Young Children and their Parents: Perspectives from Psychoanalytic Infant Observation

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The book describes, from a psychoanalytic perspective, the development of the parent-infant relationship in the first years of life. It follows the development of the child's relationship to his or her parents from birth until the end of the third year. The psychoanalytic understanding of earlier patterns of experience is expertly presented to the reader. For readers looking for an introduction to the many different psychoanayltical theories about the early years, this book offers a comprehensive guide to the most important directions.Diem-Wille's experience as psychoanalyst, professor of education, and organising tutor of a university course for teachers, and as a mother and grandmother, all enrich her writing and contribute to the breadth of this remarkable book. The author combines consideration of the physical interwoven with the psycho-social development in the first, second and third years of life; she looks at the experience of the relationship at each stage from both the child's and the parent's perspective; and she discusses theory and gives hints to parents and teachers about how to observe the non-verbal communication of babies and children and respond to their needs. It is a book which will be of great value to parents, teachers, paediatricians and all those concerned with furthering the understanding of children.

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CHAPTER ONE Understanding psychologicaldevelopment

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CHAPTER ONE

Understanding psychological development

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Theoretical basis of a psychoanalytical interpretation of human development

Our main theme is the development of the psyche and the young child’s emotional, symbolic, and linguistic skills in his relationship with the relevant persons surrounding him within our Western culture.

The child’s development will be illustrated using narrations, descriptions, and case studies, the key to this approach being a direct focus on actual children. Narratives supplied by adults, above all the parents of some of the children described, can supplement regularly repeated observation. This approach of attempting to understand human development through observation, description, and the analysis of what is observed contrasts with the behaviourist method. Although the latter focuses on behaviour, it is not the child’s behaviour but rather the behaviour of animals in an experimental situation that is chosen as the reference system. Thus in textbooks on developmental psychology, the chapter on birth and early development will sometimes contain a description of the behaviour of primates in caring for their young.

 

Chapter One - Understanding Psychological Development

ePub

 

Theoretical basis of a psychoanalytical interpretation of human development

Our main theme is the development of the psyche and the young child's emotional, symbolic, and linguistic skills in his relationship with the relevant persons surrounding him within our Western culture.

The child's development will be illustrated using narrations, descriptions, and case studies, the key to this approach being a direct focus on actual children. Narratives supplied by adults, above all the parents of some of the children described, can supplement regularly repeated observation. This approach of attempting to understand human development through observation, description, and the analysis of what is observed contrasts with the behaviourist method. Although the latter focuses on behaviour, it is not the child's behaviour but rather the behaviour of animals in an experimental situation that is chosen as the reference system. Thus in textbooks on developmental psychology, the chapter on birth and early development will sometimes contain a description of the behaviour of primates in caring for their young.

 

Chapter Two - The First Year of Life

ePub

 

After nine months of pregnancy, the new baby is now born. Before we examine the baby's dramatic physical and psychological developments and his budding relationship to the parents, we should take a look at some of the tumult a baby causes in his immediate and extended environment. The birth of their first baby turns a couple into parents; it also turns their parents into grandparents. If the new baby already has older siblings, he will increase his family's size, with those siblings reconfigured into new positions. The reconfiguration of a family with its several generations and the new roles and tasks awaiting its members all pose real challenges for everyday life—but also spur a range of emotional transformations. Room must be made for all the things a baby requires in our modern society, such as a pram, crib, nappy-changing table and baby bathtub. It is astonishing and also confusing how many new objects are necessary in order to transport the baby from one place to another, keep him warm, and care for him. These objects are usually acquired before the baby's birth, often when the baby would already be able to survive outside his mother's body: symbolically, space is being made for the new living being. Even more crucial than these external preparations are the psychological adjustments various generations of the baby's family have to make, in order to create mental space for him.

 

CHAPTER TWO The first year of life

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CHAPTER TWO

The first year of life

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fter nine months of pregnancy, the new baby is now born.

