Oedipus Complex In Child Development: Is It Something To Worry About?

We often hear parents say how their kids are more of a mommy’s boy or a daddy’s girl. At a certain age, they may get extra clingy and possessive. There is that natural bond that attaches them to their parent in a way that they will not allow anyone between them. You will usually observe this in children around 3 to 6 years of age. In this stage, they may develop affection for their opposite-sex parent. And most of the time, they get extremely jealous of the other parent. Is it normal? Will they outgrow it? Or is the behavior a psychological red flag that parents need to work out? Here is the deal.

Oedipus Complex is a controversial concept that was first introduced by Sigmund Freud. It coins that children exhibit a possessive and sexual desire for their opposite-sex parents. Conversely, they may view their same-sex parent as a rival. Both the incestuous and competitive emotions that they feel will wither down and resolve as they begin to overcome their emotions. Typically, the Oedipus Complex pertains only to the male context while in female children, it is called Electra Complex. These behaviors are not a disorder, rather a mental developmental stage that every child has to go through to set their identities.

Where did the term Oedipus Complex come from?

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is established based on the Greek play, Oedipus Rex. Oedipus is the noble and brave King of Thebes who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. It is a fulfillment of the prophecy where both mother and son are oblivious about the truth of their relationship.

According to the story, an oracle told the king that his son will kill him and marry his mother. Scared of the prophecy, his wife abandoned their baby to die in the mountains. But then, the baby Oedipus was rescued and raised by another king.

As Oedipus grew up, an oracle prophesied his fate. Out of fear and horror, he left the kingdom where he grew up. As fate would have it, he ended up back in his biological parents’ kingdom to fulfill the dreaded prophesy.

The emotions in the play and the theory are dissimilar. But Freud designates the term Oedipus Complex to signify the son’s love for his mother. In the myth version of the story, both characters found it repulsive. The mother, Queen Jocasta even hanged herself to death eventually. As the story goes, Oedipus also gouged his own eyes in disgrace.

The Electra Complex

A daughter is laying down with her dad while both are reading a book. The daughter might be displaying signs of Electra complex.

The Electra Complex, on the other hand, is a similar theory that the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung established. This feminine version is also based on the Greek myth, Elektra. She and her brother killed their mother to avenge their father’s death.

The two psychiatrists, Freud and Jung, originally worked together on the analogy of the two theories. Freud considers this as simply the feminine Oedipal attitude. However, it was Jung who coined the term Electra Complex as the feminine counterpart.

Similarly, it presents the idea about the daughter’s tendency to vie with her mother for her father’s attention.

How Oedipus Complex develops

You probably come across some hilarious videos on the internet about little boys crying and wanting to marry their moms. We do not normally pay much attention to their tantrums and laugh them off. We would always dismiss little kids’ possessive affections because, well, they are their parents.

Oedipus and Electra complex are unconscious emotions occurring in children from 3 to 6 years of age. It happens during what we call the phallic stage of psychosexual development. Kids begin to develop their sexual impulses and an interest in their genitals. This is the part of their lives where they also start to distinguish the differences between males and females.

While struggling with their own genders, they will grow some kind of erotic attachment towards their opposite-sex parents. Children do not understand the act of sex, only the feeling of physical attraction, jealousy, and anger. They will also compete for affection and considers their same-sex parent as the rival.

The Oedipus and Electra complexes are normal developmental stages of a child’s life. It is their learning process for identifying gender differences. And mostly, they learn it through identifying their parents’ own sexes.

Signs of Oedipus and Electra Complex

A son piggybacking on his mom, while a daughter is doing the same with her dad. Both might be showing signs of the Oedipus and Electra complex.

Although it may seem taboo, yet according to Freud, the phallic stage is an important stage in the child’s psychological development. Thus, avoiding, dismissing, or criticizing children on this topic can greatly affect the child’s life later on.

Once you spot these signs in your 3- to 6-year-old children, it pays to be extra considerate and understanding:

  • Possessiveness and deep affection towards the opposite-sex parent
  • Longing and practicing sexual behavior without social contact with the parent
  • Fixation on one parent and competing for attention with the other
  • The child wants to sleep between parents
  • Mean attitude towards the same-sex parent
  • Jealousy
  • Girls will have “penis envy” and resents her mother because she has none

How Oedipus Complex is resolved

At the end of the phallic phase, the child’s attraction resolves on its own. Kids will learn to repress the feeling of aggression. It means that their young minds will unconsciously block these emotions and impulses. Their conscience will grow and the child becomes more aware of right and wrong.

When the boy learns and becomes aware of his gender identity, the attraction towards his mother will go away. By this time, he will learn to associate his identity with his father and begins to bond more with him. Once his rival, he will now start seeing his father as the role model and wants to shadow his masculinity.

Little girls will also become aware of their mother’s personality and take after her. She will apply the same characteristic and accept her gender role. So at the end of the stage, they will also develop their sense of morality.

How parents should react to Oedipus Complex

A dad is holding his toddler daughter, while mom happily sneaks in a kiss.

According to Freud, little children will not bypass this stage. They will all experience this, but eventually, their mind’s repression will make them forget about it. During this crucial stage of the child’s life, criticism, rejection, or shaming them for it is detrimental.

So, how should parents respond to their children’s assertive and aggressive behavior during this phase? Here are some of the things that a parent can do to support them while reinforcing proper parenting influence.

  • Show him or her more love even if the child is getting extremely jealous of you.
  • Redirect the child’s attention to something else.
  • Try talking to the child about his behavior and explain his or her gender. This is tricky and may not at all work since you are dealing with just a child. But it is worth a try.
  • Do not tease or shame the child. He will get past the stage, and criticizing him will only affect his psychological development.

What happens if the Oedipus Complex is not resolved?

Children will abandon the phallic stage but in rare cases that they don’t, what will happen? According to experts, the unresolved Oedipus Complex will result in an unhealthy fixation towards their parents. As a result, they will struggle with their romantic relationships later in life. Hence, these children may want a partner that resembles their opposite-sex parent. Some men may also get attracted to older women.

Aside from their mature adult relationships, they may also struggle with same-sex competitiveness. Unresolved Oedipus Complex in adults may merit a therapy session from the psychiatrist.


Why don’t we, adults, remember any of these feelings growing up?

The human mind has a beautiful way of coping up. These fantasies normally do not retain any memories so we have no recollection of it. It only happens to help strengthen the child’s psycho-sexual personalities and go. All these behaviors and desires will normally end.

When should I be concerned about my child’s sexualized behavior?

If you noticed your toddler displaying explicit sexual behavior, try to talk him out of it. It may include persistent touching of his or her genitals, stimulating sexual activities with other children, or playing with sexual themes and activities. And if your child’s behavior is getting out of hand, you may need to involve professional help.


Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex are normal developmental milestones in a child’s life. The love and obsession that they show towards their opposite-sex parents will eventually go away. This stage exists to help children learn about their gender and sexuality. This awareness will also awaken their sense of morality.

But it is important to note that modern psychology has varying opinions about the Oedipal and Electra complex. It is not widely accepted among mental health professionals. However, they do recognize the fact that parents play a role in the gender awareness of the children. Children learn their gender roles and sexuality mostly from them.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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