Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt

Stage Two of Psychosocial Development

Toddler playing
Autonomy versus shame and doubt is the second stage of psychosocial development. Laura Beach / Cultura / Getty Images

Autonomy versus shame and doubt is the second stage of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. This stage occurs between the ages of 18 months to approximately age two to three years. According to Erikson, children at this stage are focused on developing a greater sense of self-control.

Let's take a closer look at some of the major events of this psychosocial stage of development.

A Quick Overview

  • Psychosocial Conflict: Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt
  • Major Question: "Can I do things myself or am I reliant on the help of others?"
  • Basic Virtue: Will
  • Important Event(s): Toilet Training

A Closer Look at Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Gaining a sense of personal control over the world is important at this stage of development. Toilet training plays a major role; learning to control one’s body functions leads to a feeling of control and a sense of independence. Other important events include gaining more control over food choices, toy preferences and clothing selection.

Children at this age are becoming increasingly independent and want to gain greater control over what they do and how they do it. Kids in this stage of development often feel the need to do things independently, such as picking out what they will wear each day, putting on their own clothes, and deciding what they will eat. While this can often be frustrating for parents and caregivers, it is an important part of developing a sense of self-control and personal autonomy.

Children who successfully complete this stage feel secure and confident, while those who do not are left with a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Next: Stage 3 - Initiative Versus Guilt

Return to The Psychosocial Stages


Erikson, E.H. (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.

Erikson, E.H. (1963). Childhood and Society. (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.

Continue Reading