Church of Christ Jamaica
Bringing Light to the Nation

Our Parents’ impact on our ability to Trust

ANDRE ALLEN-CASEY

March 2, 2017

Introduction

The early childhood period of life is the most important developmental phase throughout the lifespan. What happens to the child in the early years, including conception to birth, is critical for the child’s developmental trajectory and overall life course. Research tells us that a child’s experiences within the family and community has a lasting effect on whether the child will make friends, enjoy school, form stable relationships, trust and make healthy lifestyle choices.

Research has shown that children flourish best—mentally, physically, socially, financially—when their biological parents have a solid marriage with minimal conflict (Amato, 2000; McLanahan & Sandefur,1994). Regardless of income or race, most Americans agree that the ideal environment for children to grow and develop is when their two parents have a satisfying marriage (Ooms & Wilson, 2004).

On the other hand, children who have a poor start in life are more likely to develop learning, behavioral or emotional problems and experience poor health outcomes, resulting in a shorter life span, social inequalities and intergenerational disadvantage.

Attachment is the deep and enduring biological, emotional, and social connection that caregivers and children establish early in life. Developing attachment is not only a result of the parent-child relationship, but is also influenced by the larger emotional network of family and community, including extended kin, school, and child welfare agencies.

Children who start out securely attached are healthier and better adjusted over time. They have positive self-esteem; loving and respectful relationships with parents and others; the ability to trust, be emotionally close, and feel empathy and compassion; effective coping skills, such as anger-management, impulse control, and tolerance of frustration; a positive and hopeful view of self, others, and life; independence and resilience; and behavioral and academic success in school; and they develop into mature, loyal, and caring partners and parents.

“As long as children of divorce have close relations with mom and dad — despite divorce — they probably won’t grow up with a built-in resistance to intimacy, distrusting parents, girl- or boyfriends, spouses, friends and various associates,” says Dr. Valarie King, assistant professor of sociology, demography and human development at Penn State. On the other hand, children who have a poor relationship with their parents are less trusting of others.

Substantial research evidence shows that, on average, children who have experienced parental divorce score somewhat lower than children in first-marriage families on measures of social development, emotional well-being, self-concept, academic performance, educational attainment, and physical health (Amato 2000; Furstenberg 1990).
Children, whose parents’ marriages are disrupted, are more likely to experience poor health, social problems, social skills deficits, and depression (Gottman,1998).

WHERE DO CHILDREN LEARN TO TRUST?

In Dr. C. George Boeree’s explanation of Erik Erikson’s first stage of development, he said that the first stage, infancy or the oral-sensory stage, is approximately the first year or year and a half of life. The task is to develop trust without completely eliminating the capacity for mistrust.

If mom and dad can give the newborn a degree of familiarity, consistency, and continuity, then the child will develop the feeling that the world — especially the social world — is a safe place to be, that people are reliable and loving. Through the parents’ responses, the child also learns to trust his or her own body and the biological urges that go with it.

If the parents are unreliable and inadequate, if they reject the infant or harm it, if other interests cause both parents to turn away from the infants needs to satisfy their own instead, then the infant will develop mistrust. He or she will be apprehensive and suspicious around people.

Please understand that this doesn’t mean that the parents have to be perfect. In fact, parents who are overly protective of the child, are there the minute the first cry comes out, will lead that child into the maladaptive tendency Erikson calls sensory maladjustment: Overly trusting, even gullible, this person cannot believe anyone would mean them harm, and will use all the defenses at their command to retain their pollyanna perspective.

Worse, of course, is the child whose balance is tipped way over on the mistrust side: They will develop the malignant tendency of withdrawal, characterized by depression, paranoia, and possibly psychosis.

If the proper balance is achieved, the child will develop the virtue hope, the strong belief that, even when things are not going well, they will work out well in the end. One of the signs that a child is doing well in the first stage is when the child isn’t overly upset by the need to wait a moment for the satisfaction of his or her needs: Mom or dad don’t have to be perfect; I trust them enough to believe that, if they can’t be here immediately, they will be here soon; Things may be tough now, but they will work out. This is the same ability that, in later life, gets us through disappointments in love, our careers, and many other domains of life. Boeree 2006.

