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.
During the second and third years of life, toddlers make a determined effort toward gaining as much control of their existence and their relationships with their parents as they can. Gone is the placid, compliant infant who happily took to the breast or bottle. The toddler’s determination is not a bad thing. Indeed, it’s very healthy and necessary for normal development. But it is often the bane of a parent’s existence. For a detailed explanation of these years, beyond our present focus on eating, please refer to Guiding Your Toddler’s Development: Eating, Sleeping, Toilet Training, and More at www.calbooks.info.
The Toddler’s Attitudes Toward Food
During the second year of life, toddlers insist on controlling the acts of eating and drinking themselves. Foods are touched and smelled as well as tasted. Some foods are preferred or rejected because of color, texture, temperature and taste and whatever else the toddler has on his or her mind at the moment. Toddlers’ determination to do things on their own and to choose what he or she eats is a very healthy sign of developmental progression and is to be encouraged and facilitated, within the limits of parental tolerance. When you think of it, it’s not so different from what we do as adults. We all continue to have food likes and dislikes, and even somewhat messy ways of eating, particularly when we eat alone. I know you still drink the milk left over in the cereal bowl from the bowl itself when no one is around to observe.
Eating should never be a battleground between parent and child. Parents should encourage the joyful exploration of food with all the senses as well as the active manipulation of foodstuffs and the acts of eating and drinking. I love pictures of messy toddlers joyfully eating. We should all be able to enjoy eating that much. After all, it is life’s second greatest pleasure.
Setting the Toddler’s Table
Provide a variety of food and drink. Allow the toddler to choose what to eat and how much to eat. Always allow the toddler to get out of the high chair after a reasonable amount of time. As previously stated, eating should never be a battleground between parent and toddler. Remember that the goal is to make eating a happy and satisfying experience that can be enjoyed, without conflict or difficulty, throughout life.
Put the high chair somewhere in the kitchen where the tile or linoleum floor can be easily cleaned up. If a holiday meal is to be eaten in the dining room, either feed the toddler in the kitchen first, or put a large tarp under the toddler’s place. Don’t worry about cleaning his or her hands, face, the high chair tray or the floor, until after the meal is finished. DO NOT criticize the toddler for failing to eat some or all of the food placed on the try or for squashing, squeezing, smearing or throwing food. Remember how much fun it was to get dirty as a kid? Such a parental attitude of non-criticism and genuine acceptance facilitates the development of a healthy attitude toward food throughout life.
Examples of What Not to Do
The following examples are illustrations of parental lack of understanding of toddler development and a well-intended, but developmentally inhibiting, need to remain in control of the toddler in a manner that was necessary during infancy. Gradually giving up control of a child’s habits and behavior is a painful parental process that continues throughout childhood and adolescence. After investing so much time, energy and love into the care of an infant, it hurts to have the toddler begin to usurp control of eating, particularly since they do such a messy job of it.
A relative called Child Protective Services after watching the mother of an eighteen-month-old scream and slap her daughter across the face because she refused to finish what was on her plate. Obviously, this is a pathological example.
Sarah was determined that two-year-old Sam would learn to like peas. She had to do eat her peas when she was young. When Sam refused to open his mouth for the spoonful of peas that Mother was holding in front of him, Mother insisted that he was being a bad boy. When she did succeed in getting the peas into his mouth, Sam cried and spit them out all over the high chair and Mother’s dress.
All fifteen-month-old Karen wanted to eat was milk, sugar-coated cereal and bananas. Mother felt that Karen needed a balanced diet or she would become ill. She became increasingly frustrated when all attempts to get Karen to eat “more nutritious” foods failed. Mealtime became a source of anxiety for both Karen and Mother, and both usually ended up crying. No toddler has ever starved to death because of a refusal to eat certain foods.
Father: “John, you’re going to sit there until you finish everything on your plate. I don’t care how long it takes.”
One hour later, two-and-one-half-year-old John was still in his high chair dawdling with his food. He clearly had no intention of eating his dinner.
Father: (in disgust) You’re a bad boy. I’m not happy with you. No TV tonight. You’re going to bed.”
“Barbara,” said Mother, “you’re old enough now to learn some table manners.” Barbara had insisted that she sit at the table with the family in a booster chair instead of her high chair. Just two-and-three-quarters-years-old, she was almost as messy at the table as she had been in the high chair, and Mother was frustrated by the need to clean up the food that fell on the floor and the milk which was spilled on the table cloth. “If you don’t do a better job of using your fork and spoon, you’re going back into the high chair.” “Mommy, you’re mean. I’m trying to be good.” Barbara’s desire to be grown up and sit with the rest of the family at meals was a major developmental step forward and a source of self-esteem. It should have been encouraged without recrimination. Barbara was trying hard to copy her older siblings use of silverware and would eventually succeed with a little bit of encouragement. Furthermore, there would be plenty of time to teach table manners before Barbara began eating at her friends’ homes and becoming a reflection of how good a mother Mommy was.
