Play

Erikson's third stage of development is the play age, a period covermg the same time as Freud's phallic phase—roughly ages 3 to 5 years. Again, differences emerge between the views of Freud and Erikson. Whereas Freud placed the Oedipus complex at the core of the phallic stage, Erikson believed that the Oedipus complex is but one of several important developments during the play age. Erikson (1968) contended that, in addition to identifying with their parents, preschool-age children are developing locomotion, language skills, curiosity, imagination, and the ability to set goals.

Genital-Locomotor Mode

The primary psychosexual mode during the play age is genital-locomotor. Erikson (1982) saw the Oedipal situation as a prototype "of the lifelong power of human playfulness" (p. 77). In other words, the Oedipus complex is a drama played out in the child's imagination and includes the buddmg understanding of such basic concepts as reproduction, growth, future, and death. The Oedipus and castration complexes, therefore, are not always to be taken literally. A child may play at being a mother, a father, a wife, or a husband; but such play is an expression not only of the genital mode but also of the child's rapidly developing locomotor abilities. A little girl may envy boys, not because boys possess a penis, but rather because society grants more prerogatives to children with a penis. A little boy may have anxiety about losing something, but this anxiety refers not only to the penis but also to other body parts. The Oedipus complex, then, is both more than and less than what Freud believed and infantile sexuality is "a mere promise of things to come" (Erikson, 1963, p. 86). Unless sexual mterest is provoked by cultural sex play or by adult sexual abuse, the Oedipus complex produces no harmful effects on later personality development.

The mterest that play-age children have in genital activity is accompanied by then increasing facility at locomotion. They can now move with ease, running, jumping, and climbing with no conscious effort; and their play shows both initiative and imagination. Their rudimentary will, developed during the preceding stage, is now evolving mto activity with a purpose. Children's cognitive abilities enable them to manufacture elaborate fantasies that include Oedipal fantasies but also include imagining what it is like to be grown up, to be omnipotent, or to be a ferocious animal. These fantasies, however, also produce guilt and thus contribute to the psychosocial crisis of the play age, namely, initiative versus guilt.

Initiative Versus Guilt

As children begm to move around more easily and vigorously and as their genital interest awakens, they adopt an intrusive head-on mode of approaching the world. Although they begin to adopt initiative hi then selection and pursuit of goals, many

Chapter 9 Erikson: Post-Freudian Theory 253

goals, such as marrying their mother or father or leaving home, must either be repressed or delayed. The consequence of these taboo and inhibited goals is guilt. The conflict between initiative and guilt becomes the dominant psychosocial crisis of the play age.

Again, the ratio between these two should favor the syntonic quality—initiative. Unbridled initiative, however, may lead to chaos and a lack of moral principles. On the other hand, if guilt is the dominant element, children may become compulsively moralistic or overly inhibited. Inhibition, which is the antipathy of purpose, constitutes the core pathology of the play age.

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