From the very beginning, infants are shaping their view of the world and their place in it. A strong foundation of trust, built in a loving and caring environment, is the first step in philanthropy. At its most basic level, philanthropy is the love of mankind. During early years, children learn about love by being loved. They learn the role of rules in a community by having rules set at home. They learn about consequences, fairness, tolerance, altruism, justice, giving, sharing, and caring during their years in the most important community—the family.

In a world of specialization and knowledge overflow, success depends upon knowing how to choose the right partners and employees, knowing how to inspire others, to command loyalty, and to motivate groups. This kind of skill is learned in childhood. Indeed, childhood is like a laboratory of social connection. Sharing, negotiating, sticking up for the one who is being excluded, finding something good to say, playing by the rules—these simple tasks of childhood can become life skills of the highest order,” writes psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell

Developing a strong base of trust is crucial during these early years. The most significant gift you can give your young child is the sense of being cared for by you. Feelings of safety and trust allow children to expand beyond their own needs and to begin to appreciate the needs of others. These feelings are the first steps toward becoming a caring and philanthropic person.

The marriage relationship is the basis of the family structure. Husband and wife need to understand the importance of developing and modeling trust in marriage. Children learn trust from their first teachers, the parents. If the parents are planting the seeds of trust, then the children will see their example, see the end product of marriage relationship. This trust is founded, built, and firmly stands on a relationship that has been cultivated through good and bad times. Children learn by seeing that trust is built on a little day after day, and is a protection when times get tough.

This learned trust relationship is what kids will take with them into the world. It’s the standard by which they will judge all of their relationships. The level of trust learned from mom and dad is what they look for in another partner. If a child comes from a family defined by mistrust, they may become severely disillusioned about relationships, the marriage relationship in particular.

FAILURE TO TRUST

Your essential attitude to the world should start with a presumption of trust.

But never to trust is a far worse position to find yourself in, both practically and psychologically, and a far more destructive message to send out to your own children. On the practical front, apart from anything else, if you don’t trust people, they will inevitably sense it. And the result will always be that they will be inclined to exploit you, since you haven’t given them any reason not to.

Of course, you may be taken for a ride but the worst kind of fool is one that lives in the narrow, cramped psychological world that a condition of perpetual distrust inevitably engenders. Far better to be let down occasionally than to spend your world in the half-light of fear and suspicion. Because trust is essential for the good health of the human soul. And the lack of trust won’t protect you, because an element of risk, in all situations, is unavoidable.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF POSITIVE PARENTING?

According to studies, parents who deal with their kids positively form closer bonds with their kids compared to those parents who always criticize their kids. Furthermore, parents who employ positive parenting techniques when dealing with their kids build the self esteem of their children that their children turn out to be more well adjusted compared to children who are constantly subjected to criticisms.

Positive parenting and positive guidance can make a lot of difference in the life of a child especially during the early years. According to experts, children are molded by the experiences that they have when they are very young. “If you teach your child to look at life in a more positive way early on, you can help mold your child to grow up into a person with a positive attitude towards life.” Furthermore, dealing with a child in a positive way will make that child feel valued as a person. Note, if the child knows that he or she is valued as a person, he or she will grow more confident in him/herself.

Teaching a child about social responsibility through positive parenting will help make that child more cooperative with others. According to experts, treating a child with respect will help teach that child the value of respecting others. Furthermore, teaching a child social responsibility through positive parenting will help that child take responsibilities for his or her actions and avoid blaming others for mistakes that he or she committed.

Dealing with a misbehaving child is often very challenging and stressful for parents. However, positive parenting helps arm children with the right attitudes and conflict resolution skills in order to deal with frustration and stress.

