A child’s love for her parents is not native. The baby learns to love his mother and father because they are the central agents by which his needs are met. They keep him fed and physically comfortable and they protect him from the onslaughts of emotions and feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Consequently, the infants’ first experience in trusting and loving other people lies in this process of learning to trust and love their parents. Moreover, the pattern of the youngster’s later relationships has its roots in this first important social experience. The child who experiences anxiety and distrust in this first crucial relationship will tend to have difficulty in meeting social situations, making friends, or forming a satisfying marital relationship later. But the child who learns to love and trust his parents and to feel secure with them will be more able to form warm affectional bonds with a widening circle of acquaintances as he grows up.
Child’s Relationship to his Parents
The relationship of the child to his parents has an important bearing on the problem of how easily and how effectively he can be trained to conform to the expectations of his society. It is common knowledge that a child will much more readily make sacrifices for an adult whom he loves than he will for one whom he does not love. An adult who is loved and trusted and who symbolizes satisfaction and protection is able to help his child learn to behave in a socially desirable way and to learn without undue emotional stress.
When parents are continually alert to prevent the small baby from suffering unnecessary frustration of any of his needs, they are safeguarding his psychological as well as his physiological well-being. By keeping him from frustration they are keeping him from feelings of anxiety: that is the psychological distress with respect to some anticipated frustration. Anxiety is a common characteristic of emotionally maladjusted individuals.
Frustration in Child’s Infancy
The important fact for us here is that anxiety has its roots in infancy, particularly in the helplessness of his baby and its complete dependence upon its parents for the satisfaction of his needs. The first thing in bringing up a child who will be free of the tormenting feelings of anxiety is to see that he suffers as little frustration as possible in his infancy. But just how does anxiety develop?
Anxiety very often results when a baby is separated from his parents, even for the briefest intervals. As he matures, he comes to regard the presence of his parents as a sign of security and potential need-fulfillment and to regard their absence as a sign of potential need denial. When he is hungry and cries for his mother, he is too young to know that she will probably come “in a minute”-for all he knows, she may never come. For the small baby, any frustration of his needs creates the most distressing feelings of anxiety. And since he is frustrated only when his mother is not there to care for him, he associates her absence with frustration and discomfort. Thus by the simple process of conditioning, the infants come to react with anxiety to separation.
It is now clear why close attention and prompt response to the infant’s expression of need is psychologically so important. It ensures that he will be relatively free from anxiety and will help to build his sense of security-both of which are essential to a good start on the road to psychological health.