In the early stages of childhood development, children experience critical milestones that shape their sense of self and perception of the world. Erik Erikson, a renowned developmental psychologist, proposed a psychosocial theory highlighting the conflict between autonomy and shame and doubt during the second stage of psychosocial development. This stage, known as “Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt,” occurs after the Trust Vs Mistrust stage.

This stage occurs between the ages of one and three. It plays a crucial role in developing a child’s self-confidence, independence, and emotional well-being. This article explores the dynamics of autonomy, shame, and doubt, their impact on child development, and strategies to foster healthy growth during this critical period.


Autonomy refers to a child’s increasing ability to assert their independence, make choices, and take responsibility for their actions. During this stage, toddlers strive to develop a sense of autonomy by exploring their environment, attempting new tasks, and asserting their preferences. It is a period marked by the emergence of willpower, curiosity, and self-assertion.

Denying a child the opportunity for free choice, accompanied by proper guidance, can have negative consequences. They may develop an obsession with specific things or objects and exhibit stubbornness, insisting on having things done their way. Moreover, if this behavior is not addressed and supported appropriately, it can persist into adulthood.

Shame and Doubt:

Shame is a powerful emotion expressed in the early stages of growth. It makes an individual believe that he is completely exposed and vulnerable to others. This leads him to feel self-conscious and have the urge to be invisible. Shame arises when children feel that their attempts to assert themselves are met with criticism, ridicule, or disapproval.

Doubt, on the other hand, stems from an internalized belief that one’s abilities and choices are inadequate, leading to feelings of insecurity and reluctance to take risks.

While autonomy is vital for healthy development, it often clashes with societal expectations and parental limits, leading to experiences of shame and doubt.

Impact on Child Development:

The outcome of the autonomy vs shame and doubt conflict can significantly impact a child’s emotional well-being and future development. If children are met with understanding, encouragement, and support from caregivers, they develop a healthy sense of autonomy and self-confidence. Conversely, if children face excessive criticism, punishment, or neglect, they may develop a sense of shame, doubt, and low self-esteem. These negative experiences can affect their exploration, abilities to make decisions and hinder their overall development.

Strategies to Foster Autonomy:

To promote healthy autonomy in children, caregivers and educators must create an environment that encourages exploration, decision-making, and self-expression. Here are some strategies that can be employed:

1: Choices:

Encouraging choices in children is an essential aspect of fostering their autonomy and supporting their development. Providing opportunities for decision-making helps children develop critical thinking skills, self-confidence, and a sense of independence. For example, allow them to choose between two outfits or decide which book to read before bedtime.

2: Independence:

Developing independence in children is a crucial aspect of their growth and prepares them for adulthood. It allows them to develop self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and a sense of responsibility. Give opportunities for children to engage in tasks independently. Simple chores or self-care activities like dressing themselves, brushing their teeth, or feeding can foster a sense of self-sufficiency and accomplishment.

3: Appreciation:

Appreciation cultivates gratitude, empathy, and a positive outlook, fostering healthy relationships and a sense of well-being. Acknowledge and praise the child’s efforts and achievements rather than focusing solely on the outcome. This approach reinforces their sense of competence and motivates them to continue exploring and learning.

4: Safe Environment:

Creating a safe environment for children is crucial for their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. It helps them develop a sense of security, trust, and resilience. Foster a nurturing and non-judgmental atmosphere where children feel comfortable expressing themselves. Encourage open communication and assure them that mistakes are an essential part of learning.

Strategies to Address Shame and Doubt:

To counteract the negative effects of shame and doubt, it is crucial to create a supportive environment that helps children develop resilience and positive self-perception. Some strategies are the following:

1: Emotional Support:

Offer empathy, understanding, and reassurance to children when they experience setbacks or challenges. Give full attention to kids when they express their thoughts, fears, and concerns. Validate their feelings. Help them recognize that making mistakes is a natural part of growth and that their worth is not determined by perfection.

2: Behavior Modelling:

Behavior modeling is a powerful tool for teaching children appropriate behaviors and values. It involves demonstrating desired behaviors and actions for children to observe and imitate. Adults should serve as positive role models by demonstrating self-acceptance, managing their emotions constructively, and embracing mistakes as opportunities for growth because children often imitate the behaviors they observe in their caregivers.

3: Guidance:

Guidance plays a vital role in the healthy development of children. Adequate guidance helps them navigate life’s challenges, make informed decisions, and develop essential skills. Instead of imposing strict control or excessive restrictions, guide children gently. Encourage problem-solving skills and allow them to learn from their experiences, even if it involves making mistakes.

4: Celebrate Progress:

Celebrating the progress of kids is an important way to reinforce their efforts, boost their self-esteem, and encourage continued growth. Recognizing and celebrating their achievements, no matter how small helps build their confidence and motivation.

Focus on small achievements and milestones, celebrating the child’s progress along their developmental journey. Positive reinforcement and genuine encouragement help build confidence and self-esteem.


The autonomy vs shame and doubt stage of early childhood development is a critical period that significantly influences a child’s self-perception, emotional well-being, and future growth. By understanding the dynamics of autonomy, shame, and doubt, caregivers can create a nurturing environment that supports healthy development. Encouraging autonomy, providing emotional support, and addressing shame and doubt constructively are key strategies in fostering resilience, self-confidence, and positive self-esteem in young children. Through these efforts, we can help children navigate this stage successfully, setting a strong foundation for their lifelong development.