17 What are the developmental stages of growing up?

A developmental stage is a period of life during which a person can be expected to focus on several important age-appropriate tasks. As we grow up, we pass through a series of developmental stages on our way from conception to maturity. During the journey from infancy to old age, we make powerful decisions about ourselves based on how we interpret the world, and how the people closest respond to us. This includes how they take care of us, what caregivers tell us about ourselves, how they treat us, and how we see them treat others.

The stages of life are adapted from the work of Eric Erickson. They include the seven stages of birth to adulthood, plus the Prenatal stage, which is now recognized as a highly important stage, and the Integration stage, as people are living so much longer now.

You can look upon your journey through life’s stages as natural transitions.



DIGGING DEEPER: more about the stages of development.

The ages at which developmental stages get major focus may vary somewhat, and are impacted by the person’s temperament, family situation and the environment.

In adult life, we re-focus on each task many times according to our rhythms of growth and in response to our life experiences.

The Tasks are:

  • Becoming, Prenatal: Getting ready.
  • Being (Stage 1), 0 to 6 months: Deciding to live, to be.
  • Doing (Stage 2), 6 to 18 months: Moving and exploring.
  • Thinking (Stage 3), 18 months to 3 years: The terrific twos, thinking for myself.
  • Identity and Power (Stage 4), 3 to 6 years: “Who am I? Who are they?” and “How do I manage that?”
  • Structure (Stage 5), 6 to 12 years: Here’s how you do it.
  • Identity Sexuality and Separation (Stage 6), Adolescence: Oh, those hormones!
  • Interdependence (Stage 7), adult years: So much to do.
  • Integration, End of life: Looking back, giving back, wrapping up. This stage cannot have age designations. Some people grow through many years of the Integration stage, and others meet death at a young age with little time for integration.

These developmental tasks are shaped by the person’s age, by both physical development and brain development, and by their particular personality characteristics and genetic gifts.

Persons growing in a calm setting may move smoothly from one stage to another. However, persons coping with a disruptive environment may have to delay a task until later when the situation offers an opportunity to play catch-up. For example, fear was ridiculed in Tracy’s family, so she learned to ignore her fear. As a young adult she got into dangerous situations. Later, it was her husband who taught her what is dangerous and what is not. “Tracy, stop! That could be dangerous!” Some people never learn a missed task, but the opportunity is always there.

The following list goes into more depth for some major tasks of each developmental stage:


Task Becoming – Stage Prenatal- first big focus age – prenatal

The prenatal stage lays the groundwork for all the stages to follow. During these nine months, if all goes well, the baby’s body is developing from the genetic gift of the egg and the sperm to a full-term infant with all life-support system intact and ready to grow to full potential. Simultaneously, the new being is making life-shaping decisions in response to the environment of the womb and the related experiences of the mother with other people and with the baby.

  • I celebrate that you are alive.
  • Your needs and safety are important to me.
  • We are connected, and you are whole.
  • You can make healthy decisions about your experiences.
  • You can be born when you are ready.
  • Your life is your own.

♥ I love you just as you are.

For Adults: We all need permission to develop fully, to move on to the next stage of life. For example, these affirmations are important in every beginning, in every transition in life, and also when we are ill, tired, hurt, vulnerable, or grieving the loss of people, a job, or a dream.


Task: Being. Stage 1. First big focus age: birth to six months.

Stage 1 is about deciding to be, to live, to thrive, to trust, to call out to have needs met, to expect to have needs met, to be joyful. These decisions are important to nourish and amplify throughout our whole lives.

  • I’m glad you are alive.
  • You belong here.
  • What you need is important to me.
  • I’m glad you are you.
  • You can grow at your own pace.
  • You can feel all of your feelings.

♥ I love you, and I care for you willingly.

For Adults: We all need permission to know it’s okay for us to be here, be alive, make our needs known, and to be cared for. We may want to recycle or revisit these tasks whenever we start anything new: job, relationship, welcoming a new sibling.


Task: Doing. Stage 2. First big focus age: 6–18 months.

Stage 2 — the “doing” stage — is a powerful time when it is important for the children to decide to trust others, to trust that it is safe and wonderful to explore, to trust their senses, to know what they know, to be creative and active, and to get support while doing these things.

  • You can explore and experiment, and I will support and protect you.
  • You can use all of your senses when you explore.
  • You can do things as many times as you need to.
  • You can know what you know.
  • You can be interested in everything.
  • I like to watch you initiate and grow and learn.

♥ I love you when you are active and when you are quiet.

For Adults: We all need permission to know it’s okay for us to try new things and ideas, and to trust what we learn from that exploration. We can use these affirmations when we are starting anything that requires learning new skills, entering new groups or new relationships, marriage, divorce, retirement.


Task: Thinking. Stage 3. First big focus age: 18 months to 3 years.

To separate from parents, children must learn to think and solve problems. Learning to express and handle feelings is also important. These lessons are the focus of stage 3 — the “thinking” stage.

In stage 3, children have to start to give up some of their beliefs about being the center of the universe. This makes some of them angry, and they may get into power struggles. They have been mistakenly labeled “terrible.” Try labeling them “terrific” or “courageous” as they learn to handle feelings and to use cause and effect thinking.

