Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson categorized physical, emotional and psychological development of humans into eight stages, often referred to as Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development. These stages begin at birth and continue throughout the lifespan. Although age divisions are approximations and can vary among individuals, the order or development doesn't change. As an infant, your child's first stage of development, called Basic Trust vs. Mistrust -- the stage where he learned to depend on you to care for him and meet his emotional and physical needs -- has prepared him for the next developmental stage, called Autonomy vs. Shame or Guilt.
Autonomy vs. Shame
Children typically master Erikson's second stage of development, Autonomy vs. Shame, between the ages of 18 months to 3 years. In this stage of development, your toddler learns to do things for herself and exert her own emerging sense of individuality. As her skills develop, she develops a sense of pride and confidence in her abilities and begins the important task of building positive self-esteem. Children who are thwarted at this stage and not allowed to develop naturally may develop a sense of shame or guilt and lack confidence in their abilities.
As your little one enters the second stage of development, he is likely to discover the word "no" and may be quite adamant in using it to exert his growing sense of power, but it doesn't stop with words. He may insist on doing things for himself, sometimes to the dismay of parents, who know it is quicker and easier to complete the task for him. During this stage of development, your little one learns to walk, talk, feed himself and learns to control his physical body in tasks such as toilet training. This stage is all about learning to control his body and the world around him, and consequently exert some control over you, too. This is the stage where engaging in a battle of the wills with your child may result in tears -- and not all of them from your child.
As a parent, your job is to protect and nurture your child, even when it seems like she doesn't want your help. By providing a safe environment and allowing your toddler to explore her newly developing skills -- such as dressing, eating, running and jumping -- you are providing her with what she needs to master this level of development. Supportive and caring parents who provide for the emotional and physical needs of their child at this time help the toddler develop a sense of self and help build positive self-esteem.
When parents prevent toddlers from exerting their independence by refusing to let them do things for themselves and doing everything for them or by being overly punitive during the "terrible twos," they may be thwarting their child's development. Because the toddler senses dissatisfaction from his parents, or primary caregivers, over his newly developing skills, he may develop a sense of shame or embarrassment.