Developmental Script

by Karuna Poole, ARNP, MN

Newborns enter the world in touch with their own spirit and aware of what they need and want. When developmental needs are recognized and met, children stay in touch with their true selves. When developmental needs are not met children, in order to survive, begin to build armor around their spirit and in time lose touch with their true selves.

The first section of this article will present the six stages of childhood development as envisioned by Levin (1974) and will suggest ways in which an adult’s behavior may indicate that developmental needs were not met during childhood. When presenting the normal stages of development, the major tasks of the child (Levin, 1974; Levin 1980) and the major tasks of the parent (Clarke, 1986) during each stage will be addressed.

Developmental Stages

Stage 1- Being

During Stage 1 (0 to 6 months) children learn the power of being. Their responsibility is to ask for what they need. If they are hungry or wet, they make their needs known by crying. Parent are responsible for thinking and doing for the child, for responding to them, for delighting in them, for protecting and nurturing them, and for taking care of themselves. If this happens children will learn to trust the world, to believe they are loved and wanted and that their needs are okay.

Adults whose needs were not met adequately during the first stage are likely to be searching for closeness, caring and love. They may crave to be touched and held and taken care of. They may choose to have these needs met through a sexual relationship especially if their parents gave them the message “Hurry Up and Grow Up!” throughout their childhood.

Stage 2- Doing

During Stage 2 (6-18 months) children learn the power of doing. Their responsibility is to explore their environment, to taste, look, touch and smell. Parents are responsible for providing a safe, rich environment for their child and for caring for themselves. If this happens, children will learn it is all right to be curious and intuitive, that they can explore and experiment, and that they can do things and receive support at the same time.

Adults whose parents did not allow them to explore their environment may be listless, lifeless and depressed. They may act sick or stupid in order to get protection. Or, on the other hand, they may have experienced that the only way to get attention from their parents was by excessive activity, so they may use activity as a way of being acknowledged.

Stage 3- Thinking

During Stage 3 (18 to 36 months) children learn the power of thinking. Their responsibility during this stage is to begin to separate, to say no, and to learn to think. Parents are responsible for encouraging thinking, for helping the child to learn to separate thinking and feeling, for being in charge of the rules, for setting appropriate limits and for taking care of themselves. When these needs are met, children will learn that they can let other people know when they feel angry, that it is okay to push and test, to find out limits, and to think for themselves.

Adults whose ability to think has been discounted throughout their lifetimes may be angry and controlling. They may feel there is a conspiracy to keep them uninformed. They may rebel against any sign of authority. Adults whose NO was not tolerated or respected when they were children may be overly adaptive. They may not have developed sufficient skills to say NO even when they want to.

Stage 4- Identity

During Stage 4 (3 to 6 years) children learn the power of identity. Their responsibility is to try on new roles, to test their power, to start socially appropriate behavior, and to separate fantasy from reality. Parents are responsible for rewarding imagination, for being clear about reality, for teaching manners, for helping the child with new information and for taking care of themselves. When these needs are met, children learn that it is okay to have their own view of the world, to be who they are, and to test their power. They also learn that they can imagine things without them coming true and that they can be powerful and still have needs.

Adults who have not successfully completed the identity stage may act excessively powerful or excessively fragile. They may engage in a great deal of magical thinking- convinced that they have caused events to happen, no matter how unrelated their actions are to the events. They may be overly concerned with what they are "supposed" to be like or how they are "supposed" to act.

Stage 5- Skill development

During Stage 5 (6 to 12 years) children learn the power of skill development. Their responsibility is to test the rules, to disagree, to make up rules and to practice using their own values. Parents are responsible for examining rules, for enforcing or negotiating rules, for hassling when appropriate, for allowing consequences, and for stroking their children for thinking logically and creatively and for arguing well. If these needs are met, children will learn that they can trust their feelings to guide them and that it is okay to do things their own way.

Adults who did not complete Stage 5 successfully may be sullen, sulky and diffident. They may believe that it isn't safe to let other people know what they know or don't know. They may spend a lot of time and energy in pleasing other peple and getting others to please them.

