My child psych paper. Because I have nothing else to post.

I turned in this paper last Friday and am awaiting my grade. Posting this is way to get out of putting much thought into a proper entry.

An hour spent critically observing Emily B. while she participated in a gymnastics class proved to be a very insightful experience into Erikson’s psychosocial stage of Industry vs. Inferiority. In this developmental stage, experienced by those six to eleven years, “children busily learn to be competent and productive in mastering new skills or feel inferior and unable to do anything well”. In my observation of Emily’s social interactions and skill building activities I was able to monitor her successes and failures and to thereby discern how these events affected her self confidence, self-concept, and to note whether these gave rise to competition within the class.

J. Eccles notes in The Development of Children Ages 6 to 14 in The Future of Children (Fall 1999) that “…children are expected to control themselves, cultivating good “work habits,” sitting quietly for long periods of time, and complying with rules and expectations for personal conduct that are set by adults.” It is precisely these expectations that Emily finds herself trying to adhere to while attending this gymnastics class. There are roles that must be filled by adults, roles that must be filled by the kids. The lines of acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior are sometimes blurred but are generally thought of as safe to cross… or at minimum, safe to tip toe over.

Before making statements regarding Emily as it pertains to my observations in this particular gymnastics class it is important for Emily to be introduced, not as a character in a book or a faceless child under the watchful eye of a casual observer but as a young girl, full of life, love and laughter. Emily is a bright, eager, excited 8 year old girl who embodies the term “bookworm”, a third grader in the gifted program at school, and a child for whom most everything has come easy for in her short years. She enjoys making banana bread with her father, playing video games with her sister, and cuddling with her mother. She squeals with delight, growls in frustration, openly chases boys at recess (much to the distress of her mother), and has the tendency to entice others into a state of hyperactivity. Self-contained this child is not.

The gymnastics class begins with stretching. Emily finds herself at the back of the group of roughly fifteen girls in the corner. This gives her plenty of room to perform jumps, backbends, and “tuck and rolls” and enough distance from the group leaders so she can converse with her neighbors unobtrusively. She makes friends and initiates conversations easily. While the loosely structured group jumps, bends and rolls it is noted that Emily is neither more physically advanced than her peers or capable than the others as a whole. Rather, she is middle of the road; her efforts aren’t better or worse than the next girl. This “average” experience for Emily is likely humbling; she is used to being a leader. As the class continues their warm ups they parade around in a circle, a semi organized amoeba moving in fits and starts. Emily begins laughing and running around this group as fast as she can, seemingly barely able to contain the energy she has reserved for this hour. At one point an instructor politely asks her to slow down. Settling Emily is a commonality among adults.

The class moves on to tumbling practice. Emily has had previous frustrations with the aspects of this portion of class. During this period cartwheels and somersaults are practiced. After one particular roll Emily announces, “I can do it!” Cartwheels have frustrated her to the point of tears in earlier classes; while they have improved significantly they aren’t anywhere near the skill level of the majority of girls in this class. One article remarks, “Even the most secure child who has developed a strong sense of identity, willpower and initiative is frustrated by now not being the "best" in everything….” It’s worth noting that Emily has since reacted to her skill level challenges as a something to get better at, not something to give up on. This child will try, try and try again. “Watch me!” she shouts out as she attempts a cartwheel. This attempt did not fare well and she falls. Emily feels it necessary to apologize for her failure (“Mama, I’m sorry I can’t do cartwheels”). I don’t quite know what Erikson would make of Emily apologizing for her failed attempts but I find her tenacity encouraging; she appears to be quite industrious in her own right.

As the class moves on to practicing back bends and flips Emily pals up with two other young girls. They talk and laugh amongst themselves as they wait their turn in line to be guided through the backbend. As the line moves forward the girls continue to chat; their individual successes or failures in attempting this next skill are overlooked by the group. Once Emily is at the head of the line, her focus shifts to the instructor and she pays strict attention to what is going on around her. “Hey, that works!” she exclaims when she gets the backbend right and smiles. She seems more confident the next time she head up the line, artfully positioning herself in preparation for the backbend. Her success through the motions bolsters this confident feeling; Emily eagerly waits for the next challenge with a grin and, if you look carefully enough, you just might see her self-efficacy grow a bit bigger in the twinkle of her eyes.

