The Literature of Latency
Through universally loved fairy tales, movies, comics, video games and TV programs, the Latency-aged child deals with the major developmental themes of the first decade of life.
The hero in fairy tales is often a child who has magical powers or associates with those who possess them.
Such powers compensate for feelings of impotence and lack of control in a world dominated by adults.
are Peter Pan, Alice (in Wonder Land), and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. The wish to be “top dog” is reflected in the absence of siblings. When brothers or sisters are present, they are often ugly and awful such as the step-sisters in Cinderella. Sometimes animals or unusual characters represent various aspects of the self and others, as exemplified by Bambi and the dwarfs in Snow White.
Although play begins earlier and continues throughout life, Latency-aged play is unique because during this phase of development cultural games, which continue to influence development throughout adolescence and adulthood, are learned and played.
“When they’re at recess, I can’t stop them from playing,” said one elementary school principal. Indeed, play is a major preoccupation that consumes huge chunks of the child’s physical and mental energy and time. Why? Not because Mom or Dad says, “Go out and play. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.” The romanticized sense of play as random, carefree activity is far removed from its purposeful, psychically-determined nature.
Children play endlessly because they need to, constantly working over and assimilating experiences too overwhelming for their immature psyches to digest and integrate quickly.
Adults have more mental resources available to cope with the pressures of everyday life. Hence, they play less. This basic urge to repeat is an attempt at mastery, fueled by a need to wash away the pain and discomfort of being in a world that is often incomprehensible and overwhelming.
The Golden Age of Childhood: The Elementary School Years
When I think of elementary school children, I see them at recess, roughhousing, balancing on jungle gyms, playing tag or kickball. I also imagine them doing cartwheels in gymnastic classes, proudly wearing their Little League uniforms, tearing around, chasing each other at a neighborhood park or quietly texting or playing video games, oblivious to their friends jumping on each other nearby.
When the recess bell rings, ending the organized chaos, as if by magic, the children stop what they’re doing, turn on a dime and line up in neat rows to re-enter the classroom where, for the most part, they sit quietly and do their work. What a difference from the negativism of toddlers and the adolescent resistance to conformity.
Elementary school kids are reasonable, relatively self-sufficient—they can feed, dress, go to the bathroom and shower by themselves—and they like and admire adults, particularly Mom and Dad! That’s why I call it the Golden Age of Childhood. Teachers love them. Coaches love them. Grandparents love them. Everybody loves them because they often act like well-behaved adults. In fact, they often behave better than many adults do and certainly better than the monsters they will become in a few years when puberty hits. If only we could freeze them in time when they’re nine! Alas, we can’t. So enjoy this Golden Age, this wonderful time of calm, while you can.
Parents of toddlers frequently ask when it is appropriate to spank a child as a means of discipline. The use of physical punishment as a consistent disciplinary tool is inappropriate at any age. Hitting or spanking usually occurs when relatively healthy parents have been provoked beyond their limits and resort to physical means to relieve their tensions.
On the other hand, a rare swat across the bottom is unlikely to harm either the parent or the child. However, it should be understood that the child's attitude toward aggression in later life, whether directed toward him, or others, is strongly influenced by the pattern of limit setting and discipline to which they were exposed as children. Those children who were managed with kind firmness will treat others and eventually their own children in a similar fashion.
Knowing the limits of your tolerance for toddler misbehavior is key to an appropriate response. If you sense that you’re approaching your limits of tolerance, then a verbal response conveying your marked displeasure is likely to be an effective means of control.
For example (in a stern voice), “Tom, you need to listen to me. You cannot hit Samson (the dog). I will not let you do that. I love you, but I don’t like what you did.”
What Parents Need to Know
About Choosing a Therapist for their Child
When a child is having emotional or behavioral problems, parents become not only concerned, but also may need to intervene. When lesser measures fail, the next step may be finding a child psychotherapist.
Many parents have no idea whom to turn to or how to assess the qualifications of such a professional. What can be expected during an evaluation. If therapy is needed, what is the therapeutic process?
In this post I will address those questions and provide information and guidelines to help you though a difficult time which, with the proper intervention, could turn into a great benefit for your child. I’m an adult and child psychiatrist who has been evaluating and treating children for five decades. I understand how difficult it is to face the reality that your child is in need of help and to find the right person to intervene. Let’s begin with an understanding of the various mental health professionals who evaluate and treat children and how their credentials differ.
How Long Can We Be Away From Our Toddler?
Trying to explain to a toddler that you are planning to be away for a few hours, for a week or longer will have little effect on the toddler’s ability to tolerate the separation. The toddler’s sense of time is very, very limited. Intervals of time are conceptualized more in terms of the frustration or gratification of immediate needs such as hunger.
