Erikson’s Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority

Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority “To bring a productive situation to completion is an aim which gradually supersedes the whims and wishes of play."-- Erik Erikson

Erikson’s fourth stage of identity typically occurs between the ages of 7-13 and involves industry vs. inferiority. When a child successfully navigates this stage, they develop competency. Competency becomes a big part of confidence as we develop in life and plays a strong role in the next stage of identity. A big part of this stage focuses on academics, competition, and social interactions. Children at this stage seek recognition from both adults and peers that they are capable and competent. Children learn what they can and can’t accomplish; however, their ability is more important through practice and work.

Children are focused on achievement, winning, and social status. Children who can achieve goals and recognition experience confidence and competency. Children who struggle to achieve or with social interaction may become insecure or tend to initiate but not complete.

Impacts on This Stage

This stage is impacted by previous stages and is often the stage where deficiencies may have a more noticeable impact. Other children may tend to avoid situations in which they have to trust others or may struggle to initiate in class or with peers. Other children who experience struggles with autonomy may find it difficult to excel without parents’ help or may resist limits and boundaries. Other children may take competency to an extreme, struggling with issues related to perfection. Perfection erodes confidence by making someone only as good as their next mistake and creates a constant feeling of anxiety. Perfection is often an attempt to deal with the fear of abandonment or criticism by excelling in activities or school. This may impact the next stage of identity in which one defines themselves only by what they excel at doing. As Deepak Chopra put it, “Becoming a Human Doing rather than a Human Being.”

Issues in This Stage

The fourth stage is also where learning differences and other organic issues may become more pronounced. Children who have learning differences or have may struggle more in experiencing competency. They may also experience more negative interactions with teachers or caregivers. Instead of an environment promoting competency, too often, the classroom may promote feelings of inferiority. Some children may adapt to these issues by becoming the “Class Clown.” The need for competency is so strong some children seek to be “the best at being bad.” These children may indulge in self-destructive behaviors, defiance, sexualized behavior, etc., as a substitute for success, gaining attention or notoriety from peers. This negative grandiosity, so to speak, is a vital maladaptation to explore. It is even more challenging to give up self-destructive behaviors when they may be the only thing one believes they do well.

Learning differences may impede a child’s ability to experience academic competency, but also on a social level where they may not pick up as fast on social cues. This lack of social awareness may lead to more negative interactions with peers or feelings of confusion in social interactions.

This may result in children avoiding social interactions or isolating themselves. The isolation offers less social engagement and practice compounding the problem.

Supporting Success

Children are most successful when they can successfully find a balance of achievement, dedication toward success, and recognizing that achievement is only part of who they are. Children who connect practice and effort are the most common success factors tend to develop competency.

Parents can assist children through this stage by reinforcing practice and encouraging the striving for excellence and not perfection. Parents need to attune to their child to recognize the ability of their child. This allows the parent to create reasonable expectations for the child and recognize where the child may need more support or problem-solving. Parents may have to explore more environments where their child will be more successful.

Support is different from enabling in which undermines competency by sending a message the child is incapable.

Industry is a critical stage in setting a foundation for the next stage of identity and establishing confidence in life.
Successful completion of this stage promotes the feeling of being capable and working toward goals in life.

The key is for children to find a balance between achievement and perfection. As we say at Spring Ridge, “Strive for excellence vs. Perfection.”

A Brief Overview of Erikson’s 8 Stages of Development

Childhood and Society by Erik Erikson