The girls move on to practicing on the uneven bars. At this level of skill the girls attempt to jump up on the lower bar and hold themselves in a locked-arm position for a handful of seconds. Very few of the girls appear to be proficient in this task but they all appear to be enjoying themselves. This class period has become a social hour in addition to an instructional period. They continue to talk in groups, each seemingly comfortable with their positions in relation to each other. Emily suddenly says, “Stop it, I mean it!” to a girl who was pulling on her leg. After giving the offender a stern look Emily goes back to talking to another girl, apparently comfortable enough with her peers to dust off a slight aggravation in favor of continued conversation. While Emily is up on the bar practicing a girl approaches me and asks if I’m Emily’s mom. I tell her that yes, I am, and the girl responds to me that Emily is “annoying her”. “What did she do?” I ask. The girl shrugs. It’s not clear if this girl was the “leg puller”. No further interaction is noted between this girl and Emily. Neither seems to have dwelled on this incident too much as it isn’t mentioned any further and both girls continue to enjoy the lesson separately. This display is encouraging; Emily’s attitude doesn’t appear to indicate that her enjoyment of the class is dependent on finding herself in the good graces of the other girls. Minutes later Emily takes her turn on the bar (“…watch me go up!”), first trying to jump up by herself into position and then, smiling, uses a block to step on before jumping up into position. It appears that Emily enjoys feeling as though she has mastered a challenge.

The next activity is rope climbing. The girls will actually be climbing a rope “wall” that extends from about 3 feet from the ground to roughly 22 feet upwards. This distance is enough to make any observer distressed but I am practicing the “letting go” parent-child agreement and instead continue to observe Emily despite the butterflies fluttering about in my stomach. Emily approaches the rope wall with enthusiasm and makes a mad dash upward. She is intent on mastering this rope wall, pushing herself further up, testing her nerve, as she climbs. Her resolve is steadfast in the beginning of her climb. As she climbs higher she begins to climb more carefully with each step; with each foot fall Emily seems to test the rope rung as if ensuring that it’s still strong enough to support her. At various points she pauses in hesitation, deciding whether to venture further up the rope or head back down. She glances over at the two other girls climbing on the rope to her side, perhaps gauging how far she’ll travel depending on what they do. Emily climbs one or two more steps upward and then decides that she’s gone far enough. Her track down the rope is measured and cautious as she begins her descent, which becomes quicker the closer she gets to the mat. Once off of the rope wall Emily wonders aloud, “What if somebody fell?” I find it interesting that this question was asked after she came down off the rope, not before she climbed it.

If Erikson’s psychoanalytic theory is correct, then resolution of the various developmental crises found in the first five stages prior to adulthood will shape a child’s future self. Active children will have many opportunities to face a wide assortment of challenges. These children will be either mastering those challenges or feeling inferior because of an inability to do so. A sound family and social support structure is crucial to encouraging children to make the many attempts necessary to feel competent in their efforts. In my observation of Emily I have learned that she appears to be right on target to resolving the Industry vs. Inferiority crisis. She is constantly moving, learning, and challenging herself to be more productive as she learns her place in the world.


LceeL said...

Your Emily sounds like a nice, normal, intelligent little girl. Just like her mommy. Except smaller. And younger. and she probably still has good knees.

Queenie said...

Oh Emily, sweet Emily, memories of my childhood revisited. BTW how are your knees????

t i m said...

In my formative years, I think I was definitely on the 'inferiority crisis' path & if one is not benevolently steered towards the 'industry' conduit early on, that can define an individual’s outlook on some of life’s obstacles. *see how I managed to turn your excellent psych paper into something about me? I’ve a knack for doing that :)*

Anyway, it sounds like you’ve got a very bright kid there who’s undaunted of taking on any challenge.

PS: I’ve had to close down my new blogger home already which I was just getting accustomed to, so I can keep away the hackers with far too much time on their hands. I’ll relocate somewhere new soon under a new guise as I’ve the urge to write once again...