Examples of Things to Do and Say
Remember at all times that your goal is to make eating a pleasurable experience which both nourishes the body and stimulates pleasant social interaction with other human beings, both within and outside of the family. The foundation for these life-long goals is laid down in infancy and during the toddler years. Provide a calm, accepting atmosphere in which the toddler can experiment with food and control the eating process without fear of criticism or concerns about parental disapproval because of food preferences, messiness and a lack of table manners.
Mom: “Sally, here’s some carrots and peas. You like carrots, don’t you?
Sally: “No, Sally want French fries.”
Mom: “But French fries aren’t as good for you as carrots.”
Sally: (with determination) “I want French fries.”
Mom: “Ok, here are some French fries. I’ll just leave the carrots and peas on the tray for you to try if you want to.”
Mom walked across the kitchen and continued preparing dinner for the family.
Sally didn’t eat the carrots and peas that day, but she did later when Mom used the same approach.
When the doorbell rang, Mother left twenty-month-old Bob in his high chair while she answered the door. When she returned to the kitchen, Bob had mashed potatoes all over the tray, his face and clothes.
Mother: (with a smile) “You really enjoyed those mashed potatoes, didn’t you?”
Bob: “Mommy, I want more.”
Mother: “Ok, but let me clean you up a bit first. This time let’s not throw the mashed potatoes on the floor.”
Bob: “I made a mess!”
Mother: “Yes you did. Here’s some more. Use your spoon and enjoy them.”
Alan: Addressing his father at the dinner table—“Daddy, I eat what you eat?”
Daddy: “Sure my big boy. This is spinach, you never tried it before.”
Alan: “Oh, yuck!” He pushed the spinach off his plate and on to the high chair tray.
Daddy: “That’s OK. You can try it again when you want to.”
On a warm summer night Dad took two-year-old Benjamin out for ice cream. By the time Ben had finished with his cone chocolate was all over his hands and face. Having prepared himself for such an inevitability, Dad took the wipes he had with him and happily cleaned up ben’s hands and face. “Daddy, more ice cream?” said Ben? “Not tonight Ben, I think you’ve had enough, but we’ll get more soon.”
“Mommy, I’m hungry,” said three-year-old Sarah. Can I have some cookies?” Mother: “Honey, it’s nearly four o-clock we’re going to eat in another hour or so.” Sarah: “But I want a cookie now!”
Mother: “I’ll tell you what we’ll do, here’s your cookie and some of that good cheese that you like so much but let’s just eat a little bit of both now; and remember Mommy made your favorite – meatloaf - for dinner.”
Every parent wants their child to be healthy and grow up to be happy and secure individuals. The toddler years help lay the foundation on which future happiness and security are built. These years are sometimes difficult ones because what seems to the parent to be in the child’s self interest, such as eating a balanced diet, conflicts with the toddler’s determination to eat what he or she wants to eat and in a manner which is often messy and even sometimes unsanitary. Remember that the goal of all parent interventions during these years is to keep the toddler safe, since he or she has no genuine sense of danger, and to allow for initiative, curiosity, and self-determination, all under the watchful eyes and mature judgment of loving adults.
You will get angry. You will want to force your toddler to eat what you think is best for him or her. You will feel provoked. You will clean a lot of high chair trays and floors. But do remember that these wonderful years are gone in the blink of an eye and that marvelous creature who enthralled you, wore you out and frustrated you endlessly will disappear before your very eyes to be replaced by an equally fascinating preschooler who will provide new sources of joy—and frustration.
If You Want to Learn More
There are many resources available to those parents who want to learn more about this fascinating age. Here are just a few for you to consider.
Guiding Your Toddler’s Development; Eating, Sleeping, Toilet Training, and More by Calvin Colarusso M.D.
What’s on Your Toddler’s Mind: A Roadmap to Toddler Thinking and Behavior by Calvin Colarusso MD.
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Bruno Bettelheim, Thames and Hudson, London 1976.
Child and Adult Development by Calvin A. Colarusso M.D., Plenum Press, New York, 1992.
Childhood and Society, 2nd Edition. Erik Erikson W. W. Norton, New York 1963
The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant. Margaret Mahler et al. Basic Books, New York, 1973
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.
Thus, for a brief interval there is a natural imbalance between the powerful, maturing body, exploding with new potential, and the limited ability of the mind to contain and channel newly emergent feelings and functions. Once that untamed energy is harnessed by the appearance of language, which replaces action with words, the imbalance is redressed. This will not be the last time we will encounter such unevenness. 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.