The best way to prepare your toddler for separations is to limit absences to the length of time that the toddler can tolerate them without undue anxiety. See the guidelines below, and be sure that the adults who will be caring for them in your absence are trustworthy and known by the toddler.
But parents have needs, too, including breaks from the vigorous demands of raising a toddler.
Unfortunately, the parents' needs to work and play are not always in sync with the toddler's need for continuity. Consequently, the answers which I provide to parental questions about separations are not always the ones they would like to hear. The following intervals are general guidelines written from the point of view of the optimal promotion of normal development in the toddler. A pattern of prolonged absences is more likely to be detrimental than a single or occasional one.
DEVELOPMENTAL DISTURBANCES OF THE TODDLER: THE TERRIBLE TWOS
The “terrible twos” aren’t really so bad when you understand the developmental purpose of this period of time.
Using the newfound ability to walk, and lacking in judgment and reason, the toddler ramrods into life. The imbalance between physical and mental abilities often results in destructiveness, messiness, motor restlessness, clinging, inability to separate, whining, as well as chaotic emotional states including temper tantrums. Fortunately, despite the dramatic intensity and abnormal appearance, such behaviors are short-lived. They occur as long as there is no alternative to motor outlets for the child’s energies. And they disappear or diminish in intensity as soon as new pathways for expression appear, especially the acquisition of speech.
(This will not be the last time that parents encounter such unevenness in development. Ahead lies adolescence! Then the body of the child vanishes overnight, trapping the innocent mind of the child in the awkward, hairy Frankenstein body of adolescence. This imbalance takes longer to redress; the mind doesn’t catch up for several years.)
Don’t get upset about the prospect of toilet training your two year old or problems you’re having in the process.
Toilet training, when done from a developmental perspective, is a major developmental task for both parents and toddler that results in emotional benefits far beyond putting urine and BMs in the toilet. Before I describe the toilet training process itself, let me begin with a developmental rationale to explain when to begin the training.
Latency is a time of separating from parents and entering the community, developing peer relationships, acquiring formal learning and becoming a member of the culture. All of these positive developmental steps are not only important in their own right, but are also essential in creating a solid foundation, a reservoir of strength to help weather the psychological upheaval of adolescence which lies just ahead. Parental involvement in the lives of their elementary-aged children will provide an element of stability which will help weather the storminess of adolescence.
Parental Do’s and Don’ts
Stimulating Healthy Sleeping from Birth Onward
Let’s start at the beginning. Promoting healthy sleeping habits in toddlers starts in infancy- at birth to be exact. Infants spend most of their time sleeping. These periods are interrupted by short intervals of calm alertness when the infant’s hunger has been satisfied and he or she is not in discomfort caused by dirty diapers, illness or other causes. These periods of calm and satiation begin to set a tone for the infant’s experience of the world as a safe, gratifying place.
“You’re too young to feed yourself,” said Mother, trying unsuccessfully to be calm, to twenty- month-old Edward. “Let Mommy feed you.” “No, Eddy do it!” said the determined toddler who, holding his spoon in his fist like a weapon, had managed to get most of the cereal out of his bowl and on to his clothes and the floor. When Mother tried to grab the spoon out of his hand, Eddie burst into tears and regressed into a full-blown temper tantrum. Later, when things had calmed down, Mother described her frustration and how much she had enjoyed feeding Eddy before he began to insist on feeding himself several months ago.
Toddlers have a bad reputation when it comes to eating. They have strong likes and dislikes. And they are often very, very messy. What’s a parent to do? Do you make them eat all their vegetables? Do you teach them table manners? In order to answer these questions an understanding of toddler development is necessary.
Character: The Core of Strength Emanating from the Toddler Years: As a result of love and limits, particularly in regard to control of the body and its products, character emerges. Character may be defined as fixed patterns of behavior that provide stability to the personality. The tough, responsible integrity that is found in abundance in every mature adult originates here. Punctuality, conscientiousness and reliability appear as by-products of successful toilet training as well as inclinations to save and collect. In short, what takes place during the toddler years is the far-reaching modification and transformation of the personality which supply the individual with strength and stability.
So armed, with strength and determination our young Samsons and Amazons are prepared to enter the next phase of development where they set their sights on bigger game, namely challenging Mom or Dad for the position of alpha male or female in the family. Their view of the larger world is limited by their mental and physical immaturity, and like dictators the world over, they expect to take by force what cannot be theirs. But, that’s a story for another book.
