Potty training is an exciting time for kids and parents, alike.

Erikson's Stages of Potty Training

by Maria Guido

It would be so much easier if you could hand your toddler a copy of "Princess Polly's Potty," give her a little privacy and let her figure out potty training on her own. Unfortunately, that's not how it works. Potty training is an important milestone that has deep-seated effects on the child. The late American psychologist Erik Erikson identified potty training as the second of eight stages in his theory of psychosocial development. He believed a child's reaction to potty training helps shape how she approaches the world. Erikson's insights may give you some clues on how to help your kids conquer this important milestone.

1. Stage 2

Each stage in Erikson's theory is based upon a specific conflict that must be mastered in order to move to the next stage of development. Erikson called Stage 2, "Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt." As a mom, you can see autonomy, or independence, budding in your toddlers as they finally learn to express what they want and need. Think back on the first time your child refused to get back in her stroller or asked for a specific food by name. Between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, children learn to master skills and make decisions. How you react to these decisions can either encourage autonomy or foster an environment of shame and doubt.

2. Building Confidence

Children spend the first years of their lives in diapers and would likely be happy to keep the status quo if not for your attempts to teach them to control their bodily functions. Along with learning to walk and self-feeding, Erikson cited successful toilet training as a step toward building a sense of independence. It's pretty amazing to see your toddler beaming with pride the first time she makes it to the potty on time. You'll likely feel pretty excited about it, too. Encouraging and praising your child will teach her to trust her ability to make decisions.

3. Avoiding Shame And Doubt

It is important for you to maintain a reassuring, confident attitude when teaching your child to potty train. Cleaning up "mistakes" is not a fun way to spend your day -- but try to refrain from shaming your child when the mistakes happen. Any mom can tell you that accidents are pretty unavoidable during this time. Erikson believed that If a child receives encouragement in his quest to master potty training, he will learn trust. If he is chided or unsupported in his efforts, he will learn to doubt himself and feel ashamed. As you can imagine, these types of feelings may undermine your tot's efforts to complete basic tasks and make decisions on his own.

4. Potty Training And Budding Willpower

Erikson believed successful potty-training helps children develop willpower and teaches them the difference between holding on and letting go. His theory emphasizes the importance of patience, support and encouragement when guiding your toddler through the fundamental milestones associated with this stage of childhood development. Potty training definitely takes some patience, but the pay-off is big -- imagine being free from the unpleasant cycle of changing diapers. Helping to make your little person a more confident, able individual is pretty rewarding, too.

About the Author

Maria Guido is a writer and photographer who still claims Brooklyn as home, although she’s recently moved to suburbia to raise her two children. She is the creator of the popular parenting blog, Guerrilla Mom, co-creator of Shrew Magazine and regular contributor to Mommyish.com.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images