This month’s blog post for Parenting 101 will begin our discussion of the developmental stages of children. When we take a look at the stage our child is in, we can know how best to show him or her love. We aren’t just guessing anymore but instead we are acting in an informed way.
I like Alfred Adler’s Stages of Development, so we’ll be using that.
The first stage in a child’s life according to Adler is Trust vs. Mistrust (age 0-18 months).
From a previous post, I discuss empathy. Utilizing empathy, pretend you are a helpless, small baby born into a world of large adults and you cannot communicate with them other than by crying. You are hungry, wet, tired, uncomfortable, hot, cold, gassy, sad, lonely, scared…You get the idea. Our number one job as parents is to care for our child’s needs. They have a lot of needs and we have to figure out what they are and meet them, hopefully, in a timely manner.
I hear a lot of parents talk about how their baby is manipulating them. This is unfortunately very short-sighted and uninformed. If you mean by manipulate that the child cries because they have a need and you who is their caretaker must spring into action to meet that need, then, yes, that is what a child does. However, if you mean that a child cries in order to make you get up out of your comfy bed or chair to do some mundane task that you’d rather not do just to annoy you, then you would be terribly wrong.
Most of them time, when we use the term “manipulate” it is in a derogatory manner. We mean someone else is using their cuteness and charm or some form of threat to get us to do something we don’t want to do. But, in order for one person to truly “manipulate” another, they have to have some insight and forethought of what exactly they are doing. Children, especially babies, do not have this insight or forethought. They have a need and no way of getting this need met except by you. They have no idea that you’d rather watch tv or sleep or talk to your friend than do what they need done. They just need you.
Our babies are not manipulating us. Our babies have very real needs and we’re the only ones that can meet them. What a special role we have! So, if we can remember this stage of trust vs. mistrust when our babies cry, we can take a different stance from annoyance to realizing that we are laying down the foundation for the rest of this child’s life of how they see the world. Is the world that they have been delivered into one that they can trust or one that they mistrust? If we respond to our child’s needs by meeting them in a timely and loving way, they feel they can trust their world. They develop a peaceful, instead of an anxiety-filled, demeanor.
This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect, it just means we have to do our best to love our child in a way that actually means love to that child—meeting their needs again and again. Parenting is tiring and hard work but we have an awesome job and that is to develop this human being into someone that is healthy and happy and becomes all they can be. Here’s to developing trusting babies!