Social interaction shapes personality development, according to Danish psychoanalyst Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. From birth, a child creates an emotional repertoire tied to her perceptions of her world’s safety. Fear of new experiences battles with exploratory instincts, and the winner depends on whether a child feels safe. Teachers who know how to apply psychosocial development in the classroom create a safe environment where each child feels appreciated and comfortable exploring new knowledge and relationships rather than letting fear inhibit learning.

Preschool: Hardy Personality

Step 1

Create projects that allow children to take charge of their learning process. Incorporate childrens' interests and ideas into classroom activities to send the message that their input matters to you.

Step 2

Give children many small choices within acceptable limits. Compliment good choices within earshot of peers and parents, keeping it simple and authentic.

Step 3

Talk with a child privately about poor choices. Ask questions to encourage cause-and-effect thinking about the problem, alternate choices, and how she can solve the problem now. Focus on guiding her to a solution, not on criticizing her as a person.

Step 4

Know the difference between misbehavior and an exploratory misfire. A child learns by experimenting, so do not punish a child for trying something that did not go as planned. A simple, "Oops! That didn't work out like you planned, huh? How can you fix it?" teaches a child that there is life beyond a mistake.

Elementary: Achievement and Peer Relationships

Step 1

Include children in setting classroom rules and discuss what it looks and sounds like when everyone is following those rules. Make a list of classroom duties, and let students take charge of these jobs to help the classroom run smoothly.

Step 2

Model empathy to teach children to be sensitive to the needs of others. Role-play different situations with children, and discuss how they want to be treated when they are in like circumstances. This encourages them to think beyond themselves.

Step 3

Demonstrate frequently that learning from mistakes and moving forward is more important than perfection. Teach children that they should never laugh at, ridicule, demean or ignore someone who is having trouble socially or academically, but rather offer help and encouragement.

Step 4

Focus on recognizing successes. Leave the mistakes of the past in a vat of oblivion, and help children build confidence in what they do best.

Step 5

Provide choices rather than one static assignment, which allow children to express their understanding at the level and in the mode where they can best shine: art and music projects, multimedia presentations, written reports, oral reports, etc.

Adolescence: Identity and Self-Esteem

Step 1

Monitor your teaching practices for unintentional bias. Teacher education professor Nancy P. Gallavan asserts that higher expectations of students who most share similarity to the teacher’s background and personality affects self-perception, self-esteem and confidence to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Notice whether you are grouping or favoring students by gender, race or socioeconomic status, and take steps to correct any inequities.

Step 2

Expose students to many career choices through reading in history and literature, guest speakers and field trips or job shadows. Allow students to explore options, such as jobs, education and family without reference to culturally-influenced gender expectations.

Step 3

Help students identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Marcus Buckingham's Strong Life Test can help pinpoint these areas. Encourage students to develop confidence and focus goals on their strengths. Be explicit about the strengths you see in their work and personality.

Step 4

Educate students in practical family living skills to increase confidence and self-sufficiency. Training in basic cooking, finance management, hygiene, home care and simple auto repairs (such as changing a tire) will greatly improve a student's preparation to handle the curves that life throws at him.