  • I’m glad you are starting to think for yourself.
  • It’s OK for you to be angry, and I won’t let you hurt yourself or others.
  • You can say no and push and test limits as much as you need to.
  • You can learn to think for yourself, and I will think for myself.
  • You can think and feel at the same time.
  • You can know what you need and ask for help.

♥ You can become separate from me, and I will continue to love you.

For Adults: We all need permission to do cause and effect thinking, to use what we feel to help us think clearly, to think for ourselves, and to be sure about what we think.


Task: Identity and Power. Stage 4. First big focus age: 3–6 years.

The questions of stage 4 focus on the questions: “Who are they? Who am I?” and “What do I do about that?” They help the child establish an individual identity, learn skills, and figure out role and power relationships with others. An active imagination helps.

  • You can explore who you are and find out who other people are.
  • You can be powerful and ask for help at the same time.
  • You can try out different roles and ways of being powerful.
  • You can find out the results of your behavior.
  • All of your feelings are OK with me.
  • You can learn what is pretend and what is real.

♥ I love who you are.

For Adults: We all need permission to be uniquely ourselves, to fit that in with respect for ourselves and for others, to find out the positive and negative consequences of our behaviors. The affirmations are important during any new or changing relationship: new job, new friend, marriage, divorce, retirement, anyone learning to be more direct and less manipulative.


Task: Structure. Stage 5. First big focus age: 6–12 years

During stage 5, children learn more about structure and install their internal structures. This includes understanding the need for rules, the freedom that comes from having appropriate rules, and the relevancy of rules. Examining the values on which rules are based is important. Another major task of this state is acquiring many kinds of skills.

  • You can think before you say yes or no and learn from your mistakes.
  • You can trust your intuition to help you decide what to do.
  • You can find a way of doing things that works for you.
  • You can learn the rules that help you live with others.
  • You can learn when and how to disagree.
  • You can think for yourself and get help instead of staying in distress.

♥ I love you even when we differ; I love growing with you.

For Adults: We all need permission to become ever more competent, to master the social and technical skills we need, and to be responsible about rules and limits. The affirmations are useful when learning new skills to care for ourselves, to become more effective in our parenting, to manage a new job or changes on the job, to learn a new sport or activity.


Task: Identity, sexuality, and separation. Stage 6. First big focus age: 12 to 18 years.

The tasks of this stage focus on identity, sexuality, separation and increased competence.

Who am I? Who are they? How are we the same and different?

Managing hormonal and role changes and expectations in a safe way.

To emerge gradually as a separate, independent person with own identity while creating a new relationship with parents.

Expanding the skill set that was the focus of Structure, stage 6.

  • You can know who you are and learn and practice skills for independence.
  • You can learn the difference between sex and nurturing and be responsible for your needs and behavior.
  • You can develop your own interests, relationships, and causes.
  • You can learn to use old skills in new ways.
  • You can grow in your gender identity and still be dependent at times.
  • I look forward to knowing you as an adult.

♥ My love is always with you. I trust you to ask for my support.

For the Adult: We all need permission to be separate, unique, and morally responsible persons while we are building our ability to be interdependent. We need to foster healthy relationships with others and to know when to separate from those who are harmful to us. We need to keep our personal identity independent of how much money we make, how many races we won, our sexual preference, changing sexual roles, marriage, divorce.


Task: Interdependence. Stage 7. First big focus age: adult years.

The developmental tasks of adulthood focus on the journey from Independence to Interdependence, and they include regular revisiting/recycling of earlier tasks in ways that support the specific adult tasks.

  • Your needs are important.
  • You can be uniquely yourself and honor the uniqueness of others.
  • You can be independent and interdependent.
  • Through the years, you can expand your commitments to your own growth, to your family, your friends, your community, and to all humankind.
  • You can build and examine your commitments to your values and causes, your roles and tasks.
  • You can be responsible for your contributions to each of your commitments.
  • You can be creative, competent, productive, and joyful.
  • You can trust your inner wisdom.
  • You can say your hellos and goodbyes to people, roles, dreams and decisions.
  • You can finish each part of your journey and look forward to the next.
  • Your love matures and expands.

♥ You are lovable at every age.

For Adults: We all need permission to balance our needs to care for ourselves with caring for others (younger and older), to maintain some independence as we move into interdependence with our families and society. It is important to develop competence through all of the stages of adult life: caring for children, for ourselves, for elders, for any who are dependent on us, and for the society in which we live.


Task: Integration. Stage: End of life.

Dying is a part of living, and this stage of life could probably be called “Living Until You Die.” No matter what our circumstances, this can be a time of being in charge in a new way. We can be in charge of how we see ourselves and the world. We can be in charge of what we make of every day. We can live to the greatest degree we are able. Development continues until we die. The task of this part of life is the integration of the past with the present and preparation for the future.

  • You can grow your whole life through.
  • You can look upon your journey through life’s stages as natural transitions.
  • You can integrate all of your life experiences.
  • You can celebrate the gifts you have received and the gifts you have given.
  • You deserve the support that you need.
  • You can share your wisdom in your way.

♥ You are lovable just the way you are.

We all need permission to sort the many meanings of our lives, to recognize the gifts we have given and the gifts we have received. These affirmations are important any time we question the meaning of life, and especially when we are contemplating the close of a segment of life’s journey or facing death.


Words that Help: Affirmations for any age, every stage Copyright © by Jean Illsley Clarke, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.


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