Erikson's Theory of Toddlers

by Nicole Crawford, Demand Media
    Toddlers seek autonomy, though they need encouragement and security.

    Toddlers seek autonomy, though they need encouragement and security.

    Like Sigmund Freud before him, the German psychologist Erik Erikson believed that human beings develop in a typical progression of stages. His eight stages of psychosocial development are often used to characterize developmental stages from infancy to adulthood. Once babies reach 18 months of age, they enter into the toddler stage, which Erikson designated as Stage 2.


    Erikson's stages are often characterized by the two important qualities that need to be in balance. For toddlers, these qualities are autonomy and shame, or doubt. At this point, toddlers begin to experience both a sense of accomplishment when they realize they can master tasks and activities, as well as a sense of intense frustration when they are unable to bend things to their will.

    Parenting at the Second Stage

    Although Erikson was originally a proponent of Freud's psychological theories, he parted ways on one central issue. Unlike Freud, who believed that biology motivates human behavior, Erikson placed more of an emphasis on human interaction. He developed ideas for parents to help them interact with their children effectively at each stage. At the second stage, parents should encourage their toddlers to develop a sense of autonomy, while also providing comfort and security if their toddler experiences periods of separation anxiety.

    Practical Tips

    Erikson's theories have concrete applications in life. For example, he believed that toddlers should be allowed to feed themselves, regardless of the mess that might create. Likewise, parents can encourage toddlers to complete important milestones such as potty training and learning to dress themselves. As a parent, it's easy to become frustrated with your child's willfullness and determination at this stage. Erikson emphasizes that these qualities, although they can become excessive, are also an important part of a toddler's psychological development.


    At each of Erikson's stages, potential for excess exists. For example, at the toddler stage, too much autonomy can actually cause shame and doubt because toddlers might feel frustrated when they cannot complete certain tasks. Impulsiveness and compulsion are the two qualities to be on guard against at this age. For parents and caregivers, patience and encouragement are perhaps the most important qualities to keep in mind when dealing with toddlers and their newfound independence.

    About the Author

    Nicole Crawford is a NASM certified personal trainer, doula and pre- and post-natal fitness specialist certified by the AFPA. Her writing has appeared in the "San Francisco Chronicle" and online at The Bump, Breaking Muscle and Fit Bottomed Mamas. Crawford holds her master's degree in philosophy.

    Photo Credits

    • walking the toddler image by jimcox40 from