From Wetting and Soiling to Bowel and bladder Control: A Giant Step toward Maturity: The immediate goal of the toilet training process is the consistent deposit of urine and feces in the toilet. However, the long-term effect is to put in place flexible, adaptive mental attitudes about the body and its products that last a lifetime. Spanning the first four developmental phases, the developmental line from wetting and soiling to bowel and bladder control results in nothing less than personality growth and transformation.
The complete freedom to wet and soil lasts until the parents decide it’s time to do otherwise. Usually around age two, the child is ready physically and psychologically for the next step, the toilet training process itself. Often tested by stubborn resistance and refusal, parents attempt to contain their frustration and mediate sympathetically between the environmental demands for cleanliness and the child’s desire to wet or soil without restraint. When parents are clear, consistent, and kind about their expectations—sometimes after weeks or months of wet beds, soiled pants and crossed legs—as soon as parent and child are out of range of a toilet, a significant change begins to occur.
Gradually the child accepts and takes over the environment’s attitudes toward cleanliness and through identification makes them an integral part of the personality. What was outside now is inside. Pleasure in or indifference to being dirty is replaced by a desire to be clean. The child’s mind is stronger, more capable of complying with the standards of cleanliness and behavior demanded as the price for entering society.
But the story doesn’t end here. That occurs sometime during the elementary school years when bowel and bladder control lapses no longer occur, even in times of stress, and the use of the toilet is completely disconnected from parental knowledge, dictates, or support. In the physically and psychologically healthy individual, this state continues throughout adulthood, becoming one facet of the comfortable competence in regard to the control of body and mind that characterizes maturity.
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.
Toddlers may also use sounds, words, songs, and other verbal expressions closely associated with mother or father for the same purpose of staying connected. Teddy bears and blankets are used by both sexes in the same manner. However, not all children become attached to a soft, fuzzy object. The absence of a blanket or teddy bear is not a sign of pathology.
Famous and Infamous Blankets
The most famous transitional object in existence is Linus's blanket (from the comic strip Peanuts).Charles Schultz knew what he was talking about. However, the distinction of possessing the most infamous blanket in the world may belong to the child of a colleague of mine whom I shall call Laura. Laura is now a grown woman and a highly esteemed professional. When she was 4 years and 7 months old, I received a frantic call from her mother seeking advice. Laura's blanket was gone!
The following story emerged. Laura had been deeply attached to her blanket from the age of 1, refusing to venture anywhere without it. As time passed, Mother found it necessary to occasionally wash the blanket, which had become tattered, dirty, and smelly. On such occasions, Laura would stand under her blanket, looking longingly at it, tantalizingly out of reach, while it hung on the clothesline to dry. The immediate crisis was precipitated by the fact that the blanket, reduced to a rag by years of constant use, had gone into the washing machine and failed to emerge!
Laura ultimately survived the loss of her blanket and went on to become a lawyer. But her parents could have saved her and themselves considerable anxiety and distress if they had helped Laura give up her blanket when it was no longer necessary developmentally. Just as sucking on the breast or bottle does not further the developmental process as the second year of life progresses, neither does strong attachment to a transitional object after a sense of independence has been achieved.
Like weaning from the bottle, if the child has not given up the transitional object on his or her own as the fourth year of life progresses, the parents should structure an active weaning process from it. Since the child of 3 or 4 years has the capacity for language, words, as well as limits may be employed. After explaining that the child can learn to be comfortable without the transitional object, and therefore feel more grown up, a gradual process of withdrawal is initiated. For example, the treasure may first be restricted to the house, then the bedroom, next to the bed at bedtime, and finally to a drawer or shelf where it remains on a permanent basis, ready to be rediscovered many years later as a remnant of a distant past, the pain associated with its loss forgotten.
Here’s how to help your child make that transition: “Nancy, Dad and I think it’s time for you to put your blanket away. I know you love it, but big girls don’t use blankets. And we know you want to be a big girl. How about if we leave it in your room during the day. But it will be there for you at nap time and when you go to bed.”
Resistance to this restriction should be expected. But remaining firm will allow this important developmental process to go forward. After a few weeks, similar comments can be made as the blanket is restricted gradually until, as described above, it is laid on a shelf in the bedroom, to be rediscovered years later as a remnant of the distant past.
See Guiding Your Toddler's Development
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.
Strong food preferences appear overnight, associated with texture, temperature, and taste. Parents who understand will take heart and endure, recognizing that dirty floors, messy faces, and sticky fingers are the price to be paid for joyous eating. Today’s gourmand is tomorrow’s gourmet.
Adolescent Food Fads: In adolescence food fads, inconsistent attitudes toward eating and the rejection of favorite family recipes and togetherness at mealtime are all reflections of the tumultuous intra-psychic reshuffling that accompanies physical maturity and the breaking of childhood attachments to the parents.
