of their own gender.

The Genital Stage: From Puberty On

The genital stage is the final stage of development. It occurs after puberty and extends into adulthood.

In this final stage of psycho-sexual development, Freud theorized that the onset of puberty represented the reawakening of sexual urges. At this more mature age, however, adolescents focus not only on their genitals, but also on developing sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex and on seeking sexual satisfaction.

Many psychotherapists who are advocates of this theory blame many sexual disorders such as fetishes and pedophiles on being fixated at the genital stage.

Smooth Transitions
While Freud theorized that children who smoothly transition through the stages grow to be calm, well centered adults, he felt that an unsuccessful completion meant that a child would become fixated on that particular phase and either over or under-indulge throughout adulthood. Believers of Freud’s theories on child development, then, must surely make every effort to help their children through each of the stages, allowing each child to experience their feelings without guilt or excessive pressure to conform to preconceived ideas.

Applying Freud’s Theories to Childbearing
What does all of this mean to modern parents? For starters, Freud would likely recommend that parents encourage their children’s natural tendencies to focus on the above body parts and functions without allowing the children to overindulge. Obviously, that can be easier said than done. Most parents naturally try to guide their children toward moderation in all things, but of course, if you believe Freud’s theories, it seems logical that parents will certainly be limited by their own fixations left over from childhood, making it especially difficult for them to objectively steer their kids.

The bottom line, then, must be that parents should make every effort to educate themselves about what is considered normal and healthy for their children and then balance the advice of child development professionals with their own parental instincts and common sense. For most parents, raising happy, healthy children is a top priority and by staying actively and directly involved in their children’s lives, parents will be able to judge the progress that their children are making along the way.

This entry was posted in Emotion and Mental, Growth and Development, Pediatric, Psychiatry, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Child Development and Mental Disorders

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