Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt (Erik Erikson)

Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt (Erik Erikson)
June 3, 2022 No Comments Mental health emmahjoy

This is the second stage in Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of child development. At this stage, the child insists to have things done by themselves. If you as a caregiver, you have this kind of experience with a child, then it means that the child is trying to assert their independence. The child is at the age of 2 to 3 years and they like to have a little control of things and have a list of preferences. If the child is allowed to take control of things, they develop a sense of independence however, when they are shunned and their incorrect choices ridiculed, they develop a sense of shame and doubt.

How does Autonomy develop?

According to my research, psychologists explain that a child at this stage is seeking to know if they can do things on their own or not.

Therefore, a parent or care giver is supposed to help the child to realize their autonomy. This is by constant encouragements and motivation. It begins with simple words such as ” Good job”, when they try to walk or “Good girl” when they report they want to use the toilet.

Major instances for autonomy at this stage is Toilet training. The child will start to identify when it is time to use the toilet and thus, the care giver should encourage the child. A care giver might teach the child on how to communicate when they want to use the bathroom and also reward them when they successfully communicate.

However, when the child fails to communicate their needs, a caregiver might try to use punishment as a way to teach the child. However, psychologists discourage this strategy as the child would end up developing the feelings of shame and doubt.

Secondly, during this stage the child develops the virtue of will when they successfully navigate this stage. If the parents allow the child to make their own decision, they recognize that they are in control of their bodies. Hence, they develop the will to make their own decisions.

What should care givers do?

  • Be supportive during toilet training
  • Provide opportunities for the child to be independent.


Erikson therefore suggests that a Childs major goal at this stage is to identify whether they are in control or not. Therefore, a parents involvement might influence how the child navigates the stage. If supported they become autonomous, if they lack positive support they develop a sense of shame and doubt.

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