Initiative Versus Guilt

Initiative Versus Guilt
June 8, 2022 No Comments Mental health emmahjoy

Initiative versus guilt is the third stage in Erik Erikson’s stages of development.

A child at this stage is between the age of 3 to 5 years.

The child is learning how to use power in different situations.

They might start taking leads in their play games and show a little more control around the house.

The child is on a quest to find purpose through exploration and play.

What’s going on with the child?

At this stage the child has a desire to try out new things.

They explore new skills and tasks in their play.

The child engages in a lot of pretend play and initiating these activities

The child is overly interactive and form lots of interpersonal relations

Parents might identify their behavior as aggressive since it is full of vigorous actions.

Real life examples of this stage is discussed in our previous post on this link

How to develop Initiative

The child develops a sense of initiative when the care giver gives them the opportunity to initiate tasks. The freedom to make decisions, builds the confidence in the child hence empowering them.

As a care giver;

  • Allow the child to initiate conversations, play and interactions with their friends.
  • Let the child come up with rules that govern their pretend play.
  • Help the child to understand how to take charge, make plans and accomplish tasks.

How Guilt develops

Guilt is when the child feels ashamed for not accomplishing a task.

The child interprets a mistake as a failure, which fuels their sense of guilt.

The more the child feels guilty about the mistakes they encounter, the more they develop a fear of trying out new things.

Secondly, guilt is also developed when a care giver discourages the child from making plans or taking charge.

The child also experiences guilt when their suggestions or questions are dismissed. They would feel guilty for taking the initiative to speak their mind

Therefore, as a care giver;

  • Listen to the child’s suggestions and critically answer their questions
  • Let the child engage in their make believe world without discouraging them
  • Allow the child the opportunity to engage with friends


If a child navigates this stage successfully, they are able to become leaders however, if they fail to navigate this stage they develop a sense of doubt and guilt and tend to be incapable of taking initiative.

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