Psychosocial Development of Toddlers
Eric Erikson theorized that personality develops in a series of stages that involve conflicts which must be resolved in order to successfully complete subsequent stages. A primary element of Erikson’s psychosocial development theory is that we develop through social interaction 1. A toddler’s successful psychosocial development hinges on developing a sense of independence and self-control.
Understanding Psychosocial Development
Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is built on the belief that people generally have the same basic needs and that development occurs in stages in response to basic needs. Each stage of psychosocial development involves becoming skilled in a specific area of life. If a person handles the stage well, he emerges feeling competent or masterful, but if it is not handled well, he emerges with a sense of inadequacy.
Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt
From birth to 18 months, infants must deal with the first psychosocial stage of trust versus mistrust. This is the most fundamental stage in life, in which an infant must enter into toddlerhood at 18 months with a feeling of safety and security in his world. If he does this, he enters the second stage of psychosocial development, and is better prepared to deal with the conflict of autonomy versus shame and doubt. Toddlers who handle this stage successfully feel confident and secure in their abilities, while those who don’t feel a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt.
Toddlers have several tasks to complete during the second stage of psychosocial development. First, a toddler must learn to feed and dress herself, and begin mastering body functions during toilet training. Every challenge in this stage relates to exercising independence. This stage focuses on building a sense of self-control. Toilet training is important to this process, because successful potty training requires a toddler to learn to control her bodily functions. Once toilet training is mastered, toddlers feel a sense of independence and self-control. Other parts of this stage include gaining control over personal preferences such as food, toys and clothes.
Encouraging independence in toddlers, while maintaining limits necessary to safety and positive behavior, is a difficult task to balance. According to PBS, toddlers need choices in order to feel confident and independent, but these choices should be limited. Instead of asking what your toddler wants for a snack; ask where he would like to have his snack. Instead of asking if he’d like to get dressed, ask him which shirt he’d like to wear. This limited questioning, where the choice is not open to a negative response such as “No, I don’t want to get dressed,” prevents confrontation and power struggles. Providing the opportunity for choice makes a toddler expect to choose for himself, which helps him develop autonomy. However, parents must also say no occasionally. Toddlers need independence, but they must also learn that sometimes they can’t have what they want, and they must manage this disappointment.
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- Effective discipline for children. Paediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):37–50. doi:10.1093/pch/9.1.37
- Erikson, EH. Childhood and Society. 2nd ed. New York: Norton; 1963.
- Erikson, EH. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton; 1968.
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