The Magical Child Papers - Part 2

Infancy, the ‘In-Arms’ Period

re-told by Daniel Kolos

“We are born without speech and we spend at least one year of our
lives in pure experience.  We are part of the concrete world and we
interact with it.”

In a pre-verbal child, like in any newborn mammal, sensual interaction forms the basis of security. In human terms, a mother’s touch results in feeling good.  Initially, when a goat or a cat licks her newborn, this action not only cleans the uterine coating, but it also 'awakens' the brain to the being's sensory nerve endings.  Any noises made at the first hour of life, whether by humans or animals, are 'feel-good' noises.  If a human mother only murmurs nonsense to her baby, the results will still be the best the child needs.  It is the tone and quality of the voice that provides a sense of safe place for the child.

Stimulating the newborn’s senses, therefore, produce a sense of security for the child. The newborn child needs this sense of security in order to begin to learn. Learning follows the principle of ‘going from the known to the unknown.’ The child is ready to ‘learn’ from the moment of birth, needing only this body and voice-contact with the mother, or any other consistent care-giver. The resulting experience forms the child’s concept of safety and security. For the child, its first point of safety and security is ‘Mother’. Some psychologists call this concept of safety and security a 'matrix', which is Latin for ‘mother’.  Whereas the womb was the first matrix, the mother is the second. 

Since a child has only two basic fears, or fear instincts, it would help new parents to know that their child’s inherent anxieties are fear of falling and fear of abandonment. Fear of falling is something to which we can easily relate.  Most mothers, fathers, relatives and friends of an infant or a small child will take pains to prevent the child from falling.  But the fear of abandonment is usually a repressed issue!

Very few parents will acknowledge or even think about the fact that when they leave their newborn child in a separate room, or even in a crib, in the same room, they are withdrawing body-contact.  The Western idea that body-contact is ‘primitive’ probably comes form television images of so-called ‘third world’ countries where seemingly ‘impoverished’ women work with their children strapped to their bodies with cloth bags.  The unspoken message is simple:  they are poor, they have to keep their babies with them while they work, but we are rich and can afford cribs and baby sitters even when we don’t have to work.

Nothing could be further from the truth!  Some societies might seem ‘primitive’ because of their lack of technological gadgets. Such technology certainly helps the Western nations live more comfortably. Curiously, though, the instincts and practices of the so-called ‘third world’ mothers are so much more civilized and humane in comparison! These mothers may lack the hygiene available to us and may not have time to shoo away the flies from their infant’s mouth or eyes, but they have the good sense to provide that vital security all babies need: constant body and voice contact for the first nine months of life.  It is that sense of security which will propel their child into the next stage of development.

How does an ‘advanced’ civilization, such as that of Western Europe and North America lose sight of such basic items of infant care as body and voice contact?  The Victorian ideals of what is ‘proper’ and what is not may have something to do with the deterioration of our child care.  In the Nineteenth century Europe, a fad arose that those who can afford servants should not have to care for their own children! But there is something more recent and more immediate, something that is, perhaps, even more insidious.

In 1948 a San Francisco publisher figured that thousands of servicemen returning from the War are busily fathering children and creating what has become known as the baby boomers.  To make a buck on this phenomenon, the publisher asked a young psychiatrist to write a ‘How Book.’   In this case, ‘How to Care for Young Children?’  The problem was not that women did not know how to do that.  The custom was that a young mother would receive all the help she needed from older family members who already went through birthing and raising children, or form neighbors and friends.  The problem was that nobody was making any money from such family support groups!

This was a time of great social upheaval as well as the acceptance of psychiatry in North America.  Sigmund Freud had become acceptable with his practice of psychoanalysis. In the 1930s he published a book on children claiming that they were miniature adults.  No one knew at that time, of course, that he based his book on the observation and analysis of only four children.  But Freud started a movement which took common sense away from Western mothers and even today we are trying vainly to convince women to take it back.  Freud claimed that ‘The Doctor Knows Best!’

The young psychiatrist in San Francisco who was writing the book, whose only purpose was to make money for its publisher, was a follower of Freud.  His book came out within the year and became an all time best seller.  His name was Dr. Benjamin Spock.

For decades, millions upon millions of women world-wide read and followed the advice on child rearing, Dr. Spock went on nationwide television in the late 1990s to repudiate his own advice!  He publicly called for women to take back their children, to return to their common sense.  Who best can instinctively tell what is good for her child if not the mother?  Even Freud repudiated his book on children in his old age, but by then he had such a following that his acolytes dismissed his words as the senile rant of an old man.  Has anyone heard Dr. Spock’s repudiation?  Does anyone remember it?*

In the third part of the Magical Child Papers, we will look at the role of language in communications and the difference between ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ logic.  The fourth part will look at the life of toddlers and the age of discovery.


The influence of psychoanalytic thought on benjamin Spock'S baby and child care

William G. Bach, M. D.

Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

Volume 10 Issue 1, Pages 91 - 94

Published Online: 13 Feb 2006

Copyright 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company


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