Trust vs Mistrust The first year of an infant’s life can be a time of great joy and learning, developmental growth physically, mentally and emotionally while providing an opportunity for parents to ensure their infant’s needs are being met. In 1965 Erik Erikson developed eight psychosocial growth stages beginning with Stage 1, ‘trust vs. mistrust’, which occurs from birth and throughout the first year of an infant’s life (Candlin 2008, p. 76). Erikson’s theory of ‘trust vs. istrust’ will be outlined in this paper to suggest how it can be implemented to support parents in developing positive relationships and attachment with their infant and lay the foundations for trusting relationships into adulthood. When an infant is born they have limited capacity for thought and little memory, they require time to build a rapport and establish their relationships (Rose 2000, p. 40). Thus it is possible to see how Erikson’s theory can be applied in this burgeoning relationship.
The infant has very basic needs initially, to be fed and comfortable. Erikson describes this stage of ‘trust vs. mistrust’ as the ‘oral sensory stage’ (Petersen 2004, p. 55). Generally the mother is seen as the primary source of food, sustenance and comfort, having the infant close to a mother’s skin is helpful for both breastfeeding and developing a close bond with the infant. It is this first initial bond between the mother and infant which leads to a sense of dependency on the parent and the initial development of trust (Child & Youth Health 2010).
Erik Erikson (1965) theorises ‘one of the primary developmental challenges for an infant to learn is whether their caregiver regularly satisfies their basic needs’ (cited in Candlin 2008 p. 131). Failure by a parent to meet these needs can result in an infant that is fractious, constantly crying and will not settle despite attempts to comfort, however, ‘if caregivers consistently provide food, comfort and affection then an infant will begin to learn how to trust, and as they grow, will also learn that other people are dependable and reliable’ (Wong 1998). The opposing view suggests, ‘if aregivers neglect the infant they will likely develop an understanding their world is a fearful place, caregivers are undependable and their needs will not be met’ (Wong 1998). An infant learns trust as a result of having needs consistently met however this does not mean as a parent you need to drop everything and attend to the infant the minute they cry out. When an infant cries it generally means they need something, they’re hungry and require food, they’re hot or cold and require comfort, they need a nappy change, they need to feel secure or want attention.
When you respond to the infant and meet these needs the parent can begin to develop a bond with the infant resulting in positive and affirmative communication (Crisp & Taylor 2005, p. 164). As the infant grows and attachments are formed they also begin to recognise their primary caregivers as ‘beacons of safety’ (Honig 2002, p. 22). When babies are at the stage of crawling they start to explore their surroundings and environment, including other people, objects and things in the vicinity around them.
If they feel safe and secure they will endeavour to explore their immediate area, they may begin to try and stand, happy in the knowledge their parent or caregiver is available and close by if needed (Honig 2002, p. 22). Feelings of familiarity and consistency since birth of the availability of their caregiver has given them a sense of trust enabling them to move out to explore and play without feeling threatened (Honig 2002, p. 22). Erikson’s ‘trust vs. mistrust’ developmental stage can be practically interpreted by parent’s to guide them as their infant begins to discover and develop a sense of autonomy (Candlin 2008, p. 64). A secure and emotionally trusting baby with an available and consistent caregiver will feel much happier and secure in their ability to toddle off on their own adventures without feeling threatened or experiencing feelings of mistrust should something alarm them (Honig 2002, p. 22). |A sign for parents that their infant is developing and progressing well according to the first stage of Erikson’s theory is when the | |infant doesn’t have a tantrum or is excessively upset if they need to wait for the satisfaction of having their needs met (Rose 2000, | |p. 57).
The infant trusts their parent or caregiver to meet their needs, and according to Erikson, such a satisfactory outcome | |signifies an infant’s first ‘psychosocial strength’, which Erikson describes theoretically as the virtue of ‘hope’ (Peterson 2004, | |p. 56). | |A parent’s ability to support their infant and engender them with a sense of trust, foster their inquisitiveness and provide them with | |safe opportunities for learning will give them a wonderful basis for their continuing development even when faced with uncertainty or | |crisis (Rose 2000, p. 33). According to Erikson (1965), ‘when a person resolves crises successfully, the healthier their development ||will be’. | | | |Health Care professionals will sometimes be faced with parents who haven’t bonded with their infant or struggle to develop a | |relationship. The secure attachment bond and the development of trust have a key role in an infant’s social, emotional, intellectual | |and physical development. Practical strategies (HelpGuide. rg 2001-2010) which could assist the Registered Nurse in supporting new parents include; | | | |learning to understand your baby’s unique cues, including sounds, what touch they enjoy and what their facial expressions indicate and | |how you can best meet their needs | |be consistent in your care and attention | |talk, laugh and make time to play with your infant, get to know them, their likes and dislikes | |and most important of all, let go of trying to be the ‘perfect parent’ | | | |Providing your infant with a secure basis of trust where you have consistently met their needs enables them to develop an eagerness to |learn, self awareness, consideration for others and gives them a sound basis from which to explore and develop as an individual. | |Failure to meet their basic needs from infancy and the development of secure attachments will most certainly result in the developing ||infant experiencing feelings of confusion, difficulties in learning, inability to develop relationships and a sense of mistrust | |throughout their growing years and into later life. | | | References
Candlin, S 2008, chapter 4 ‘Relinquishing independence: A new beginning’ in Therapeutic Communication, a lifespan approach, 1st edn, Pearson Education, Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW, pp. 70-95. Candlin, S 2008, chapter 6 ‘Infants and Young Children: coping with change’ in Therapeutic Communication, a lifespan approach, 1st edn, Pearson Education, Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW, pp. 116-137. Child and Youth Health 2010, viewed 25 April 2010, Crisp, J & Taylor, C (eds) 2005, chapter 10 ‘Developmental theories’ in Potter & Perry’s fundamentals of nursing, 2nd edn, Elsevier Australia, Marrickville, NSW, pp. 158-174. Erikson, EH 1965, Childhood and society, 2nd edn, Norton, New York, NY HelpGuide. org 2001-2010, Bonding with your baby, viewed 18 April 2010,
Honig, AS 2002, ‘What we need to know about attachment’, Montessori Life, vol. 15, issue 4, Fall 2003, p. 22. Viewed 18 April 2010, Peterson, C 2004, chapter 2 ‘The science of human development: Goals, theories and methodology’ in Looking forward through the Lifespan, 4th edn, Pearson Education, Australia, pp. 31-66 Rose, L 2000, Learning to love: the developing relationships between Mother, Father and Baby during the first year, The Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd, Camberwell, Victoria Wong, ASL 1998, Erik Erikson’s Stages – Applied and Made Easy for Parents, in Blessed to be a blessing, Christian parenting articles viewed 20 April 2010,