Christian Parenting Articles    

Erikson's Stage 1 - Trust versus Mistrust
Infancy from birth - 18 months

I am what I am given ...

An infant is helpless. He is totally dependent on others for his needs. During this stage, the infant learns whether the world in which he lives can be trusted. When he is hungry and he cries, will he be fed? When his bottoms are wet, will his diapers be changed? When he is unwell or afraid, will he be comforted?

If an infant's physical and emotional needs are met in a consistent and caring way, he learns that his mother or caregiver can be counted on and he develops an attitude of trust in people. If his needs are not met, an infant may become fearful and learns not to trust the people around him.

   Mama? Papa?

Does this mean that if I do not pick up my child whenever he cries then he will develop mistrust? Meeting an infant's needs does not mean picking him up whenever he cries or giving the infant what he wants when he wants it. What is more important is the consistency of meeting his needs. Moreover, an attitude of absolute trust in a hostile world is undesirable (c.f., John 17:14; Matt. 10:16).

Some parents think that if you give an infant too much attention, you would spoil him. But when an infant cries, it is because he needs something. It is out of the caregiving that a bond develops between parent and child, and it is this bond that makes later communication possible.

My view is that spoiling is not an issue in infancy but in childhood. Over-yielding to a child's demands can produce a spoiled and selfish child who finds it hard to conform to social expectations because he is used to having his own ways.

According to Erik Erikson, a positive resolution of a crisis (e.g., trust vs mistrust) results in a foundation for progress to the next stage. However, there is no explanation of how a child moves from one stage to the next.

What are the implications of Erikson's first stage for parents?

It is to ensure that an infant experiences a trusting relationship with his parent (or caregiver). For a trusting relationship to exist, there must be a consistent relationship.

Today, it is common for women to continue working after the birth of their children. Is it possible for an infant to develop trust if his mother goes to work outside of the home? To work or not to work is a controversial issue.

I believe it does your child no good should you decide to stay home but you are feeling depressed all or most of the time. By the same token, your child will not benefit from your decision to work if you are feeling guilty that you are not spending more time with him/her. Erikson believed that parents' sense of life purpose or meaning is communicated to their children ... building trust or mistrust.

Should you decide to work outside of the home, you would have to consider alternate childcare for your children.

Questions for discussion / reflection

  1. In Singapore, some parents are leaving their babies in a 24-hour stay-in centre full-time for weeks or months; the babies are looked after by trained nannies who are rotated after three weeks to prevent babies from becoming too attached to one person.
    January 16, 2003: The Straits Times

    1. What are some possible reasons why the centre does not want a baby under its care to be attached to one person (i.e., nanny)?

    2. Do you think it is good to prevent attachment? If yes, why? If no, why not?

  2. "If an infant does not experience a trusting relationship with a parent or caregiver (who can be seen, touched, even tasted) ... then it will be extremely difficult for that child to develop a relationship with God (who is non-material and abstract)."

    1. Do you agree? Why or why not?

    2. Does it make any difference if the words "an infant" are substituted with the words "a child" in the above statement? Why or why not?

Erik Erikson's Stages - Applied and Made Easy for Parents Jun 1998 Alan S.L. Wong; Updated Aug 2011