Adults Eat for Nourishment and Pleasure: A balanced diet maintains body integrity. Sharing food with friends and loves ones continues to be an intimate experience, resonating with the bio-psychological rapport that existed between mother and child in the dawn of life. The mature adult effortlessly meshes past attitudes and current realities about food, transforming eating into a non-conflictual, highly pleasurable experience.
The importance of a healthy, solid beginning in life to is not lost on the mental health professional who knows from experience that the sickest patients usually have had very chaotic and troubled childhoods. Conversely, healthy individuals were usually blessed with physical health and strong environmental support during their early years. The seeds of maturity are planted in the rich, nourishing soil of a healthy infancy. In early childhood those seeds begin to sprout.
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!
“Zack, it’s time for bed now. That was a great bedtime story, wasn’t it? I want you to stay in bed tonight and not ask for drinks like you did last night. Mom and Dad will be in the living room. We’ll check on you before we go to bed.”
The second type of sleep disturbance is related to the emergence of new abilities. Toddlers do not want to give up the pleasure of practicing these new- found skills. As always, the solution is mature adult judgment and consistent firmness.
The situation may be managed as follows. A regular bedtime should be established during the first year of life. As the second year progresses, the routine leading up to bedtime may be expanded to include a small snack, a bath, and a few quiet minutes with Mom or Dad reading from a favorite book. This shifts the focus from intense motor activity to a calm mental activity. Despite the intentional “winding down,” the “moment of truth” arrives as the parent says good night, turns off the light, and leaves the bedroom. Screams of protest inevitably follow, if only for a few seconds or minutes.
Predictable requests for a drink of water or another story should be gently, but consistently, refused. If this limit is enforced calmly, but firmly and, day after day, the toddler will gradually her her parents’ expectations. And a peaceful bedtime routine will be established.
The third type of sleep disturbance is related to the developing capacity to control impulses and internalize parental demands and restrictions, while at the same time fearing loss of control of those recently-mastered urges. As the toddler regresses and starts to fall asleep, his still- tenuous ability to control impulses, as well as his newly- acquired physical capabilities (bowel and bladder control) diminish. The toddler experiences as a threat to her inner sense of calmness and stability.
Nearly all children will attempt to sleep in the parents’ bed instead of their own. They can be quite ingenious in their efforts to persuade Mom and Dad. However, when parents take infants into their bed on a regular basis, they create an expectation which may be very difficult to change in the second or third year of life. Sleeping with parents can make the separation-individuation process more difficult for the toddler. And it undoubtedly puts a monkey wrench in their parents’ sex lives.
When should children sleep in their own bed? Always.
At two o’clock in the morning Isabel enters her parents’ bedroom. “Isabel, what are you doing in here? OK, I’ll take you to the bathroom. But then you have to go back to your own bed. You know that this is Mommy and Daddy’s bed. You have a great room of your own.”
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.
According to psychiatric researcher Robert Stoller, this complex phenomenon results from a confluence of biological, environmental and psychological factors and attitudes. In utero, a mixture of female and male hormones bathe the brain and determine the appearance of the external sex organs. At the moment of birth, all eyes are riveted on the genital area, ready to exclaim, “It’s a boy!” or It’s a girl!”
Instantly, powerful conscious and unconscious forces are set in motion in the primary caretakers that cause them to continually bombard the infant with the message “You are a girl.” or “you are a boy.” Under normal circumstances, this process continues into the second year of life, resulting by eighteen months in a deeply engraved, unalterable sense of maleness or femaleness. The first step toward adult sexuality has been taken.
The Young Child’s Understanding of Sexuality: Later, as the five year old builds his or her theory of sexuality on oral timbers, the resulting architecture is strange and faulty by adult standards. Mommies get pregnant by swallowing seeds. Babies grow in the “tummy” and come out through the belly button or anus. Adults who attempt to counter these misconceptions with the truth run into the stone wall of intellectual and physical immaturity; the young child lives in a world of misconceptions and half truths. Only as mind and body mature, do the secrets of adult love and intimacy become clear.
My patient, five-year-old Stan, brought a packet of seeds into the office one day and asked if we could put them into a flowerpot that already had a plant in it. “Sure” I said. As he planted, I asked Stan about his sudden interest in gardening. He explained that he had asked his Father where babies came from and he was making a baby of his own. “Oh, I see” I said.
At the next parent conference, I asked his Dad what he had told Stan about where babies came from. In an attempt to be clear and straight forward, but misunderstanding Stan’s ability to comprehend, Dad had told him, with considerable stumbling around for words, that the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina and plants a seed.
The explanation was clearly beyond Stan’s ability to comprehend, but he did get the idea of planting a seed and was intent in being able to do the same thing that his father could. A less anatomical explanation might have satisfied Stan’s curiosity and made Dad more comfortable. No harm done. Stan would learn the true fact of life, and undoubtedly many misconceptions, soon enough from, as columnist Art Buchwald put it, “his gutter snipe friends.”
