Psychoanalytic Theory

Throughout recent history, psychologists have attempted to provide theoretical reasoning as to how children develop, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. To some, there may seem to be just as many theories of child development as there are differing paths for children to develop. However, over the years, some theories have held more weight and attention than others. For example, Sigmund Freud famously developed his theory of personality development called the psychoanalytic theory of personality, with a special emphasis on child development through his stage theory of psychosexual development. Below, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of development will be discussed in more detail.

What Is The Psychoanalytic Theory?

As mentioned above, it was Sigmund Freud who formulated the psychoanalytic theory of development, and as per Freud’s beliefs, this theory states that all humans have drives surrounding aggression and sexuality.

It is these drives, which are Little baby walking in a diaper.mainly governed by instinct and biology, that direct how a person develops. In terms of children, certain events experienced during the childhood years are thought to affect the child’s psychological functioning later on in their adult life. More specifically, according to the psychosexual sub-theory of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, a person’s personality is formed before the age of five, through a series of progressive stages that involve a strong drive toward pleasure focused mainly on the erogenous zones in the human body. This force is called the libido, and is the main factor in the development of one’s personality. These progressive stages are as follows: the Oral Stage, the Phallic Stage (which showcases the Oedipus Complex), the Latency Stage, and finally the Genital Stage. Most importantly, this final, Genital, stage is regarded as the most important, because it is believed that a child will only be able to reach this stage if he or she reaches all previous stages successfully. If the child fails to successfully pass through all of the stages, it’s believed that they will be stuck at whatever stage they cannot pass through, resulting in what is called arrested development.

Current Application To Child Development

Over the decades, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory has undergone many revisions and permutations, with some elements of the original theory being discarded while others remaining intact. Quite often today, the theory is put into practice through the use of psychotherapy and analysis. Thus, in terms of children, psychoanalysis is used to treat possible disorders or emotional problems the child may be exhibiting, such as fears, anxieties, or deviant behaviors, with the purpose being to eradicate the symptoms in order for the child to be able to develop normally, without any hindrance from negative obstacles to growth. Regarding parenting styles, the psychoanalytic theory mainly comes into play in terms of how the stages of the psychosexual development will impact a parent’s approach to child rearing.

For example, during the first stage, the Oral Stage, babies interact with the world through the mouth (eating, sucking, tasting). If a parent fails to provide the child with such interactions, the child may grow up to develop habits such as smoking, drinking, overeating, etc. Also, in the Anal Stage the child’s libido is preoccupied with bowel movements and bladder control. Thus, if a parent becomes too overbearing and controlling about such issues, such as during the toilet training phase, a child may  develop a preoccupation with being neat, and obsess over cleanliness. Conversely, if the parent is too lax about toilet training, the child could grow up to behave in a destructive or messy manner.


Although psychoanalytic theory has stuck around for well over 100 years now, there are criticisms leveled against the theory. For instance, the theory does not lend itself to scientific, empirical research, relying instead on activities such as free Little boy drinking from a bottle.association and dream interpretation, both of which lay heavily in the realm of the subconscious, and are thus too difficult to study, and prove or disprove the treatment remedies. Another criticism is that the theory does not take into consideration the person’s specific culture that they grew up in, and the very real possibility that one’s culture, as well as one’s environment, is a big determinant of how one’s personality will develop. Furthermore, traditional therapy associated with the theory is known to take years of weekly sessions between client and therapist before any results are made. Thus, in our modern times, with the high cost of therapy, such long-term treatment is often out of the question for most people, leading many to turn to less expensive and less time consuming therapies such as the cognitive-behavioral type instead.