Archive for December, 2009

In their first year of life, babies start to play the ‘lets drop toys from the highchair’ game. This is the start of a phase which a psychologist called Jean Piaget called ‘Object Permanence’.

Piaget theorised that young infants believe that their world consists of only what they can see. So, when they can’t see a toy, or a person, they believe that the object no longer exists.  So, a young infant believes that when their mother leaves the room, they have disappeared from her world, and that frightens them.

As babies get older, they start to learn that things exist even when they don’t see them, and this is what Piaget called object permanence. A child at this stage throws a cup away, she realises that it is still nearby, so looks for it as and delights when it reappears. This can also be seen in playing ‘peek a boo’. With time, she will gradually learn that even if her mother is not with her, she still exist and will come back to her (this links into infant attachment). Their separation anxiety will lessen, and the appeal of throwing toys down on the floor will diminish…


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“The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure”

This was written by Donald Winnicott, a paediatrician and child psychoanalyst, in 1953 . I have thought a lot about the concept of a ‘good enough mother’ in my new role as a mum. At face value, the phrase can be taken to mean that as a mother, you don’t have to be perfect all of the time; that you can simply be good enough.  In clinical practice, I used to think of this phrase daily. When I saw mothers who were struggling to care for their children through mental health or drug and alcohol issues, I had to remember that they may not be parenting in the ideal way, or the way in which I thought they could be, but they were doing their best, and that best was usually (not always) ‘good enough’.

But Winnicott meant more than this when he coined this phrase. He actually thought that a ‘perfect’ mother, one who is constantly responding to her child’s communication and distress is hindering the child’s development. He believed that when a baby is born, mothers do – and should – respond very quickly to their distress, as the infant is not capable of doing much independantly. However, as the baby ages, she can tolerate her mother’s ‘failure’ to respond more and more, ie the baby can deal with some distress on their own, which allows the child to experience success, failure, and to learn new skills.

I like the concept of being good enough. None of us is perfect – and doing everything for our babies potentially stops them from developing confidence, skills and independance.

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