Child Development: Breach of the Most Basic Trust

Parenting Child Development: Trust vs. Mistrust

Love is the purest, highest form of power. Love creates connections: connections between the hearts of humans, connections between our nature and abilities, connections to the spiritual and connections in the brain. Receiving love and giving it are part of what makes us human. If you didn't experience a sense of love from your parents, you have little hope of knowing what love means or of what it's like to be a human being.

Child Development

Love must be experienced--there's no other way to learn how to love. Love fills us, making us real and whole, while the lack of it creates a caricature. If love creates connections, then its opposite creates separation, loss and alienation. Those who live without a sense of connectedness, live a life of isolation, distanced from the sense of community that make human life so dear.

Child Development: The opposite of love is indifference.

To truly grasp the meaning of love, we have to know its opposite. When asked, most people will say that the opposite of love is hate. But if you hate someone, you still have feelings for them, however negative. The opposite of love is indifference or a lack of feeling. If you've ever had a 'love' relationship with someone who was using you, then you know exactly what I mean.

If you grew up with indifferent parenting, then you've known profound despair and isolation. The children of such families internalize their parents' apathy and have little self-esteem. A lack of love stunts child development, leaving children stuck in time. The rage and sense of hopelessness such children feel are unknown to those of us who were raised by attentive, loving parents.

Children of such families have difficulty forming relationships because their fear of rejection runs so deep. I call such children "closet orphans" because although their parents might not have left them physically, they've abandoned them emotionally. On some levels, this is more confusing than being abandoned completely. (If parents were taught child development in school, this program would be alleviated.)

The great analyst, Erik Erikson, who developed the Life Cycles theory of child development, observed that there are basic stages through which all humans pass. How we resolve the conflicts presented at these stages determines how we progress through life. In this article, we'll talk about the importance of the first stage in Erikson's model of child development, which is 'trust versus mistrust.'

If an infant's cries are attended regularly, she learns that the world is basically a safe place. The outcome of such a set of experiences is a sense of hope and a tendency for the child to trust that her needs will be met in the same way in the future. However, if an infant's cries are left unattended or answered only sporadically, then the child learns to distrust others. Such a child is mired in despair. The experience of trust or mistrust is the "fork in the road" of child development.

As you can imagine, these initial impressions of the world as responsive and nurturing or as unresponsive and threatening form the foundation for how we view ourselves and those responsible for our safety. When faced with new experiences or with meeting someone new, the issue of 'trust versus mistrust' surfaces again. This is why an understanding of child development is essential.

It's also why Erikson called his stages of child development, "life cycles." This explains why our experiences with our primary caregivers are so profound--they shape the lens through which we view everyone we encounter in this life. We aren't aware of how early experiences shape our perceptions because they date back to our preconscious days which is further than we can consciously recall.

Parental love empowers children because it makes them visible. We all desire to be seen. In order to raise a healthy child, parents must have a basic knowledge of child development and what the child needs at each stage of growth. Children who grow up in loveless homes will seek other forms of power in order to be noticed. As the creator of the child's perceptions of self and others, parents have the power to open their children's hearts and minds or slam them shut.

Children whose hearts and minds are closed to others become the "closet orphans of our society. They live the lives of ghosts, haunting the fringes of society. 'Such children often exhibit the shadow side of the family values we hold so dear. Since these children weren't empowered by parental love and adults who took the time to understand child development, they seek other forms of power: the power of promiscuity, drug-induced highs, cruelty and criminal behavior.

Acting in such ways will eventually get them noticed, although it won't get them the kind of attention they need. Since they didn't have parents who were their heroes, they've been forced to identify with icons of power outside the family which proliferate in the media.

Site Build It!
Such children often bond with other children from similar backgrounds with whom they can reenact their feelings of rage and righteous indignation. While some kids express their rage by committing hate crimes, other kids turn inward, using their rage against themselves.

The most troubling thing is that it's difficult to reach these kids not only because 'mistrust' has become their credo, but because during adolescence (when the first signs of trouble are often noticed) the influence of adult authority wanes, while the influence of peers surges off the charts. (A basic understanding of child development could have altered the direction of these children's lives.)

Some of these children will suffer silently. Others will lash out at society. It should come as no surprise that the 'victims' of indifferent parenting often exhibit anti-social behaviors which can mark the beginnings of a sociopath. Since such children have experienced little or no connection to the people who were supposed to love them more than anyone else in the world, they cannot connect with anybody else. This is why they have no empathy for others. They see people as objects and view relationships as a means to an end. In other words, they use others in the same ways their parents used them.

For some children, the first expression of their pent-up rage will be their last. They may end up dead or in prison. Ironically, while this may get them the attention they have been craving, they will also be rejected by the society they have always yearned to join. In a country in which children murder other children, the solution may be so simple that it stops us in our tracks: we must flood our children with love.

This doesn't mean that you don't set limits. It means that from the very beginning of your child's precious life, give him the love, attention and time he needs to flourish. By taking the time to understand child development, you make your child visible so he can see and feel himself and so that love will be his chosen path . . . his means of being seen.

About the Author: Laura Ramirez is the author of the award-winning book, Keepers of the Children, which teaches parents how to raise children to develop their natural strengths and lead lives of meaning, contribution and fulfillment. The book is a journey of self-discovery for both child and parent.

To subscribe to Family Matters! Parenting Magazine, type in your name and email address below or send a blank email to Subscribe to Family Matters!

Subscribe to Family Matters!
Your Name: 
Your E-mail Address:

Child Development

Child Development - Home Page, click here

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.