Three Perspectives on Childhood Development: Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotsky

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The cognitive and emotional development of children is a unique and intricate process that demands careful consideration to understand the challenges that it entails and the opportunities that it contains. Since the phenomenon of childhood development is not homogenous and includes a sequence of changes that affect a child on multiple levels, there is currently several theoretical frameworks that seek to understand, explain, and explore the phenomenon of childhood development.

Created by Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotsky, these theories focus on specific aspects of the process of building an essential skill set that occurs in early childhood. Despite offering different approaches toward identifying ley stages in childhood development, these theoretical frameworks share a common detail of analyzing the differences in responses produced by young learners toward stimuli that come from their external environment.


The importance of the sociocultural influence that children experiences during the early years of their development should not be underestimated since it has a formative impact on the acquisition of critical cognitive and communication-related skills. In his theoretical framework, Erikson was the first to make the connection between the social environment in which a child lives and the speed of developing critical cognitive and social functions.

According to the key premises of the theory developed by Erikson, there are several critical stages of an individual’s development, which imply suffering a psychosocial crisis and mark the process of one’s cognitive and social growth (Sonnenwald, 2016). In his theory, Erikson considered the entire lifespan of a human being, dividing it into eight clearly marked stages. During these stages, a person is expected to develop a basic characteristic that will define their further psychosocial development (Sonnenwald, 2016). Although Erikson’s approach might seem as too detailed, he managed to introduce a rather accurate representation of how a person grows up and ages into the realm of psychological science.

According to Erikson, eight stages of psychosocial development can be identified across the lifespan of every human. The first one starts with drawing the line between trust and mistrust and signifies the development of hope as the basic feeling that an individual needs (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2018). The second one allows a child to define the concept of shame. It could be assumed that at the specified stage, the basic concepts of social interactions and the patterns of communication within a community are developed, which links Erikson’s theory of childhood development to other frameworks that are more driven by the analysis of interpersonal interactions as the main developmental factors (Sonnenwald, 2016).

The stage of Industry vs. Inferiority helps a child to gain confidence, which is instrumental in the following acquisition of skills and their use when addressing practical problems (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2018).

THz stage that allows a child to navigate between the development of an identity and the threat of role confusion helps to cement the concepts of personal identity and uniqueness, whereas the stage of intimacy vs. isolation introduces a person to the realm of society and helps them to define how they factor into it (Sonnenwald, 2016). The phase that is described as generativity vs. stagnation occurs during one’s 40ies-60ies and makes one question their impact on the community (Sonnenwald, 2016). The eighth and the final stage of ego integrity vs. despair occurs in aging adults and allows them to reconcile with the inevitability of death (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2018).

The taxonomy designed by Erikson allows encompassing the entire lifespan of a human being, delineating the age boundaries for each developmental phase very clearly. The described approach begs the question of whether people’s life experiences regarding their cognitive development are homogenous enough for the specified approach toward addressing cognitive development to provide a valid platform for meeting people’s developmental needs. Nevertheless, the theory provides a generally well-constructed an perfectly balanced approach toward analyzing the stages of cognitive development and the acquisition of corresponding skills.


Piaget explores primarily the acquisition of cognitive and information processing skills in young children, suggesting a taxonomy of the developmental process that includes a total of four stages (Pressley & McCormick, 2018). The described approach stands in contrast to Erikson, who considered the process of personal development through the lens of psychosocial factors and introduces a total of eight stages of personal development that take place across one’s lifespan (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2018).

The age boundaries that Piaget sets is one of the key differences between his approach and the one suggested by Eriksson. Namely, Piaget outlines the presence of the sensorimotor stage, the preoperative one, the concrete operational stag, and the formal operational stage (Pressley & McCormick, 2018).

Moreover, the focus of Piaget’s theory seems to be located not in how a child interacts with the environment around them, but how they perceive information from the said environment and process it to obtain crucial knowledge about the world. The sensorimotor stage, with which the taxonomy starts, is the most basic one, suggesting that during it, a child learns to utilize their sensory capabilities to learn critical data that informs their decision-making (Pressley & McCormick, 2018). As a result, during the identified stage, a child starts to embrace the concept of the cause-and-effect connection between their actions and the events that transpire afterward (Pressley & McCormick, 2018).

The taxonomy that Piaget used in developing his theoretical approach toward studying childhood development is rooted in the acquisition of skills, whereas the one that Erikson provides insists on the necessity to scrutinize a child’s perception of reality. Thus., Erikson’s theoretical framework is geared toward the study of a child’s emotional development to a greater extent due to the focus on developing virtues such as trust, autonomy, initiative, and other ones (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2018).