Positive parenting skills can be broad because each parent has different positive parenting practices they apply on their child. However, positive parenting skills may generally encompass discipline, encouragement, open communication, respect, and conflict/stress resolution.

For instance, praising a child for his accomplishment may be meaningful to him but how about a child’s failure? You can display positive parenting skills by simply praising a child for the effort he exerted in trying to accomplish something. Frustration and stress is as real in children as it is in adults so that parenting should help lay the foundation for conflict management.

Praises and encouragements build a child’s self-esteem and a healthy self-esteem is instrumental in how a child creates resolutions up front. A child with high self-esteem is quick to build solutions but understands that he/she has limitations. Positive parenting is nurturing a child’s self-esteem knowing that it is an essential component in a person’s personality.

Positive parenting skills have been proven to work magic in curbing behavior problems in children of all ages so that it’s not too late for any parent to learn about positive parenting.

The more our parents attuned to us and validated our emotions, the more we gained a capacity to trust ourselves and the world around us. Attunement is a communing; hence, it is reassuring and confirming. Authentic attunement provides us with a holding environment in which we can feel secure and can trust those who love us. Our trust grows not only from being held when we needed it but also from being let go of when we needed that. The parent who truly attunes to us will hold us but only for as long as we want to be held. Later in life that balance will be the hallmark of successful intimacy.

WHAT ARE SOME BENEFITS OF TRUSTING?

Trust in each other gives strength and vitality to our relationships. It gives us inner happiness, which is priceless. It brings joy all around and life appears brighter and brighter. Its fragrance spreads far and wide. Trust keeps us in a positive mental framework. When you trust each other you feel self-confident. The feeling of believing others is electrifying. It not only provides sense of security but provides new zeal to fight the vagaries of life. Trusting each other gives us a sense of deep bonding. It signifies that we are united to fight the battles ahead. Trust is a synonym for warmth in our relationships.

All of us have fears. It’s a normal part of being human. But two basic fears are related to childhood issues with one or both of our parents: fear of abandonment and fear of being consumed. These two fears deeply affect our ability to trust. Children who grow up in a family in which the mother and/or father is either not there or is emotionally unpredictable and inconsistent will often experience feelings of abandonment, (Stoop, 1993). Of course, these two fears don’t operate in isolation. We will experience both of them. Often, our fear of abandonment causes us to try very hard in a relationship, and when we suddenly find that we are closer than we care to be and feel engulfed, we back off from the other person in an effort to regain some comfortable personal space. But then the fear of abandonment rises up within us again, and we start to move back toward the other person. When you add the fears of the other person to the equation, you can see why closeness and intimacy take a lot of work and require a foundation of trust.

CONCLUSION

Trust in its broadest sense (also known as Basic Trust) underpins our entire relationship with the universe, including the other people it contains. Like so many of our core traits, basic trust is formed at a very early age. Young children who have secure attachments with their parents have a general sense that the world is predictable and reliable. This basic trust is formed by loving, sensitive, care givers — not from our immutable genetic makeup or from having a continuously positive early environment.

If our early holding environment is damaged (and it’s always damaged to some extent due to our inevitable separation from our parents as our egoic selves develop), we lose some of that basic trust. We may begin to feel that the universe is an uncertain place, where random events threaten our security and people respond to us unpredictably or even negatively.

All of us experience some loss of basic trust, no matter how well-intentioned our parents might have been. That’s just the way life works, it seems. Fortunately, some of that lost trust can be regained later in life. A large part of the sense of undependability comes from the fact that the unconscious programs and filters we absorbed in childhood cause us to react to the world inappropriately. These misaligned actions generate unexpected outcomes, as the real world reacts to us differently than we expected. This mismatch between our filtered perception of the world, our programmed behaviour, and the real world’s response to it reinforces our feeling that the universe is fundamentally untrustworthy. Our ability to trust is the underpinning of our greatest glory as conscious beings — our ability to love.

About Author

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Andre Allen-Casey is a Counselling Psychologist and member of the St Andrew Church of Christ.