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.
Satisfaction of hunger is the first experience of instinctual gratification in a child’s life. Because of the demands of a hungry belly are so urgent and cannot be controlled by the limited mental structures that exist in early infancy, mother limits the degree of pain and frustration that her baby experiences by feeding on demand. But no matter how responsive mother may be, baby Angela will inevitably experience nagging pangs of hunger and direct rushes of rage at her imperfect provider who does not always respond instantly on cue. Consequently, it is not the presence or absence of frustration that determines the long-term effect on development; it is the pattern of parental response leading to either rapid satisfaction or repeated delays.
Breast feeding is nature’s way of promoting normal growth and development, providing instant milk shakes of just the right temperature and texture and ensuring mother’s emotional involvement, magnetically drawn to her offspring by the pleasurable relief of emptying breasts and the hypnotic power of those dramatic eyes, which demand a response.
All of these built-in growth-promoting aspects of breast feeding can be matched by bottle feeding if loving parents understand the critical emotional components involved. But the possibilities for benign neglect are multiplied since TV programs, microwaves, and other demanding humans may drain away the intensity of the parent-infant interaction, resulting in propped bottles and vacant stares.
A physically and emotionally well-nourished baby is a happy baby, learning to churn the milk of human kindness into an enduring sense of self-love and self-esteem.
Weaning: Toward the end of the first year of life, mother, assisted by Mother Nature, will gently nudge baby Angela to give up her tenacious attachment to the breast or bottle. The urging may not be so gentle since Angel’s soft gums are now populated with razor sharp teeth. The combination of biting and the return of the menstrual cycle disrupts the nursing dyad and pushes both mother and child in new developmental directions. The rapturous closeness of infancy is gone, never to return, a victim of the infant’s overwhelming urge to break the symbiotic bond the explore the ever-expanding world—and mother’s desire to get on with her life.
Weaning stimulates developmental progression because it pushes the toddler toward the next set of developmental challenges. Diminished dependency on mother facilitates the separation-individuation process and increases the ability of the child to tolerate frustration and control impulses, all-important first steps on the long road to maturity.
Some parents, often because of unconscious conflicts with their aggression, finesse weaning. “He’ll give up the bottle when he’s ready,” they say. “What’s the rush?” As a child psychiatrist, looking through the famous retrospectoscope, used when evaluating an immature five-year-old who is having difficulty adjusting to nursery school or kindergarten, the answer to “What’s the rush?” is: failure to wean Johnny is usually the beginning of a pattern of difficulty in actively presenting the child with appropriate developmental challenges. Johnny is not doing well in kindergarten because he wasn’t actively weaned, or toilet trained, or limited during his “terrible two’s.” He tends to be whiny, regressed, demanding, unable to comfortably leave mother and prone to temper tantrums. He has not been able to develop internal control of his feelings and actions that are demanded by the harsh, cruel world outside of the overindulgent cocoon of the nuclear family. Now he must play catch-up, shoring up the weak timbers that are the foundation on which his future development rests.
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.
Early infancy is a time of psychological mystery, shadowy bits and hidden images in the nonverbal mist. Because infants cannot speak, we can only guess about when they begin to think or what they know. The subject has been the cause of great controversy for decades, and still is. However, most experts agree that the ability to understand words begins to develop during the second half of the first year of life and the ability to speak begins at about one year of age. Both are reflections of the appearance of that quintessential human capacity, the ability to think. Then, like a rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral, the course of human thought and speech is straight up, reaching ever-increasing heavenly heights of nuance, sophistication, and complexity throughout the remainder of life. Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” I would add, “I think, therefore I can explore the deepest recesses of my inner being and the world of which I am a part.”
In infancy and early childhood, the external evidence of the emergence of this grandest of human capacities—thinking—is the occurrence of single words at approximately one year of age and short sentences by age two.
The Emergence of the Self:
When Do I Know I Am Me?
When does the human infant become aware of whom he or she is, develop a sense of self, and perceive where he or she ends and others begin? The answers are contained in the large and rapidly expanding body of knowledge about the differentiation of self from others. Like most other developmental concepts about infancy, the theory postulates a gradually increasing ability which culminates in a well-established sense of self by age three.
The intra-psychic process is illustrated most clearly by the work of two psychiatric theoreticians of infancy, Rene Spitz and Margaret Mahler, whose theories are outlined below.