Before we examine the baby’s dramatic physical and psychological developments and his budding relationship to the parents, we should take a look at some of the tumult a baby causes in his immediate and extended environment. The birth of their first baby turns a couple into parents; it also turns their parents into grandparents. If the new baby already has older siblings, he will increase his family’s size, with those siblings reconfigured into new positions. The reconfiguration of a family with its several generations and the new roles and tasks awaiting its members all pose real challenges for everyday life—but also spur a range of emotional transformations. Room must be made for all the things a baby requires in our modern society, such as a pram, crib, nappy-changing table and baby bathtub. It is astonishing and also confusing how many new objects are necessary in order to transport the baby from one place to another, keep him warm, and care for him. These objects are usually acquired before the baby’s birth, often when the baby would already be able to survive outside his mother’s body: symbolically, space is being made for the new living being. Even more crucial than these external preparations are the

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CHAPTER THREE The second year of life

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CHAPTER THREE

The second year of life

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n his second year of life, the child gains a new perspective on the world from the standing position. Since he also can use language, he is able to make himself understood in a more differentiated way, describing and demonstrating his wishes and emotions. He can express his inner feelings and experiences through play and symbolically.

Through his new physical and psychic capabilities, he acquires independence and can do things on his own: he becomes a “toddler”.

In this section, I will try to view the world from a toddler’s perspective, in order to gain insight into his feelings and what lies behind his behaviour. We must bear in mind that in spite of his two new capabilities—standing upright and language—the two year old has not yet established psychic stability: on the contrary, particularly when he is tired or fearful, he can veer rapidly between optimism, independence, and infantile helplessness. Many parents have difficulty empathising with these mood swings, and tend to place too many demands on their child since he understands and cooperates so well during good phases. When a child is well rested and active, the world is an exciting place waiting to be discovered, and he investigates mysterious objects in daily life with great seriousness. When a child feels needy

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Chapter Three - The Second Year of Life

ePub

 

In his second year of life, the child gains a new perspective on the world from the standing position. Since he also can use language, he is able to make himself understood in a more differentiated way, describing and demonstrating his wishes and emotions. He can express his inner feelings and experiences through play and symbolically. Through his new physical and psychic capabilities, he acquires independence and can do things on his own: he becomes a “toddler”.

In this section, I will try to view the world from a toddler's perspective, in order to gain insight into his feelings and what lies behind his behaviour. We must bear in mind that in spite of his two new capabilities—standing upright and language—the two year old has not yet established psychic stability: on the contrary, particularly when he is tired or fearful, he can veer rapidly between optimism, independence, and infantile helplessness. Many parents have difficulty empathising with these mood swings, and tend to place too many demands on their child since he understands and cooperates so well during good phases. When a child is well rested and active, the world is an exciting place waiting to be discovered, and he investigates mysterious objects in daily life with great seriousness. When a child feels needy and small, he wants nothing so much as to be lifted by his parents back to a sheltered, secure place.

 

CHAPTER FOUR The third year of life

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CHAPTER FOUR

The third year of life

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he third year of life is the last of three decisive years where the foundations of the personality, deep structure of the psyche, and model for perceiving the world are all formed. Recognition of the great significance of the first three years of life did not begin with

Freud: Charles Darwin already was a proponent of this view. In his biography of Darwin, Bowlby described a conversation between portraitist William Richmond and Darwin, where Darwin was asked in which years a child receives his most indelible impressions. His answer was, “Without doubt the first three,” and he explained that “It is a virgin brain adapted to receive impressions although unable to formulate or memorize these. They nonetheless remain and can affect the whole future life of the child recipient” (Bowlby, 1990, p. 430). Although there was even less known then than now about the links between cognitive and psychic development, Darwin comprehended the crucial importance of these years.

