Erik Erikson

Theorist in Child Development

His life:

Erik Erikson was born June 15, 1902 in Frankfurt, Germany. His young Jewish mother raised him by herself before marrying a physician, Dr. Theodor Homberger. The fact that Homberger was not in fact his biological father was a key factor in why he grew up to do the things he did because his mother did not tell him. When he finally did learn the truth, he was left with a feeling of confusion about who he really was.

This early experience helped spark his interest in the formation of identity. His early experiences helped fuel his interest in identity formation and continued to influence his work throughout his life. At the suggestion of a friend, Erikson studied psychoanalysis and earned a certificate from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. He also took a teaching position at a school created by Dorothy Burlingham, a friend of Anna Freud. He continued to work with Burlingham and Freud at the school for several years, met Sigmund Freud at a party, and even became Anna Freud's patient.

He married in 1930 and went on to have three children. Erikson moved to the United States in 1933 and was offered a teaching position at Harvard Medical School and changed his name to Erik H. Erikson, perhaps as a way to forge his own identity. In addition to his position at Harvard, he also had a private practice in child psychoanalysis. Later, he held teaching positions at the University of California at Berkeley, Yale, the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, Austen Riggs Center, and the Center for Advanced Studies of the Behavioral Sciences. He published a number of books on his theories and research, including Childhood and Society and The Life Cycle Completed.

Theories of Human Development and Education

  • Erikson focused on placing childhood squarely in the context of society. He developed the idea that children are not just biological organisms that endure. Rather, they develop in the context of society’s expectations, prohibitions, and prejudices.
  • Another major contribution of Erikson’s work is the notion that personality is shaped over the life span, which implies that experiences later in life can heal or worsen problems in early childhood.
  • Erikson very much believed that there should be a “new education of children” based on self-knowledge and a complex world view that removed “immediate diagnoses of health or sickness, judgments of goodness or badness, or advice on ‘how to’.” Erikson’s beliefs in the complexity and resilience of children and in the importance of mutuality in helping relationships led a school to be named in his honor.
  • Erikson’s best-known work is his theory that each stage of life is associated with a specific psychological struggle, a struggle that contributes to a major aspect of personality

Type of Theory: Psychoanalytic