Psychic Organizers Separation-Individuation Theory
Smile Response (0-3 months) Pseudoautistic Subphase (0-3 months)
Stranger Anxiety (8 months) Symbiotic Subphase (3-12 months)
Negativism (18 months) Separation-Individuation Subphase
Self Constancy (by 3 years)
Spitz’s Psychic Organizers
Let us begin with a consideration of Spitz’s theory because his work prededed and influenced Mahler’s. Spitz used the term psychic organizer to explain the importance of the smile response, stranger anxiety and negativism. He borrowed the term from embryology, where it is used to describe a set of agents and regulating elements that direct subsequent change. Before the emergence of the organizer, transplanted cells assume the structure and function of the organ into which they are placed. After the emergence of the organizer, they retain the structure and function of the tissue from which they came and can no longer be changed. In an analogous way, the three psychic organizers are indicators that a new, irreversible level of psychic organization and complexity has been reached that pushes mental development forward.
The Smile Response: Normal infants smile by four to eight weeks of age, lighting up their parents’ eyes and producing a similar response of even greater magnitude. But what does it mean? Is it a response to a gas pain, as some relatives are sure to suggest, or a thank you for changing that dirty diaper? In his research, Spitz discovered that the infant is responding, as other human infants have for thousands of years, to a gestalt—not to a person but to an outline of the forehead, eyes, and nose seen straight on, and in motion. Since cardboard “faces” would elicit a smile, Spitz concluded that the infant was not yet capable of responding exclusively to another human being. But the first smile did indicate that profoundly important mental processes were beginning to appear—differentiation of the inner world from the outer world, reality from fantasy, past from present, and self from other. The absence of a smile response by three months of age usually indicates a major abnormality in the central nervous system.
Stranger Anxiety: Nearly everyone is familiar with what is known as eight-month or stranger anxiety. Dear Aunt Martha travels across three states for her first visit with eight-month-old Johnny, the firstborn of her very favorite niece. Rushing into the house, she sweeps him up in her arms, smothering him with kisses only to be rudely disappointed when Johnny pulls away and begins to bawl. Turning to her embarrassed niece, she whimpers pathetically, “Oh, he doesn’t like me!”
Not necessarily, Aunt Martha: he doesn’t know you. Johnny is displaying a newly emergent capacity that indicates a quantum leap forward in his development, namely, the ability to distinguish one human being from another, to separate the familiar from the unfamiliar. In a few short months he has progressed from indiscriminate smiling in response to any face to the ability to relate to specific individuals. He is becoming a social being, human in the truest sense of that word.
Negativism: To parents and grandparents who love to hold and cuddle infants, the second year of life is a bittersweet time. Gone is the passive creature who molded to your chest and arms, content to be hugged for hours on end, replaced by an ever-exploding bundle of energy who wants to be free to crawl, walk, run and explore. The toddler is on board. And as Susie plows into life, her increasingly weary and frustrated parents frantically try to follow. Like Sherman marching through Georgia, she is capable of destroying everything in her path. But unlike Sherman, Susie is in great danger herself since she has no judgment, understanding of cause and effect, or sense of danger.
These newly emergent abilities to walk, climb, and explore dramatically change the bucolic relationship between parent and infant that existed during the first six months of life to one of contention and confrontation. Increasingly parents are forced to curb the toddler’s initiative out of concerns for safety. Increasingly they must say “No!” shaking their heads from side to side.
In the healthy toddler these prohibitions cause great frustration, which is not readily tolerated. Caught in monumental conflict between the need for physical and emotional closeness and the undeniable drive for autonomy and independence, Susie solves the dilemma by developing a new defense mechanism, identification with the aggressor. By using the disciplinarian’s word and gesture, she remains identified with her parents, feels stronger, and is still free to attack the world. Once this mechanism is established, the stubbornness of the second and third years of life begins in earnest and Spitz’s third organizer is in place. Putting words into Susie’s mouth that she does not yet possess her “No!” eloquently says, “Watch out world, here I come, ready or not. I’m going to have it all and don’t try to stop me. I have arrived.”
Some parents are insulted and enraged by the toddler’s negativism and respond with hostility and insults, squashing initiative and self-esteem. Mature parents accept, even enjoy, their toddler’s challenge, recognizing within it the healthy roots of self-confidence, curiosity, and autonomy. They protect the toddler from their frustration and his or her transparent vulnerability by not responding with anger and by guarding the toddler’s physical safety.
The educator and psychoanalyst, Eric Erikson, described the toddler’s dilemma at this point in life as autonomy versus shame and doubt. Physical maturation pushes the toddler to experiment with two sets of action and reaction, holding on and letting go. Because he or she has little ability to discriminate or control these new expressions of assertion and aggression, the environment must provide a supportive, benevolent firmness. If this support on the part of parents is lacking, Erikson suggests that the results may be dire. If the gradual and well-guided experience of the autonomy of free choice is weakened or denied the child will turn against himself or herself the urges to discriminate and manipulate and develop a precocious conscience. The result will be the emergence of shame and doubt, emotions that smother the child’s drive for autonomy. Once in place, these attitudes squelch the developmental course by interfering with the comfortable engagement of the development tasks of each subsequent stage, right into adulthood. Forks in the developmental road leading to very different outcomes are encountered early in life, before one is able to navigate. A benign, loving, backseat drive is indispensable at such junctures.
