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Erik Erickson. Trust versus Mistrust Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2019

This paper explores the life of a 15 months old child using the biophysical, psychological and the social dimensions of child development. This is done using examples of scenarios where the child might experience Erik Erickson’s trust versus mistrust using these three dimensions.

According to Erik Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development, human beings undergo through eight key developmental stages in their life from infancy to old age. All these stages occur in a gradual process, meaning that one stage is succeeded by another (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010).

However, it is not a must for an individual to successfully undergo through a previous stage for him or her to get into the other stage of development. According to Erickson, if an individual undergoes through a certain stage successfully, he or she has the potential of developing into a ‘whole human being’, that is, an adult who is all round.

On the other hand, if an individual does not successfully undergo through a certain stage, then he or she may become fixated at later stages of life. The fixation is manifested through behavior malfunctioning or development of a weird personality (Sneed, Whitbourne & Culang, 2006).

The first stage is that of trust versus mistrust. According to Erickson, this is arguably the most important stage of development because the child entirely depends on others for his or her survival. The only way used by children to communicate is through f their mouth. If they are happy, they laugh and express joy; if they are sick or frightened, they cry (Capps, 2008).

If the needs of a child are met consistently by care givers, he or she develops trust in people by learning that they can actually care for him or her. When this happens, the child learns to have trust in other people later in his or her life. He or she also develops confidence and is able to form alliances with people easily.

However, if the needs of the child are not met consistently or if the child is frustrated, he or she develops mistrust and may also develop a perception that the world is a hostile place where people don’t care about each other. However, parents and care givers must be careful not to give the children everything they want.

This is because the children may develop some irrational behavior which may also result from lack of control on their needs and demands. If children are not taught that they cannot have everything, or if they are not denied some of their irrational demands at early age, then they grow up knowing that they are supposed to get all they want at all times (King, 2007).

Biophysical Dimension

Biophysical development of children has to do with the development of motor skills by children. The motor skills are categorized into gross and fine motor skills. Motor skills start developing from the head to the toes (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010). What this means is that the child first learns to stabilize the neck, then the body followed by been able to sit down. By the time the child attains the age of 15 months, he or she is able to stand or even walk.

For the child to develop both gross and fine motor skills effectively, he or she must be coached, directed, controlled and encouraged through out the process. If care givers do not help the child acquire motor skills, he or she may not be able to stand or walk by the age of 15 months. This can make the child develop mistrust in the care givers due to their failure to guide him or her through the process of motor development.

On the other had, if the child is guided and taken through the process properly, by the age of 15 months, he or she is able to stand and walk without the support of anybody or anything. In this sense therefore, such a child develops a sense of trust in the care givers and is likely to trust people and have confidence in his or her adult hood (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010).

Psychological Dimension

The psychological dimension of child development has to do with the acquisition of the ability to process information and the cognitive development of the child. It also has to do with language acquisition and the mastery of syntax as well as the ability to develop emotions, attitudes and social cognition (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010).

The acquisition of these abilities is based on the works of Jean Piaget, a psychologist who studied many topics in psychology including child development. In his study of child development, he argued that the development of intelligence by children is influenced by their stages of development.

This means that at every level or stage of development, the child is capable of developing his or her intelligence faculties to match that stage or level of development.

He believed in the idea that development precedes learning, meaning that children are able to learn only those things which match their age or development stage. He identified four intelligence development stages namely sensory motor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational stages (Reiss, 1995).

If a child is taken through these stages properly, by the age of 15 months, he or she must be able to speak and utter at least a word. The child thus develops trust in the care givers. In his or her adult hood, the child is able to associate freely with people due to the ability to master the key aspects of language and meaning of different communication patterns (Pendry & Adam, 2013).

However, if children are not taken through the Piaget stages, they develop a sense of mistrust in the care givers and the world in general. They usually avoid forming alliances with people who they do not know properly. They may also have difficulties in trusting people who make promises to them.

Others may have a challenge in learning such as the Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is a mental disorder that affects the brain especially during tender age. The disorder makes the affected children have a problem in paying attention to details or concentrating for a long time.

