2.3 Social Interaction in Early Childhood: Can you discuss the psychosexual theories in relation to social interaction?

Discuss the psychosexual theories in relation to social interaction


The major proponent or the theory was Sigmund Freud who focused on the unconscious forces that influenced behaviour. Freud developed the theory from the view of the unconscious human mind and the importance of sexuality in human behaviour . According to him, many aspects of an individual personality originate from an early and broad form of sexuality in early childhood. According to this perspective, people are not masters of their own behavior. That is, behaviour depends on the impact of earlier experiences on the unconscious mind. Although Freud’s theory focused on the effects of demands from an individual’s biological make-up in relation to sexuality, social interaction in response to the displayed behaviour impacts on subsequent social and behavioural patterns.


Freud singled out conflicts associated with sexual and aggressive impulses as having much impact on an individual’s behaviour. He purported that an individual’s lifespan is spent on the need to gratify the physical pleasure which he termed as sexual urge.


Freud developed a theory based on conflicts associated with sexual urges. He came up with five stages of psychosexual development. He purported that at each of the stages, sexual energy was invested in a single body part that he referred to as the erogenous zone. An individual seeks to get some kind of gratification through the erogenous zone. From one stage of development to another, the erogenous zone shifts. The order in which these zones become important depends on maturation. According to the theory, frustrations or excessive gratification at a stage causes fixation. A fixation at any stage of development causes one to display behaviours associated with the stage of development at the fixation time during adulthood.  Social interaction at each stage could help deal with the conflict. Ignorance on the part of caregivers may intensify the conflict.

The stages are as follows:

1. Oral Stage  (Infancy, Birth to 1 year)

The area around the mouth is the centre of pleasure. As one interacts with the child it is necessary to ensure that he or she gives adequate stimulation on the area around the mouth. This may involve feeding the baby adequately and holding some kind of verbal interaction. This means that the caregiver should initiate some communication with the baby and respond to any form of verbalization. Fixation at this stage may cause behaviours such as habitual chewing, overeating, excessive dependency and gullibility at adulthood.

2. Anal Stage (1-3 years)

The erogenous zone is the area around the anus and genitals. At this time, the child becomes able to control calls of nature and gets a lot of pleasure in doing so. During this period a child is toilet-trained and there is much satisfaction when he or she is able to perform at the right place and time.

During this training, a child needs support and encouragement.  Sadly, there are parents who punish, ridicule or embarrass the child for ‘accidents.’ There are others who start toilet – training before a child is physically and emotionally ready. Any form of punitive interaction with the child leads to negative outcomes.  Children who face such difficulties are likely to develop anal- retentive, harsh, orderly, rigid and obsessive personality. This means that toilet-training should never be a battle field.


On the other hand, if the parent or caregiver becomes too lenient in such training, or exaggerate praise for a child for related success, again the child becomes fixated. Leniency makes a child develop anal expulsive behaviour. Such a child displays a wasteful or destructive personality.


3. Phallic Stage (3-5 years)

This is the actual pre-primary age. During this period there is increase in genital sensitivity and a child fondles the area. The child also develops a kind of erotic desires towards the opposite sex parent Freud referred to this behaviour as the incidence of Oedipal conflict or complex and Electra complex for boys and girls respectively. Due to the complex, boys fear the father and become intuitively aware of the mother as sex object. The boy views the father as a powerful competitor for the mother’s affection. He wishes he could get rid of this strong rival, the father. He fears what the father could do in retaliation. The young boy is therefore caught-in between the love for his mother and fear of his father, thus getting into a conflict. To get rid of this fear, he represses sexual affection for the mother and identifies with the father; that is the boy tries to be like the father in values and behaviour.


Due to Electra complex, girls try to possess their father and hence view their mother as a rival.  Like the boy, the girl represses her desire to possess the man and identifies with her mother.


If the Oedipal and Electra conflicts are not resolved by the end of this stage, the individuals become fixated. As a result some may not be able to engage in the expected love relationships but may turn to homosexuality. They may indulge in activities as exhibitionists, for example writing of pornographic materials.


A young man fixated at the stage is likely to become reckless or immoral. In some cases fixation at phallic stage has been associated with the occurrence of a love affair between a young man and an older woman as the former seeks to possess the “mother.” In case of unresolved Electra complex, some women habitually strive for superiority over men.  On the other extreme, there are women who become too submissive or have low self esteem while dealing with men. Like in the case of men, some women in this category may be involved in relationships with older men in search for their fathers’ love.


In their social interaction at this stage, children require understanding as they portray the unusual behaviour. Parents must be patient as they help their child overcome the conflict. Any attempt to compete with the child or unnecessary punishment is likely to be counterproductive.

4. Latency Stage (5 -12)

These are the late pre-primary and a great part of the primary school years. It is the stage between end of phallic stage and onset of puberty. At the stage, children’s sexual interests are suppressed hence this is resting period of the child’s sexuality. During this period  a child interacts with others of the same sex. Their roles and play activities are almost exclusively same sex; that is, boys work with boys while girls work with girls. The conflict in the earlier stage must be amicably resolved for the child to be able to have healthy interaction with same-sex children.

5. The Genital Stage (12-18 years)

This starts at puberty when the sexual pleasure is reawakened. The individual desires to interact with opposite sex peers. Those who have been  fixated in the earlier stages find it hard to cope with individuals of opposite sex. The effects of fixation at earlier stages become obvious at the end of this stage.


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