Mahler’s Separation-Individuation Theory
Mahler asked the following question. How are human beings born psychologically? How do they come to understand the concepts I and You, Self and Other? Her research suggested that these capacities develop gradually during the first three years of life, springing from the rich, nurturing soil of the mother-child dyad. As we saw in the table on page 7, she divided her theory into three sub-stages.
Autistic and Symbiotic Sub-stages: During the earliest months of life, the infant appears to be autistic, out of touch with reality. Although the infant is actually quite responsive to the world in a reflexive way, Mahler used the term to describe the relatively undeveloped state of higher mental functions at the time of birth and shortly after. Exquisitely attuned to respond to her infant’s needs by the genetic wisdom passed down to her by millions of predecessors, mother provides what her child needs—nourishment, stimulation, and protection. She becomes in Mahler’s words, the external executive ego, the child’s interpreter of the world.
As the early months of life melt into one another, through thousands of repetitions of prompt relief of frustration, repeated gratification of needs and stimulation, the infant gradually becomes aware of a figure who satisfies needs. But not yet able to differentiate self from other, he or she behaves as through infant and mother were an “omnipotent system”, a dual entity, cozily co-existing within a common boundary or membrane, hence the term symbiotic.
Picking up each other’s signals, mother and infant amplify each other’s needs. Securely wrapped in the symbiotic blanket, the infant comes to feel that living is a safe and gratifying experience, feeling what Erikson called “basic trust”. But when the time is right, fully nourished and prepared for metamorphosis, the infant, just like the caterpillar, emerges from the cocoon, sheds the protective skin of the symbiotic partner, and radiates the perpetuating glow of selfhood. In Mahler’s terms, he or she has begun to separate and individuate.
The relationship between infant and parents is by no means one-sided. As they minister to their creation, both parents are lifted to a new level of fulfillment and awareness. They share a depth of intimacy with each other and their child hitherto unknown. And as their child moves from developmental phase to developmental phase they are stimulated to rework, to master, infantile and childhood experience. Parenthood is a royal path to maturity providing travelers with a panoramic view of the beginnings of life and a retrospective of their own.
Separation-Individuation Sub-phase: Locomotion has a great catalyzing influence on human development. As he or she first crawls, then walks and finally runs away from mother, the toddler snaps the symbiotic cord between them and begins to experience the joy—and terror!—of separation and individuation. Indeed, psychological separation from the symbiotic partner is as inevitable as biological birth, both processes having been programmed into each individual by genetic imperatives. The fact that speech and language develop simultaneously is not by chance. Increasingly separated from the source of all comfort, the toddler develops the powerful communicative instrument, language, to leap across the ever-widening void to mother.
When parental acceptance of the toddler’s determination to leave the nest is present, the toddler is at the “peak of elation,” free to explore the world, encounter the twin imposters of victory and defeat, and return to the un-ambivalent acceptance of the parental embrace. Consistent parental presence ensures that the toddler will use this emotional recoupling only as a brief pit stop. Once the gas tanks are filled and the battery recharged, he or she roars away again eager to reengage with fascination and awe the ever-expanding universe.
Joan and her two-year-old, Linda, had been part of a play group for several months. At first Linda was quite clingy to her mother, but gradually she began to become absorbed in play and checked less on her mother’s location. One day, after wandering further away than usual, she looked up, couldn’t find her mother immediately and burst into tears. After Joan rushed over to her with reassurance and a big smile, Linda calmed down and continued playing, albeit with very frequent glances to be sure mother was still there.
Object Constancy: Captured Forever: By approximately age three, the separation-individuation process culminates in the emergence of a capacity that is at the core of all human interaction for the remainder of life. Called object constancy by Mahler, the term refers to the ability to maintain mental images and memories of others for extended periods of time in their absence. So equipped, the young child is capable of providing himself or herself with emotional sustenance and relatedness. Those who provide definition and meaning to life are captured intrapsychically where they can be loved, hated, and manipulated through fantasy.
Frequent references to them and their activities at home were clear indications to the preschool staff that three-year-old Roberta brought her mother, father, and brother with her to preschool. Their intra-psychic presence sustained her during school hours and colored her interaction with others.
In the preschool years the ability to maintain this newly emergent capacity is tenuous, jeopardized by prolonged separation that can produce anxiety and regression. As childhood and adolescence progress, this danger diminishes because the function becomes fully autonomous, no longer dependent upon external sources of support. In adults the ability to maintain images of figures from the past is almost unlimited.
