Infants and toddlers are social creatures. From early on, they learn to connect and collect information from their parents and teachers. By the first year of their lives, infants have formed a strong relationship with their primary caregivers, creating what researcher Erik Erikson refers to as the "intimate dyad."
For the first two years, children are thoroughly engaged in developing and learning about relationships. They are in the stage of Basic Trust vs. Mistrust — another idea introduced by Erikson — and, accordingly they seek relationships based on trust, security and happiness. If they manage to establish strong relationships during this phase, they will have mastered the key psychosocial goals they'll need as they progress. Secure attachments help an infant take the next steps forward in his or her exploration of the surrounding world.
Nine to 12 months: The exploration phase
It is during this stage that infants display more interest in exploration, often coinciding with their learning to crawl or walk, a key step in their independence. One thing parents and teachers will notice is infants' use of pointing, which presents a way for them to interact with the objects and people around them.
Nine to 18 months: The understanding phase
Between nine and 18 months, infants are actively expanding their self-awareness, as well as their understanding of other people and things. During this stage, they're much more likely to notice the significant and more subtle changes. For instance, a 15-month-old baby will not necessarily act any differently if you place a spoon on their nose as a friendly and joking gesture, however, an 18-month-old is much more likely to notice and subsequently remove it from their face. In fact, it's around 18 months that a baby recognizes his or her own image in the mirror.
Nine to 18 months: Anxiety toward strangers begins
During this period, infants' fear of strangers and lesser-known adults may begin. Infants may cry or signal their displeasure when their primary caregiver leaves the room. However, this is a normal part of child development. It is necessary for children to have a secure attachment with their caregivers, as it often provides the confidence for them to gradually venture out and explore. Through increasingly exploring the world around them, infants graduate from Erikson's Trust vs. Mistrust stage.
Age two: Children demonstrate their will and independence
As they reach age two, children will enter what Erikson referred to as the stage of Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. During this period, children develop their first interests and sense and desire for autonomy, or independence. By offering encouragement, you help children explore and expand on their interests. Increasingly, they'll demonstrate more self-sufficient behavior (e.g., begin to feed themselves). Make sure to not rely too heavily on punitive responses to problematic behavior, as this may lead children into shame and doubt.
If you're interested in learning more about this subject, refer to our course "Brain Power! Cognitive Development in Infants" and "Understanding Child Development: Erikson's Stages of Emotional Development." ProSolutions Training also offers a CDA course and a CDA Renewal course, both developed to meet the needs of early care and education professionals seeking the CDA Credential. The credential is administered and awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition. In 2013, ProSolutions Training became the first online training company to become a formal partner of the Council.