Piaget, in turn, examines the way in which children interact with the outside world via their sensory skills before approaching the analysis of their sociocognitive function. The next stage, defined by Piaget as preoperational, implies gaining the ability to understand symbols and use the information obtained from external sources to choose the appropriate course of actions that will lead to the desirable goals (Pressley & McCormick, 2018).

The introduction of the phenomenon of egocentrism, which children develop at the preoperational stage, into the analysis of their development, is also unique to Piaget’s perspective since Erikson does not address the specified concept in his theoretical; framework directly. Arguably, the notion of egocentrism is present in Erikson’s theory indirectly since he considers the concepts of intimacy and vs. isolation in his taxonomy of developmental stages. Since the ability to develop intimate relationships compared to the decision to remain isolated can be seen as the manifestation of a person’s ability to deviate from egocentric tendencies, the phenomenon of egocentrism can also be considered a part of Erikson’s theoretical framework.

Nevertheless, the age variations in the interpretation of how egocentrism manifests during personal development in Erikson’s and Piaget’s frameworks seems to be too high to consider the identified concepts as related. Therefore, although the context of both approaches toward exploring personal development as viewed by Piaget and Erikson seem to be related, the differences in how the concept of development is approached and what is considered a valid developmental stage are too disjointed to be regarded as synchronized ideas.

Both Erikson and Piaget focus on the significance of early childhood development and emphasize the role that the acquisition of communicational, cognitive, and analytical skills plays in an individual’s life. However, the two frameworks still share several ideas that allow them to remain comparable, such as the concept of developmental stages.


What becomes an immediately stark contrast when considering Vygotsky’s approach toward the analysis of cognitive development compared to Piaget and Erikson’s formulas is the absence of any stages that mark the acquisition of a critical ability and the transition to a new developmental level. Instead, Vygotsky’s framework is rooted in the idea of self-guidance and self-development (Daniels, 2017). It is quite peculiar that, even without a liner hierarchy of developmental stages that one is expected to pass in order to evolve and gain cognitive skills, Vygotsky’s approach toward understanding the concept of cognitive development is very close to that one of Piaget. Similarly to the latter, Vygotsky emphasizes the importance of acquiring communication skills (Daniels, 2017).

However, apart form several common characteristics and ideas that the theories created by Piaget and Vygotsky have, there is very little in common between them when it comes to discussing the details of each theoretical framework. For example, while Piaget measures one’s development by the ability to perceive the discourse that comes form an external source and engage in a reciprocal conversation, Vygotsky insists that the true mark of cognitive development is illustrated by the ability to communicate with the self (Pressley & McCormick, 2018). The described propensity toward externalized thought, while also being present in the frameworks by Piaget and Erikson to a small degree, is amplified exponentially in Vygotsky’s theory, insisting on the importance of self-guidance and self-direction (Daniels, 2017). Therefore, Vygotsky creates the platform on which a child can build the skills for self-directed learning.

In addition, the perception of the human development as a process is different in Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s frameworks. For instance, Piaget tends to represent the transition from one developmental stage to another as linear, explaining that the cognitive evolution of a child is expected to be homogenous. Vygotsky, in turn, posits that the process of personal cognitive growth is curvilinear due to the peaks and valleys in an individual’s ability to perceive and learn information depending on one’s age (Daniels, 2017). Specifically, Vygotsky explains that, as a person ages, their skill of data perception and skill learning decreases quickly (Daniels, 2017).

Piaget, in turn, does not make the specified distinction, which makes the latter’s theoretical approach applicable mostly to the analysis of childhood development as opposed to the cognitive progress occurring throughout one’s entire life.

Another crucial point of divergence between the theories of Vygotsky and Piaget concerns their perception of social speech as a phenomenon that occurs in children at a specific point in their lives. According to Vygotsky, the phenomenon of egocentric speech is expected to occur in a child so that it could later on evolve into a manner o thinking that will afterward transform into language skills (Daniels, 2017). The described opinion is directly opposed to that one of Piaget, who argues that the egocentric speech of a child is gradually replaced by the social speech, which a child learns form the people around them by interacting with them on a regular basis (Pressley & McCormick, 2018).

Thus, the idea of transformation, which Piaget’s framework suggests, is absent from Vygotsky’s theory. One might argue that the described incongruence between the theories exists due to the fact that Vygotsky refused to introduce clearly delineated stages of cognitive development into his framework and, instead, preferred working with a curvilinear model (Daniels, 2017). However, it seems that the reason for the observed difference to exist are much more deeply seated and may concern the theorists’ perception of cognitive development, in general.

