Erikson’s Stages for Infants and Toddlers
Trust vs. mistrust: Erikson maintained that the first year to year and a half of life involves the establishment of a sense of trust. Infants are dependent and must rely on others to meet their basic physical needs as well as their needs for stimulation and comfort. A caregiver who consistently meets these needs instills a sense of trust or the belief that the world is a trustworthy place. The caregiver should not worry about overly indulging a child’s need for comfort, contact or stimulation. This view is in sharp contrast with the Freudian view that a parent who overly indulges the infant by allowing them to suck too long or be picked up too frequently will be spoiled or become fixated at the oral stage of development.
Problems establishing trust: Consider the implications for establishing trust if a caregiver is unavailable or is upset and ill-prepared to care for a child. Or if a child is born prematurely, is unwanted, or has physical problems that make him or her less desirable to a parent. Unwanted pregnancies can be experienced by busy, upper-middle class professional couples as well as young, unmarried mothers, or couples in the midst of relational strains. Under these circumstances, we cannot assume that the parent is going to provide the child with a feeling of trust. However, keep in mind that children can also exhibit strong resiliency to harsh circumstances. Resiliency can be attributed to certain personality factors, such as an easy-going temperament and receiving support from others. So a positive and strong support group can help a parent and child build a strong foundation by offering assistance and positive attitudes toward the newborn and parent.
Autonomy vs. shame and doubt: As the child begins to walk and talk, an interest in independence or autonomy replaces a concern for trust. The toddler tests the limits of what can be touched, said, and explored. Erikson believed that toddlers should be allowed to explore their environment as freely as safety allows and in so doing will develop a sense of independence that will later grow to self-esteem, initiative, and overall confidence. If a caregiver is overly anxious about the toddler’s actions for fear that the child will get hurt or violate other’s expectation, the caregiver can give the child the message that he or she should be ashamed of their behavior and instill a sense of doubt in their own abilities. Parenting advice based on these ideas would be to keep your toddler safe, but let him or her learn by doing. A sense of pride seems to rely on doing rather than being told how capable one is as well (Berger, 2005).
We have explored the dramatic story of the first two years of life. Rapid physical growth, neurological development, language acquisition, the movement from hands on to mental learning, an expanding emotional repertoire, and the initial conceptions of self and others make this period of life very exciting. These abilities are shaped into more sophisticated mental processes, self-concepts, and social relationships during the years of early childhood.