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Child Development

by Kathi Stringer

I call this my letter of life. It is based on the the science of mind and behavior. At least for the most part this lengthy beginning is the foundation. What follows are the repercussions when certain abuse and neglect enter that are so vivid or graphic that the normal picture of childhood is altered. 

Included are the theories of Bruno Belletheim, Margaret Malher, Fred Pine, Anni Bergman, Ralph Gemelli, Allice Miller, Erik Erikson and Freud among others. It is an assortment of thoughts an attempt to piece together the puzzle of life through the eyes of Kathi. Often I will stop and explain certain theory (also known as a phenomena sense most is without empirical evidence) so that the reader may have greater comprehension. This is intended to reach every member or individual in the aspect of understanding.

Often I wonder what initiates me to succumb or succeed as I engage the mastery of learned events through out this life. We are not born with a worldly (biosychosocial) instruction-set that precedes the intraphychic process of the mind to guild us through lifeís often demanding sociological (social needs) and sociocultural (cultural factors) stimulating undertakings. This phenomena, a challenge to myself as well for the benefit of others, I attempt to explain the vast structuralizations that are formed by tracing the linkings and the elements of the mind.

These structures of conflict contain our insecurities, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, doubts, successes, failures, wishes, fantasies, imagination, insights and experiences. With ambivalence we struggle to sort out our most frightening conclusions in hopes to lead us to happiness or the resolutions, that we seek.

Lets begin...

At birth, the newborn cannot differentiate biological stimulus from a social stimulus. Rather, in our infant state we look to our innate genetic code that alerts the physiological needs such as elimination, food intake, tempters controls and etc. This code, the genesis of who we are is activated as the genotype (the genetic constitution of an individual, in essence, our blueprint of our life). After birth, the genotype intermingles with what is called the phenotype, the visible properties such as personality, that are produced by the interaction of the environment.

The biological birth of an infant is a dramatic event that can be witness with our entitlement of fascination. What remains immature and unhatched is the introduction of the psychological occurrence, the birth of the mind which reverberates throughout the life cycle.

During the first month of life, termed the normal autistic state, the infant is aware only of itís physiological needs as previously described. Then, in the forth coming 4 to 5 months, blossoms the blissful symbiotic dyad of mother and infant. In the interim, of this wonderful state, the infant does not see the mother object apart from itself, or "otherness" but as an extension of itís human existence, a sense of togetherness or a dual unit. The infant sees itís reality as an omnipotent symbiotic orbit in which of course the need for mother is absolute whereas for the mother it is relative. A paradigm illustrating the infants helplessness. 

It should be mentioned that some infants are unable to enter the symbiotic dual unit from the autistic state and therefore remain autistic, unable to differentiate internal from external objects and stimulated by there own internal resources, the aberration from the reality. On the other end of the spectrum, if the infant is unable to leave the semi twilight state of symbiotic common orbit, it is likely that infantile psychoses will be observed.


Narcissism, we need to clarify this word before preceding further. Usually in the normal context of it pop-psychic meaning, it brings up images of self centerness. In the instance of childhood development, its meaning is completely different. It is essential that narcissism exist for the continuing progress of the ascending functions of the developing ego (one of the three mental agencies) and the autonomous self. Narcissism for the infant is function for its development. The need of more input and care for continual growth.

To continue, during the early period of this 4 to 5 month interval of the symbiotic period primary narcissism is at itís peak. This entails that the infant has legitimate narcissistic needs of his own right. The need to be nurtured, cared for, held, soothed, stroked and attended to. While holding the infant, it is to be hoped that when looking into his mothers face, she is mirroring him in such a way that he sees his true self. If not, and the mother has her own agenda projecting it onto the infant, he will conform, not willing to risk losing motherís love and therefore initiate the beginnings of the false-self. This false-self can be manifested throughout the life cycle as a learned behavior from the preverbal phase and remains unconscious.

By the end of the symbiotic phase secondary narcissism is well on it way. The infant, if the mother concedes, she allows herself to be cathected (invested with mental or emotional energy) enabling the infant to supply his needs of his new expanding world.

On our journey through childhood analysis, lets look at the ratificationís of the beginnings false-self for a moment. In the psychodynamics of this preverbal phase (18 to 30 months), it can be retrieved through transference (the projection of past feelings onto the therapist, an abreaction) in psychoanalysis. That is the preverbal past is reexperienced in the therapy session as the mother-infant relationship, through the therapist and the analysand interconnection. Note, this course of action is long term with frequent sessions. In severe cases, to unmasque the false-self and promote the emerging true-self is possible. 

I bring this up to demonstrate significance of relative importance and the responsibility we have to see our children as there true selves and to make every effort not to project our own agenda upon them. Let them grow with love and guidance, respecting there choices.

Epigenetic principle

I should note here that as we go through the developmental phases, we shall see intermittently how each crises affects the developing infant. These stages overlapped and vary accordingly. As each stage progress, it sets the foundation for the next, as stated in the epigenetic principle, anything that grows, has a ground plan. Each part grows within its own time of special ascendancy. In this instance, whereby the the growth of each part affects the variant and related parts. When certain developmental stages are affected, stunted or skipped over, it may have a dramatic effect on the remaining series of positions or stations one above the other.

Staying within the delineation of the epigenetic principle I will continue with the next step of development following the symbiotic phase. According to one author, Margaret Mahler, four sub-phases follow. They are the 1) Differentiation, 2) Practicing, 3) Rapprochement and finally 4) Libidinal Object Constancy. In presenting these critical subphases, I will attempt to clarify the linguistics in layman's terms to grasp the nature, significance, or meaning of the importance of each developmental phase.

