My parents taught me to mistrust you, yes they did.

When a mother holds a baby for the first time many emotions are evoked. There is a hope and prayer that the baby turns into a fine person full of integrity with admirable character. I am yet to come across a mother who looks at their newborn and predicts the worse. They are divine, admired and loved by all.

African Mother carrying sleeping baby

The same parent to that newborn child will give us a different story come the teenage years. Some will forever continue to look for that sweet lovely baby who would have ceased to exist a long time ago. In Shona we say “Kare haagari ari kare” meaning nothing last forever. Days of infancy fade from before us as our new-born’s form new identities. What can one do as a parent to make the best of this years?  American writer Don Herold considered babies as a nice way to start people. I agree with Don Herold, however I wonder what happens to this beautiful beginning.  I guess in the beginning nature gifts us babies who are not empty-headed organisms but have basic reflexes including crying. Their journey of a thousand other emotions throughout adulthood begin in this stage. As parents many times we find ourselves unaware of these early socio-emotional developments. The parenting environment goes a long way in ensuring health/unhealthy socio-emotional development.

Trust or Mistrust

Researchers have shown that children emotional development begins way before they are born and here we thought as parents that only the physical aspects of the child are developing. During the first year of life children have unique development task.  The unique development task has a crisis that the child must face which is not necessarily catastrophic. The crisis present an opportunity for healthy socio-emotional development if well navigated and the opposite if the navigation is done wrongly. The above is defined by a great 20th Century Psychologist Erik Erikson as Psychosocial stage of development.

The first psychosocial stage is Trust vs. mistrust and if navigated well a child will develop the virtue of and the opposite is mistrust. A sense of trust in the first year stems from feeling physically comfortable, with minimum fear and apprehension.   The virtue or vice gained in the first year of life sets the stage for lifelong expectation of whether the world will be a good or bad place to live in. More specifically can the people around me be trusted or not. It also sets the tone for individual children’s interaction with their environment. When parents provide warm responsive care infants gain a sense of trust or confidence in the worlds ability to meet their needs. Neglect and harsh handling of infants may cause mistrust as the child feels no one cares for them.

Raising the child the “African way”

In my culture it is a common practice to leave infants crying until they self soothe. This practice may best be understood in line with the valued competencies needed in African culture as well as the mothers executes her diverse duties.  Most mothers have to do the household chores as well as tend to the fields and a baby who constantly gets attention when they cry may disrupt the follow of duty.  A mother’s effort to be competent as wife and daughter in law may lead to acts of neglect when considered in the development context. The child will in turn continue to cry and learn how to self soothe, they may become insecure believing no one cares and this will have adverse effects in the years to come.

People who are mistrusting and insecure may have less favorable relationship with peers, colleagues and family. Forming few close friendships and poor social skills. This could have been caused by a survival instinct that they don’t need people as no one out there cares as communicated during infancy by parenting behaviors which ignore the child.  A child may soil a nappy feel uncomfortable and then start crying, the cry may increase in intensity as time passes and the child becomes apprehensive. However if the need is unmet the child will learn how to live with a soiled nappy and believe no one does soiled nappies out here.  The same applies for any scenario that may occur in an infancy life, be it hunger, fright and need for comfort.

Others may argue that attending to the child on demand may make them feel obligated to be served by the world. However it is of importance to note that the first year of life has a specific development task followed by four more stages.  These come after issues of entitlement are dealt with, in the specified development task.

Babies remain a great way to make people, as parents let us be conscious of our contribution and create safe environments in the first year of life which ensures our children learn to trust us along with the world. Do start desiring to build trust in the adolescence years when you want to know your child’s secrets. Let’s lay the correct foundation to ensure we transition into adolescence and adulthood with children who trust us, because we successfully met their needs and helped them thrive.


Noreen Kudzanai Is a mother to 2 boys, besides parenting them  She is also a community Psychologist involved  in interventions aimed to reduce child abuse and maltreatment  as well as promote positive parenting within communities. MT



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