The developmental crisis centers around the baby’s need to perceive the world as basically friendly and comfortable. Parents and caregivers foster an infant’s sense of trust by providing responsive care based on observation of the infant’s behavior, making an effort to make the baby feel loved, respected and capable of eliciting responses from adults. In addition, the baby gains a feeling of well-being because his or her basic physiological and emotional needs are met. Mistrust occurs when the infant feels abandoned, threatened, or uncared for in a hostile, nonresponsive environment. Thus babies left to cry for long periods in their cribs or fed and played with only on overly strict schedules may grow to feel that the adults in their lives are harsh and powerful, indifferent to the needs of a helpless child.
The crisis of autonomy occurs when a child perceives his or her separateness from parents and acts to test or gain personal independence. Auto means self. Toddlers try to develop a sense of self by experimenting, challenging, and exploring. Part of their discovery involves pushing away from the people who so far have controlled them. Thus much of their behavior appears to be negative. “Me do it,” “Mine,” and “No” are often heard toddler words which indicate that a child is trying hard to be a person in his or her own right. Toddlers need help in the task of becoming independent. Parents and caregivers who remember that a toddler is trying to develop self-control will understand the child’s need for an ally — someone who will help him or her develop autonomy. Children who are made to feel that they are bad for trying to stand on their own feet or who are severely punished for saying “no” or “mine” or for refusing to share can develop a lasting sense of shame and self doubt. Toddlers need safe limits and wise adult supervision but they also need many opportunities to test themselves. Adults need a strong sense of humor, a lot of patience, and determination to help toddlers develop the inner controls they need so desperately.