Stage 6- Separation

During Stage 6 (13 to 19 years) children learn the power of separation. Their responsibility is to learn emotional separation, to develop their sexual identity and in some cases to separate physically from their parents by leaving home. Parents are responsible for being clear on rules, for negotiating rules, for allowing consequences, for admiring and enjoying the adolescents' developing sexuality without being seductive, and for affirming independence.

During this stage adolescents revisit each of the earlier stages briefly (regeneration). Around 13 they experience an increased need to be taken care of (Being) and frequently will do things that appear to have no apparent logical thinking or thought out motivation (Doing). Around 14 they become increasingly independent in their thinking and may exert independence through rebellion (Thinking). Around 15 they think about who they are as persons and test their power (Identity). At 16 they begin to review their hopes, disappointments, and memories and dream about the future. As each stage is reworked, parents are responsible for providing support and structure and for handling their own recycling needs.

If parents gave a "Hurry Up and Grow Up" message during adolescence, the adult may choose to get their dependency needs met through sexual activity. If the parents gave the message "Don't Grow Up" the adult may be afraid of their sexuality and may avoid sexual relationships.


Levin believes that once we have completed the initial six stages of development, we continue to recycle the stages over and over for the rest of our lives. Therefore, when we are recycling the Being stage we feel an increased need to be close. We will want to be taken care of and thought for and loved. When we are recycling Doing we may feel bursts of energy and may want to be involved in all sorts of activities. This natural recycling process allows us the opportunity to complete the developmental tasks that were not completed the first time around. For example, the adult who was not loved and wanted during infancy can create an environment around them so that when they recycle the Being stage their needs will be met.

Recycling occurs in many ways. There are major recycling periods which happen on a regular, predictable basis throughout life. However, life events also provide opportunities for recycling- for example, when you get a new job or start a new relationship you will revisit each of the developmental stages. Therefore, you have many opportunities throughout your lifetime to work on completing the developmental tasks that you were not able to complete during childhood.

Identifying and Resolving Developmental Issues

There are a variety of ways to identify unresolved developmental issues. This article may have pointed out some areas in which your developmental needs were not met. A more systematic and complete assessment can be conducted using a developmental script questionnaire which was developed by Pamela Levin. It can be completed in an individual therapy session through an interview process that takes about 1 1/2 hours.

There are many methods which can be used to resolve developmental issues. The natural recycling process provides an ongoing opportunity to complete the tasks. When the unresolved developmental issues are not major, the individual can identify specific target areas and then use friends and relatives to support their process. For example, if saying NO is difficult for you, you can pick friends and relatives whom you judge to be safe and tell them you are going to practice saying NO whenever you are asked to do something you don't want to do. You can tell them that you want their support in this endeavor. If they agree to support you in this manner, then you will have an opportunity to complete the developmental task of saying no and have the experience of being heard and respected.

If major unresolved developmental issues are present, or if people in your life would not be supportive of the changes you want to make, then you might want to consider doing a form of psychotherapy that utilizes a developmental framework. In this manner you can work on any of the issues that have resulted from childhood needs not being met.


Main sources:

Clarke, Jean I. (1978) Self Esteem: A Family Affair, Minneapolis, Winston Press.

Clarke, Jean I. (1986) Workshop Handout, Discipline with Self Esteem: The Role of Negotiable and Non-Negotiable Rules, sponsored by Parent Education Associates, Seattle, Washington.

Levin, Pamela. (1985) Becoming the Way We Are, Wenatchee, Directed Media.

Levin, Pamela. (1980) Cycles of Power: A Guidebook for the Seven Stages of Life, unpublished manuscript.

Suggested Reading:

Berne, Eric (1976) Beyond Games and Scripts, New York, Grove Press.

Erickson, Eric (1968) Identity, Youth and Crisis, New York, W.W. Norton and Co.

This article was adapted from an article written for The New Times in the mid-eighties.