Children diagnosed with the disorder usually have challenges in school and at home because they tend to cause disharmony and fail or have difficulty in socializing with other people.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), children who are diagnosed with the disorder have problems in controlling their impulses and sometimes they may overreact to a situation which normal children would not. (Laucht, Esser & Schmidt, 1997).

Social Dimension

The social dimension has to do with the influence of families, groups, support systems and communities on the development of a child. Families in particular play a significant role in shaping the social development of the child. It is through families that a child learns how to form social networks outside the family. In most cases, the family is considered as the primary agent of socialization (Reiss, 1995).

In the family, the nature of parenting determines how the child develops or fails to develop attachments to the parents and the significant others. Parenting styles are various ways in which parents bring up their children.

Different people have different ideas on how to bring up their children based on their social, economic and psychological backgrounds. It is important to mention that the way a child is brought up determines his or her adult hood life (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010).

The two parenting styles include the indulgent and the authoritarian parenting styles. The indulgent parenting style involves parents who are more responsive to the needs of their children.

They are usually ready and available to guide their children in every stage of development. Indulgent parenting is therefore very crucial for making children develop into independent individuals, with low levels of anxiety and high self-esteem.

The attachment style associated with this kind of parenting is what is referred to as secure attachment. Secure attachment has to do with children who are able to form good relationships with their care givers during childhood.

During their adult hood, they are also able to relate well with anybody else and they do not have problems in socializing with others. They are unlikely to be lonely because they know how to associate with people without fear or any sense of guilty or any feelings of inferiority.

Authoritarian parenting involves parents who are usually strict with their children. The parents with this parenting style usually command their children on everything, without giving the children any opportunity to deviate from what the parents want.

This type of parenting usually makes the children develop a sense of fear and guilty among themselves. This makes them have problems during their adulthood especially in establishing and maintaining relationships with other people.

The attachment style associated with this kind of parenting is what is called insecure attachment. This type of attachment entails the feelings of isolation and loneliness among the children due to their inability to maintain social relationships. They are also likely to become authoritarian parents.

Culture may have an impact on these attachment styles by reinforcing or undermining them. In a culture where authority is highly respected and valued, children may be exposed to insecure attachment. In a permissive culture, children may be exposed to secure attachment (Roisman & Fraley, 2013).

A 15 months old child who is exposed to indulgent parenting is likely to develop trust not only in the parents but also in other people whom are not related to him or her. In later stages of life, these children become outgoing and may have easy time in forming and maintaining social relationships.

On the other hand, if a 15 months old child is exposed to authoritative parenting, he or she is likely to develop mistrust in the family and the community at large.


Ashford, J. B., & LeCroy, C. W. (2010). Human behavior in the social environment: a multidimensional perspective (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Capps, D. (2008). Mother, Melancholia, and Dreams in Erik H. Erikson’s Insight and Responsibility. Journal of Religion & Health, 47(1), 103-117.

King, M. (2007). The sociology of childhood as scientific communication – Observations from a social systems perspective. Childhood; a Global Journal of Child Research, 14(2), 193-213.

Laucht, M., Esser, G., & Schmidt, M. H. (1997). Developmental outcome of infants born with biological and psychosocial risks. Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 38(7), 843-853

Pendry, P., & Adam, E. (2013). Child-Related Interparental Conflict in Infancy Predicts Child Cognitive Functioning in a Nationally Representative Sample. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 22(4), 502-515.

Reiss, D. (1995). Genetic Influence on Family Systems: Implications for Development. Journal of Marriage & Family, 57(3), 543-560.

Roisman, G. I., & Fraley, R. (2013). Developmental Mechanisms Underlying the Legacy of Childhood Experiences. Child Development Perspectives, 7(3), 149-154.

Sneed, J. R., Whitbourne, S., & Culang, M. E. (2006). Trust, identity, and ego integrity: Modeling Erikson’s core stages over 34 years. Journal of Adult Development, 13(3-4), 148-157.

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