Internalizing Expectations: The Terrible Twos: The “terrible twos” aren’t really so bad when you understand their developmental purpose. Using the newfound ability to locomote, the toddler ramrods into life. Unfortunately, the equipment is a little out of balance. As Anna Freud put it, the manifestations are expressed directly through destructiveness, messiness, and motor restlessness; and reactively through clinging, inability to separate, whining, and chaotic affective states, including temper tantrums. For all of its severity and pathological appearance, such behavior is short lived. It remains in force while there are no other than motor outlets for the child’s energies and disappears or decreases in intensity as soon as new pathways for expression appear, especially the acquisition of speech.
Why do some toddlers become attached to teddy bears and blankets? These soft, fuzzy objects begin to have a special significance during the second half of the first year of life because they are soft and warm. And they represent aspects of the infant and toddler's relationship to Mother. By becoming attached to a blanket or a teddy bear, the toddler is able, through fantasy, to feel connected to Mom and Dad during periods of separation - even brief ones such as nap and bed times.
The Food Fighting Toddler: The internalized residue from the engagement of the developmental tasks of infancy continues to exert an influence throughout childhood and into the adult years. Many of the basic developmental issues that originated during infancy, such as the direct relationship between mother and food, spill over into the years between one and three. Propelled by locomotion, language and the drive for autonomy and independence, the docile infant disappears, suddenly replaced by that would-be master of the universe, the toddler. Feeding an infant can be dignified and restrained, like a Japanese tea ceremony. By contrast, watching a toddler feed him-or herself is akin to being caught in the crossfire of a food fight in a junior high school cafeteria. Food is accepted or refused with the exclamation “Me do it!” a clamped jaw, turned head, and inevitable messiness.
Sleep Disturbances: Sleep disturbances occur during the toddler years for the same reasons as the developmental disturbances of the toddler. There are several types.
The first type is a related to feelings of abandonment. During the second year of life, children are still vulnerable to separations from primary care givers. Falling asleep means leaving Mom and Dad. In addition, as fears and nightmares begin to appear during the third year of life, the toddler resists going to sleep because of her inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. To the toddler, the tiger in the closet is real!
The Core Gender Identity
Although the proud father doesn’t know it when he brings a ballerina doll or a football to the hospital for his particularly precious newborn, he is contributing to the infant’s core gender identity—the basic, primitive sense of maleness or femaleness that is the foundation on which later sexual attitudes and understanding are built.
The Role of Frustration and Gratification
Feeding: Dining—that is pampered care and excellent food in a delightful setting is the adult equivalent of a gratifying infantile feeding experience. Feeding is one of the most important early interactions that stimulates and organized development. Spitz called the mouth the cradle of perception. Both he and Mahler suggested that the beginning differentiation of self from other as well as the basic attitude toward life—sweet and optimistic or sour and pessimistic—originates in early feeding experiences. The sucking reflex is highly organized at birth allowing the infant to take nourishment and begin to organize experience, to symbolically drink in the outside world. For instance, visual perception begins during nursing as the infant repeatedly gazes at the mother’s face. When mother promptly relieves disorganizing hunger pangs and responses emotionally with tenderness and love, feeding becomes the basis of relatedness and the world is experienced as a congenial place, warm, fuzzy, gratifying—the first experience of fulfillment. Mature adults maintain this basic sense of optimism and gratification which they first experienced at mother’s breast, broadening the base of such experience far beyond, but never exclusive of, that wonderful adult equivalent, dining.
In today’s complex society other family members or caretakers may perform the maternal function of feeding. The important thing is that they stand in for mother with similar feelings of love and affection, providing the infant with the same kind of physical and emotional nourishment that she would provide, as is illustrated by the following example.
Laying at her mother’s breast, half asleep, half aware, perfectly secure in her state of satiated bliss, baby Angela is learning that the world is a safe, gratifying place. She is beginning to experience Erikson’s basic trust, the foundation on which her future experience of fulfillment will be built.
Laying a Firm Foundation
The mansion of maturity rests upon the solid foundation of childhood. During the first decade of life, concrete, brick and lumber are collected and assembled. Then, under the loving, discerning eye of the architect-parents, the building of a structure begins. When the building is complete, the work of these early phases-studding, wiring, and plumbing—is hidden, silently supporting the magnificent house of glittering lights, elegant wallpaper, and draped windows.
Why do infants and toddlers become attached to blankets and teddy bears? The British pediatrician D. O. Winnicott suggested that these soft fuzzies begin to have a special significance during the second half of the first year of life because they come to represent aspects of the relationship to the mother. By choosing to use a transitional object, as Winnicott called them, the toddler feels connected to mother during periods of separation. Transitional phenomena—sounds, words, and songs—may be used for the same purpose.