The first of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, basic trust versus basic mistrust, begins at birth and lasts about one-and-a-half to two years. For Erikson basic trust means that “one has learned to rely on the sameness and continuity of the outer providers, but also that one may trust oneself and the capacity of one’s organs to cope with urges,”5 Whether children develop a pattern of trust or mistrust depends on the “sensitive care of the baby’s individual needs and a firm sense of personal trustworthiness within the trusted framework of their culture’s life-style.”6

Basic trust develops when children are reared, cared for, and educated in an environment of love, warmth, and support. An environment of trust reduces the opportunity for conflict between child, parent, and caregiver.

Social Behaviors

Social relationships begin at birth and are evident in the daily interactions between infants, parents, and teachers. Infants are social beings who possess many behaviors that they use to initiate and facilitate social interactions. Everyone uses social behaviors to begin and maintain a relationship with others. Consequently, healthy social development is essential for young children. Regardless of their temperament, all infants are capable of and benefit from social interactions.

Crying is a primary social behavior in infancy. It attracts parents or caregivers and promotes a social interaction of some type and duration, depending on the skill and awareness of the caregiver. Crying also has a survival value; it alerts caregivers to the presence and needs of the infant. However, merely meeting the basic needs of infants in a matter of fact manner is not sufficient to form a firm base for social development. You must react to infants with enthusiasm, attentiveness, and concern for them as unique persons.

Imitation is another social behavior of infants. They have the ability to mimic the facial expressions and gestures of adults. When a mother sticks out her tongue at a baby, after a few repetitions, the baby will also stick out his tongue! This imitative behavior is satisfying to the infant, and the mother is pleased by this interactive game. Since the imitative behavior is pleasant for both persons, they continue to interact for the sake of interaction, which in turn promotes more social interaction. Social relations develop from social interactions, but we must always remember that both occur in a social context, or culture.

Attachment and Relationships

Bonding and attachment play major roles in the development of social and emotional relationships. Bonding is the process by which parents or teachers become emotionally attached, or bonded, to infants. It is the development of a close, personal, affective relationship. It is a one-way process, which some maintain occurs in the first hours or days after birth. Attachment is the enduring emotional tie between the infant and the parents and other primary caregivers; it is a two-way relationship.

Attachment behaviors serve the purpose of getting and maintaining proximity; they form the basis for the enduring relationship of attachment. Parent and teacher attachment behaviors include kissing, caressing, holding, touching, embracing, making eye contact, and looking at the face. Infant attachment behaviors include crying, sucking, eye contact, babbling, and general body movements. Later, when infants are developmentally able, attachment behaviors include following, clinging, and calling.

Adult speech has a special fascination for infants. Interestingly enough, given the choice of listening to music or listening to the human voice, infants prefer the human voice. This preference plays a role in attachment by making the baby more responsive. Infants attend to language patterns they will later imitate in their process of language development; they move their bodies in rhythmic ways in response to the human voice. Babies’ body movements and caregiver speech synchronize to each other: adult speech triggers behavioral responses in the infant, which in turn stimulate responses in the adult, resulting in a “waltz” of attention and attachment.

Multiple Attachments

Increased use of child care programs inevitably raises questions about infant attachment. Parents are concerned that their children will not attach to them. Worse yet, they fear that their baby will develop an attachment bond with the caregiver rather than with them. However, children can and do attach to more than one person, and there can be more than one attachment at a time. Infants attach to parents as the primary teacher as well as to a surrogate, resulting in a hierarchy of attachments in which the latter attachments are not of equal value. Infants show a preference for the primary caregiver, usually the mother.

Parents should not only engage in attachment behaviors with their infants, but they should also select child care programs that employ caregivers who understand the importance of the caregiver’s role and function in attachment. High-quality child care programs help mothers maintain their primary attachments to their infants in many ways. The staff keeps parents well informed about infants’ accomplishments, but parents are allowed to “discover” and participate in infants’ developmental milestones. A teacher, for example, might tell a mother that today her son showed signs of wanting to take his first step by himself. The teacher thereby allows the mother to be the first person to experience the joy of this accomplishment. The mother might then report to the center that her son took his first step at home the night before.

The Quality of Attachment

The quality of infant–parent attachment varies according to the relationship that exists between them. A primary method of assessing the quality of parent–child attachment is the Strange Situation, an observational measure developed by Mary Ainsworth (1913–1999) to assess whether infants are securely attached to their caregivers. The testing episodes consist of observing and recording children’s reactions to several events: a novel situation, separation from their mothers, reunion with their mothers, and reactions to a stranger. Based on their reactions and behaviors in these situations, children are described as being securely or insecurely attached (see below). The importance of knowing and recognizing different classifications of attachment is that you can inform parents and help them engage in the specific behaviors that will promote the growth of secure attachments.

Individual Differences in Attachment

Secure Attachment

Secure infants use parents as a secure base from which to explore their environments and play with toys. When separated from a parent, they may or may not cry; but when the parent returns, these infants actively seek the parent and engage in positive interaction. About 65 percent of infants are securely attached. 

 Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant infants are unresponsive/avoidant to parents and are not distressed when parents leave the room. Avoidant infants generally do not establish contact with a returning parent and may even avoid the parent. About 20 percent of infants demonstrate avoidant attachment.

 Resistant Attachment

Resistant infants seek closeness to parents and may even cling to them, frequently failing to explore. When a parent leaves, these infants are distressed and on the parent's return may demonstrate clinginess, or they may show resistive behavior and anger, including hitting and pushing. These infants are not easily comforted by a parent. About 10 to 15 percent of infants demonstrate resistant attachment.

 Disorganized attachment

Disorganized infants demonstrate disorganized and disoriented behavior. Children look away from parents and approach them with little or no emotion. About 5 percent of children demonstrate disorganized attachment.

Source: Based on Mary Ainsworth, Patterns of Attachment: A psychological Study of the Strange Situation (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1978).


5. Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1963; first pub., 1950), 249.

6. Ibid.