Early Childhood Stages of Development – Trust Vs. Mistrust

What is attachment and how important is it to the developmental stages of early childhood? Attachment is a lasting emotional relationship that begins with infants and ties the infant to one or more persons in their lives. Attachment is important to social development and the relationships a child forms in their early years.

Erik Erikson’s theory of attachment began in his first stage of development, called psychosocial theory — the stage of attachment he labeled as Trust versus Mistrust. This stage of development not only is linked to the child’s heart, but also other processes including the engagement of the brain. A healthy attachment early on in a child’s life will provide a good foundation for intelligence later on in their development.  Positive attachment experiences give an infant a sense of well-being and security.

Research has shown that signs of infancy attachment exist from birth, though babies take longer to show their attachment then adults do. Some signs of attachment may be that a baby will recognize their mother’s smell and voice. When they are going through the attachment phase they may be less fussy, more interested, and alert. Some babies will go through a stage where they show distress with someone they don’t know. Usually, babies who don’t show stranger anxiety have had a secure and trusting attachment with multiple caregivers. Another milestone babies may experience is separation anxiety at being separated from their primary caregiver.

Some issues or challenges that may arise with attachment may be temperament. When a parent and child have a good match in temperament, it promotes a closer attachment. When there is a mismatch in temperament, it can hinder the attachment. Counseling the adult to adjust to the baby may help them in their attachment. Some examples of attachment mismatch include an active parent with a calm baby or the opposite. A serious mismatch occurs when the parent keeps pushing the baby to respond to them when the child truly is not interested or comfortable. Parents have to adjust their expectations of the baby when their temperaments to match. Caregivers can help parents understand that there is nothing wrong, and that it’s the parents’ job to understand the baby and respond accordingly rather than trying to make the baby change.

Another mismatch may be when a baby is born with a developmental issue.  Some of these issues don’t foster attachment, like when a baby has a neurological issue that makes them not want to cuddle, have pain when being touched or held, or be unable to control their facial muscles to smile. In these cases it’s important for a parent to be understanding and find other behaviors that signal attachment.

Parents who encourage independence or individualism will teach their children early self-help skills. They teach their babies to sleep alone in their cribs or to feed themselves. Their goals are self-assertion and self-expression, with the end result being self-esteem. Parents who are more focused on collectivism or interdependence will encourage their children to have stronger connections or mutual dependence. They are not as concerned with independent skills. They may hold off on teaching skills like self feeding or sleeping on their own to foster the attachment and closeness of doing it for them.

I personally am a parent who focuses more on independence, but with a loving and nurturing attitude. I love to cuddle and love on my babies, but I’m not about to coddle them. With all of my children, I had them helping with chores at an early age. I was flexible with their abilities and development when teaching these things. I am of the mindset that I’m not about to cater to everything the child wants when they want it. While I understand that is not necessarily what the other side is thinking, I am just more of that mindset.

How does this all play into your interactions with your children? I believe it is important to connect to our children’s hearts, not just when they are little, but all throughout their lives!

Tamara Corpin
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I'm a homeschooling mom of four wonderful kids, and wife to one amazing husband! I love the Lord and am passionate about teaching my children of His love and grace! I recently graduated with my degree in early childhood education, and love learning with my children outside of the box!

One Comment

  1. Thank you so much. God really blessed me out of this article. I have a so. Who has trust issues and reading your blog let me know that I did things right when he was young so the issues are just that he struggles more with trust then my daughter does. Thanks again for your encouragement.

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