Finally, the importance of environmental factors seems to be ignored by Piaget, whereas Vygotsky’s approach is centered around the idea that the external environment produces an uninhibited and inevitable impact on a child’s sociocognitive development (Pressley & McCormick, 2018). Thus, the role of private speech is regulated, as Vygotsky posits. Therefore, there are substantial differences between the frameworks suggested by Piaget and Vygotsky despite the presence of evident similarities and the first impression of identical ideas being promoted by both scientists.

The differentiation that the two frameworks allow to make between the influence produced on a child’s development by peers (Piaget’s perspective) and authorities, such as parents and educators (Vygotsky’s theory) seems to be of particular interest since it informs the application of two different teaching frameworks that are used equally effectively in promoting the cognitive development of a learner. Namely, the use of peer support and the guidance of a teacher can be introduced into the developmental process of a learner to spur their progress and assist them in building the required cognitive skill set.

According to Lourenço (2012), Piaget’s point of view represented a stark contrast to tat one of Vygotsky since it “valued mutual respect, autonomy, and social relationships among equal peers more than unilateral respect, heteronomy, and authority-based relationships” (Lourenço, 2012, p. 284). Thus, by insisting on the importance of social interactions between students, Piaget introduced the possibility of peer education, peer scaffolding, and peer assessment into the learning process 9). Moreover, turning the acquisition of crucial social skills into a guided process that will help a learner to become an active participant in their team becomes possible once Vygotsky’s perspective is applied.

Although Erikson’s theoretical framework seems to be closer to the one of Vygotsky than the developmental taxonomy designed by Piaget, there are still numerous inconsistencies and the lack of agreement between the two. Similarly to the situation with Piaget’s approach, the taxonomy designed by Erikson does not have the direct corollary to the theoretical framework designed by Vygotsky since the latter refused from the idea of introducing any stages of development into his theory, in general.

Zone of Proximal Development as the cornerstone of Vygotsky’s theory is the feature that sets Vygotsky’s framework from the one of Erikson and Piaget. According to the author of the theory, the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is the “the area where the child cannot solve a problem alone, but he/she can be successful under adult guidance or in collaboration with a more advanced peer” (Fauzia, 2018, p. 2). Therefore, it could be argued that Vygotsky’s theoretical framework was a timely response toward the individual-centered theories that dominated the realm of psychology at the time and the way of introducing the social factor into the analysis (Daniels, 2017).

Furthermore, the approach that Vygotsky suggest toward encouraging the cognitive development of a learner invites opportunities for peer communication and can be interpreted as the grounds for encouraging peer support in learning (Daniels, 2017). Overall, Vygotsky’s theory stands in opposition to those of Piaget and Eriksson because of its focus on communication as not merely critical but inevitable aspect of cognitive development and the acquisition of the associated skills.

Although Vygotsky’s theory allows solving some of the problems created by Piaget’s and Erikson’s theories, such as the presence of rigid developmental stages, the newly designed approach toward understanding a child’s development creates new issues. For instance, exploring the differences that sociocultural environments have on children, one might infer that some young learners are socially and culturally predisposed to a lesser number of opportunities for cognitive development than their peers. For instance, Leonardo & Manning (2015) argue that

Vygotsky’s genetic approach attempted to unearth the impact of history on individual actions, the ways that these histories are reified through education, and how the trajectories of these activity systems can be disrupted through the introduction of new tools. (Leonardo & Manning, 2015, p.)

In addition, Vygotsky’s approach has tweaked the role of a student, shifting the emphasis to the instructor and peers. Specifically, the attention that the theory pays to the interactions between a learner another participants of communication suggests that each has an equally important amount of agency in the development of a particular learner’s cognitive skills (Daniels, 2017). As a result, the framework used by Vygotsky can be seen as more communication-oriented and geared toward the examination of the social interactions between a child who has only started to develop their social skills and the rest of the community (Daniels, 2017).

Although the suggested approach lacks the focus on individual development that Piaget and Erikson’s approaches provide, it does help to place the acquisition of cognitive skills in children into a context. As a result, the issues that may arise during the development of the said skills can be addressed by integrating appropriate strategies. Moreover, the premises for evidence-based research in the context of a community can be created in order to examine the effects that different factors produce on children’s cognitive evolution. Thus, the theoretical framework by Vygotsky can be seen as particularly helpful when addressing the problems that children may have when entering the realm of society and attempting at building a rapport with its members.

Although the theoretical frameworks for evaluating the critical stages of childhood development as suggested by Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotsky introduce seemingly different interpretations of the factors that enhance the acquisition of key cognitive functions, each framework is rooted in the same assessment of how a child responds to external stimuli. Therefore, the principles that Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotsky’s theories provide are related to each other and have a strong continuity established between them. Despite the fact that each of the three theorists suggest different stages to mark the development of children, they agree on the crucial idea of childhood development, namely, the significance of the social impact.


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