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).
- 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,