Differentiation phase

Due to the infantís growing awareness, developing sensorium (the entire sensory apparatus ) and smeimotor maturity the infant begins to become awakened of is own individuality and separateness. This is evidenced by the pulling away from mother. In the holding pattern in mothers arms, the infant stiffens, moves about as if to have a better look at mother, discovering her as otherness. This is seen as the differentiation phase.

Practicing phase

Around 10 to18 months is the practicing phase, which I view as a critical step in achieving the security of self. The infant has accumulated sufficient locomotor apparatus to set movement into motion. Sliding down her lap, the infant paddles and crawls away from mother exploring his world. As his insecurity sets in, frequently the infant will come back to mother, touching her leg or other such mother-object to sort of re-fuel. It is this refueling, emotionally charging the infant that enables the infant to reinvestigate the surrounds about him with the security of mother close by. It can be observed how the infant perks up when touching back to home base with mother.

This phase is subjected to the current difficulties of mother. If she is preoccupied or absorbed with other siblings and duties, placing her unavailable to the infant for refueling, that emotional security so critical places the infant at risk for the manifestation on insecurities through out the life cycle. 

Other factors also included is the requirement for the infant to be individually ready to separate from mother. If there is a lag in the readiness of the infantís individually and its concomitants (something that accompanies with other requirements), for example, if infant obtains locomotor movement before he is ready to separate from mother, it places a crises on the infant and may fragment the ego (self) instating a panic from the world about him.

Thus far, I have been writing of well endowed infants and their "good enough mothers." What I have not address as of yet is the havoc abuse in the household will reek within such families. I choose for now to continue along the natural course of events in favorable situations. This issue will be addressed later.

Now progressing through to the third subphase: Rapprochement, so termed because through out the practicing phase, the need for dynamic closeness and continuous activity of this high degree had been held in abeyance.

The toddlerís continual awareness of his separateness from mother threatens the once symbiotic relationship as the omnipotent dual unit. This produces at times extreme anxiety, the fear of object loss and the toddler, no matter what defenses or means he resorts to in panic, cannot restore the symbiotic partnership with mother. 

One of the behaviors the toddler resorts to is the shadowing and dart-away patterns to demonstrate the wish for reunion with mother. While darting away holds a two-fold meaning, one, by darting away the toddler hopes to grab the motherís attention that leads her to chase and catch him, and two, the fear of reengulfmemt. With the catch, the toddler delights himself of the reassurance of motherís love. If this tactic fails, within his surroundings the toddler may find his situations more precarious alarming his mother into appropriate action. Splitting During this separation-individualization phase I havenít touched on the emphasis of "splitting." A toddler or infant resorts to this defense mechanism. An epitome of splitting is when the mother disappears from the infantís sight, she is thought to be annihilated. Therefore she has "split" in the instance that one moment she is there, the next, destroyed. As you might imagine, this is upsetting for the infant. The conclusion is black or white without the gray areas. It is only after the next developmental phase of object constancy is achieved that the toddler can feel comfortable with his ambivalence and not rely on splitting. Another example of splitting: A toddler is sitting on his baby-sitter's lap longing for his mother to come home. In the interim, the toddler hates the baby-sitter's, not willing to carry that hate over to mother, the love object. The toddler internalizes two objects, the all good mother and the all bad mother. Protecting the all good mother, his express annoyance or ill will at the baby-sitter's, the all bad object. By keeping the good and bad objects apart the toddler can protect the good object (mother). 

This splitting could and has been carried over to adults. It should also be noted here that borderline personalities often resort to splitting sense they have not attained or have skipped over the next developmental phase which is object constancy. This would explain there erotic emotions and moods swings since they are unable to settle on internal decisions. To them, they can love a person one moment then hate them the next for trivial reasons. Fearing for their sanity, they split their internal self-objects, the all good self and the all bad self. This leads them of an often chaotic and confused life, not to mention the emotional impact it has on others. There is much more to personality disorders that use splitting as defense mechanisms but that is beyond the scope of this letter.


Later, the junior toddler enters into the rapprochement crises. The toddler with his expanding upright locomotor and cognitive maturity is becoming increasingly at odds with mother, not always in agreement. His separateness from her is becoming more obvious sense he is much more capable then 6 months earlier. In crises, as a rapidly increasing individual he becomes more demanding, entering into temper tantrums giving rise to ambivalence and resorting to splitting, unable to cope.

As you might imagine, this poor little fellowís solution to the his distress seems unmet and he is unable to articulate his feelings adequately, giving into frustration. It is in this instance that the parent creates a "holding environment" for the toddler. Bringing into existence an extension of the toddlerís ego (in psychoanalysis, term denoting the central part of the personality structure that deals with reality) onto the parent as a bridge to contain the overflow of the toddlerís unresolved feelings and the state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs.

Around 21 months, rapprochment begins to diminish somewhat and overlap into the next subphase of object constancy. The good and bad objects begin to fuse. The toddler is now enabled, internalizing and accepting the relationships as a whole, no long splitting. This is of course assuming that the previous levels of development have been reached. The toddler is now able to understand the concept of still longing for, without the aspect of hate or rage because mother is unavailable. 

By now the 3 year old toddler is on his way. Object constancy is sufficiently present and his autonomous identity is established. Of course many obstacles lay ahead the may set the toddler back towards regression. A move, new sibling or sickness could contribute to regression.

Compliments of Kathi Stringer
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Kathi's Mental Health Review

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