 

Chapter Four - The Third Year of Life

ePub

 

The third year of life is the last of three decisive years where the foundations of the personality, deep structure of the psyche, and model for perceiving the world are all formed. Recognition of the great significance of the first three years of life did not begin with Freud: Charles Darwin already was a proponent of this view. In his biography of Darwin, Bowlby described a conversation between portraitist William Richmond and Darwin, where Darwin was asked in which years a child receives his most indelible impressions. His answer was, “Without doubt the first three,” and he explained that “It is a virgin brain adapted to receive impressions although unable to formulate or memorize these. They nonetheless remain and can affect the whole future life of the child recipient” (Bowlby, 1990, p. 430). Although there was even less known then than now about the links between cognitive and psychic development, Darwin comprehended the crucial importance of these years.

For those parents who had difficulties understanding their child during the first two years, however, this also means they now have a second chance. Some parents find it easier to deal with and understand a young child who can already express himself in words. The feelings of a two year old are better integrated, so that some parents are less cautious than with the raw, intense feelings of a baby. Yet the child's third year of life demands both clarity and tolerance on the parents’ part. The child who already seems independent and who can more clearly express his wishes through gestures and words—who has better motor skills, climbing and jumping alone—can from one instant to the next, when tired or fearful, revert to the small baby requiring physical contact and safety from his mother or father. He is often overwhelmed by turbulent emotions that are frightening even to himself. Fits of rage, hurt, antagonism, and sadness segue into phases of joy, adventure, and curiosity. Particularly when they have had another baby in the meantime, parents tend to place too high demands on their two year old. He can already walk so well by himself that the parents believe he no longer needs to be carried about, reacting unwillingly when their toddler wants a rest from walking and wishes to be picked up: should they later observe this scene on video, they might experience a pang of shame, seeing how small and needy the toddler actually looks.

 

CHAPTER FIVE Outlook and perspectives: mastering early childhood

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CHAPTER FIVE

Outlook and perspectives: mastering early childhood

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ccompanying a child through his dramatic first three years is a major challenge and responsibility for the parents, since this is the time during which the underlying pattern of the personality is formed. This collaboration in shaping the personality of a new person is something uniquely enriching and satisfying, but also strenuous. Dostoyevski’s maxim—“Being with children heals the soul”— unfortunately expresses only half the truth. Contact with children can also activate the most unfortunate side of a person, eliciting cruelty and hate, when the requisite psychic and practical support is lacking. As

Nietzsche remarked, what child would not have cause to weep over his parents? In this case, he was alluding to the flip side of the coin, parental shortcomings and inadequacies. Only both sides together comprise a whole picture. A child alters the lives of his mother and father radically, whether they actually live together with the child or are separated from him, whether they maintain contact or avoid all contact. In their inner experience, they are a father or mother, fulfilling their obligations as best they can, or bearing the responsibility for leaving their child in the lurch, giving him up or offering him for adoption. For a child who has been separated from his parents, too, this fact influences the basic tenor of his life.

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Chapter Five - Outlook and Perspectives: Mastering Early Childhood

ePub

 

Accompanying a child through his dramatic first three years is a major challenge and responsibility for the parents, since this is the time during which the underlying pattern of the personality is formed. This collaboration in shaping the personality of a new person is something uniquely enriching and satisfying, but also strenuous. Dostoyevski's maxim—“Being with children heals the soul”—unfortunately expresses only half the truth. Contact with children can also activate the most unfortunate side of a person, eliciting cruelty and hate, when the requisite psychic and practical support is lacking. As Nietzsche remarked, what child would not have cause to weep over his parents? In this case, he was alluding to the flip side of the coin, parental shortcomings and inadequacies. Only both sides together comprise a whole picture. A child alters the lives of his mother and father radically, whether they actually live together with the child or are separated from him, whether they maintain contact or avoid all contact. In their inner experience, they are a father or mother, fulfilling their obligations as best they can, or bearing the responsibility for leaving their child in the lurch, giving him up or offering him for adoption. For a child who has been separated from his parents, too, this fact influences the basic tenor of his life.

 

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