Consider the following example from a thirty-year class reunion. John hadn’t attended any of the earlier reunions. He had moved far away from his hometown and was hesitant to attend earlier reunions because he hadn’t been particularly successful in his career or personal life. Things were looking up as the thirtieth approached, so he decided to go. Secretly he was hoping to see his high school girl friend about whom he had dreamed many times. She was blond and shapely. He relived many fond memories of their “making out” in his car at Summit Point. With great anticipation, he walked in the door. He didn’t see her anywhere. After a few moments an overweight woman that he didn’t recognize ran up to John and gave him a big hug and a kiss that was more than perfunctory. “I’ve missed you a lot John” she whispered. John was so taken back that he stammered, “Who are you.” Crestfallen, she replied, “It’s me, June. Don’t you recognize me?” Obviously John didn’t. The image that he had kept safely guarded in his mind for the last thirty years was of the beautiful young woman who had been his girl friend. His failure to recognize that she had changed and her disappointment that he didn’t recognize her didn’t make the chances of a drive to Summit Point very promising.
The situation for John would have been different if he had been seeing June periodically over the years. Then he would have updated his internal image of her and escaped the embarrassment he experienced at the reunion. Object constancy is the bedrock on which all adult relationships exist. Those who possess this ability are bonded together forever with those they know and love. Seriously disturbed individuals who never developed the capacity for object constancy, or lost it due to mental illness, live in a barren, internal hell; their mental representations of others resemble torn photographs or puzzles with the most important pieces missing.
Self Constancy is the complement to object constancy. By the middle of the second year of life, toddlers begin to think of themselves as semi-separate beings, often referred to in the third person. By about age two the word “I” begins to creep into the vocabulary, reflecting a growing sense of individuation. As the toddler is transformed into a young child, the sense of self becomes firmly entrenched and unshakable. Self-Constancy has been established. Then, as individuals travel along the developmental path, experiencing what life has to offer, their sense of self is elaborated and embellished, reflecting both who they were and who they are becoming.
Now the stage is set, the characters identified, the drama of human interaction about to begin. In an oversimplified way, maturity may be defined as the detailed awareness of self and other gained on the journey from childhood and adolescence to adulthood.
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.
Probably the most famous transitional object in the world is Linus’s blanket from the comic strip Peanuts. His fanatical attachment to his blanket illustrates a common problem faced by parents and clinicians. As one parent put it, “How do I get her to give up the damn thing? It’s ugly and it smells, but she thinks it’s the cat’s meow.”
Julie was three. She was still deeply attached to her blanket and carried it everywhere, even to the market and the mall, when she went shopping with mother. Julie was about to start pre-school, and mother was embarrassed at the prospect of her daughter marching into preschool with her blanket. She wouldn’t have been the first child to do so, but mother was on the right track when she asked me for help. How to I get her to give it up. The answer I gave her was “gradually” after I pointed out that the problem was really the mother’s, since she had hesitated to set an appropriate limit. She hadn’t come to me with concerns about toilet training. But as I took a developmental history, it was clear that there had been no consistent attempt to toilet train Julie, either.
Back to the blanket. I suggested that mother gradually set limits on the use of the blanket. First restrict its use to the home. After a few temper tantrums as they left the house Julie calmed down and within two weeks became comfortable leaving “George” as she called her blanket for some reason unknown to mother. Next the use of the blanket was limited to nap time and bedtime. This second step occurred more easily than the first. A few weeks later mother was instructed to tell Julie that she was a big girl who had learned to be without her blanket most of the time. She could do the same at nap time as well and she would feel “sooo" big.
A few weeks later, to mother’s complete surprise, Julie told mother that she didn’t want to go to bed with her blanket either. But, she asked, could George sleep with her Barbie in a chair across the room. The sexual implications of George sleeping with Barbie rather than Ken were not explored. After several months of the affair Julie seemed to be totally uninterested in her blanket, and with her agreement, Mom placed it on a shelf in the closet, there to be rediscovered years later, hopefully with fond memories.
As adults we continue a clandestine relationship with things that signify a special degree of closeness and warmth. A favorite sweater or scarf, silk sheets and flannel pajamas, even an irreplaceable jogging suit or a sweat-stained tennis cap—all may be the key to reopening a pathway to a soothing, nurtured past. More ethereal stimuli such as music may also invoke the same feelings.
A man of forty was puzzled by his deep love of a particular Chopin etude. When I asked when he first heard it, he immediately told me, eyes, shining, about the first concert he ever attended with his mother, at age eight. The red velvet seat cushion was warm and fuzzy against his bare, short-panted legs. Once we connected his love of the etude with his memory of the concert experience with his mother, whenever he heard that etude he remembered his mother’s smile as she watched him transported by the music and felt a deep sense of maternal love and closeness.