Let's say, however, that a child misses both the first hour and ninth month cycle of bonding with its mother or caregiver. What happens? On the surface, nothings will seem to be amiss. The child will continue to develop into its toddler stage. Freud, however, noticed that a child will, around the age of 4 or 5, return to the mother in a highly sexual interaction!
Others have studied this phenomenon since and there is an ongoing controversy as to what exactly is taking place? From the psychiatric point of view, children enter the Oedipal/Electra complex. But from the developmental point of view, those children who were denied the mother's touch at birth and at the ninth month may be responding to another opening in the cycle of their sensory awakening which has not yet happened.
But sensory awakening, which involves very intimate touching of all the body parts, runs up against the incest taboo at age 4 or 5. We will come back to this and explore the role of culture in sensory awakening, touching and sexuality in childhood development later because an unfulfilled developmental cycle will come around during a person's life again and again. If not fulfilled, it will either be repressed or will be transmuted into some social or psychological pathology.
The pre-verbal stage of the in-arms period does not mean that the parent and child communicated in total silence for 9 months! Far from it. A mother will 'speak' to her child, both normally as if the child could understand and through other sounds such as singing, humming and even 'baby talk'. Because the child recognizes the mother's voice, some parents actually say that their child looked at them so intelligently, as if they understood every word. But the first seven years of a child are the years for the development of concrete logic. Concrete logic is the body's response to its full sensory exploration of the child's limited environment. It is the sound of the mother's voice, its volume, pitch and intonation that has become meaningful to the child. From the mother's voice, which becomes the 'known' the child is able to distinguish others who speak, without every worrying about what is actually being said.
Language, at this point, at the end of the ninth month, is practically nonexistent. Even when the child at an earlier age, begins to mouth the words in imitation and begins to make sounds and eventually words, for the child its first words are still a sensory experience, a part of their concrete logic. As long as the basic needs of the child are being looked after, the pre-verbal child can spend hours trying on a new touch, a new taste even a new feeling.
What part of the brain is at work in the pre-verbal child? Among the three layers of brain we have, by far the oldest and smallest is the sensory-motor brain, sometimes called the reptilian brain. Why reptilian? Probably because it controls the most basic habituation of any living creature, the physical well being of its own body. Wrapped around the sensory/motor brain is a much larger emotional-cognitive brain. Not only is this a middle brain, but it also plays a direct role in the development of both the sensory-motor brain and the neo-cortex. The middle brain tells the sensory-motor brain whether or not a particular movement or sensation actually feels good. If it feels good, of course, then the sensory-motor brain will seek out a repetition of that movement.
More than twice as large as the combined reptilian and middle brain, the neocortex is unique to human beings. It is divided into the right and left halves, the right brain doing imaginative activities, the left brain logical tasks. It is not clear if the right brain of pre-verbal children is active, but the left brain certainly is. It creates new neural pathways for every newly-learned body motion, every new sensory experience that is repeated. Of course, if a sensory experience is repeated, it is usually because the mid-brain passes it up from the sensory-motor brain with a dose of emotions attached to that sensory experience. Once the neural pathway in the neo-cortex is established for that experience, the body secretes a protein called myalin onto those nerves. When coated with this protein, or myalinated, the experience will be remembered and will become part of the concrete logic of that child. Concrete logic is the child's relationship with the physical world, its immediate environment, and, eventually, with nature itself.
You may have noticed there are no value judgments attached to the development of concrete logic. This is an ideal situation. In real life, however, a pre-verbal child will receive a constant stream of emotional input from its mother or caregiver. The child will respond to emotions such as fear, shock and love. The child will respond to such emotions with a natural curiosity, or a natural survival instinct. The only type of communication from its mother a child cannot handle is if the mother or caregiver rejects the child for any reason. It makes sense. If the mother is the 'known' quantity in the child's life, she is also the point of safety and security. By rejecting the child in any way, the mother withdraws this aura of security and the child immediately loses it homeostasis. It goes into shock, its body secreting hormones for the survival instincts to kick in. It is separated from the only thing it has known to be 'safe' and the child doesn't like it.
The next installment will deal with the life of toddlers and the age of discovery, including the continuing role of language and the possibility of parental rejection.