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IQ is Only Half the Picture: Cultivating your Child's Emotional Intelligence

The Second Rite of Passage: The Right to Need

What is happening:

From immediately after birth to roughly 18 months, the baby's focus for need-gratification and aliveness is centered in and around her mouth. The unfolding drama of this time revolves around the baby's expression of need; her reaching out and taking in of physical and emotional nourishment. Her arms and hands, her skin, and most of all her mouth, are exquisitely alive centers of awareness that pleasurably connect her to a nourishing world. While the baby is still so vulnerable and dependent, many cultures advocate breast­feeding on demand and co-sleeping. The baby is seldom put down and remains in near-permanent physical contact with a loving parent or older sibling, at least until she shows signs of wanting to crawl and walk.

Beyond the mechanical and nutritional advantages of breast­feeding are the psychological and emotional benefits, and the spiritual or energetic nourishment that comes from loving, warm contact between breast and mouth. Sadly, the baby-bottle cannot replicate the comforting or the unique, mother-child attenuation, that comes from direct, flesh and skin intimacy.

Under the right circumstances, breast­feeding floods the baby with a blissful sense of wholeness and completeness. There is a stream of pleasurable sensations which pulsate throughout her body when her powerful sucking reflex is met with what she naturally longs for. A repository of serenity and contentment is thus established deep within the mind-body of the infant, available for access later in life. If this unique mother-child bond is provided according to the baby's need-cues rather than the robotic exigencies of modern-day schedules, a dense layer of emotional security and contentment is installed, leading the child to think of the world as a friendly, nurturing and abundant place.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) reports that, around the world, the average age of total weaning (defined as complete cessation of breast­feeding) exceeds 4 years! In: "Breast­feeding, A Guide for Medical Professionals" (1985), Ruth A. Lawrence puts this figure at 4.2 years. It is evident that breast­feeding affords a vital psychological sustenance that goes on long after it is nutritionally essential. Our surprisingly early weaning standards certainly warrant revision. In our Western predilection for premature rupturing of the oral mother-child connection, we have introduced an unnecessary and often traumatic element of struggle and heartache into the weaning process. Fortunately, we are at least moving in the right direction. We are experiencing a growing acceptance of demand feeding, later weaning ((the World Health Organization, lactation experts and pediatricians now recommend weaning at two years, and preferably older. The child's changing needs are the most reliable guide) and increased professional support from lactation consultants and counselors.

Optimal developmental experience:

At this time, parents (particularly Mother) who feel generally well supported in their lives, and who have been adequately nurtured themselves, will be capable of spontaneous and empathic responses to their baby's physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Ideally, the baby is breastfed on demand, with attention paid to the spiritual and emotional mother-child connection, as well as the material nourishment. This includes the tenderness conveyed through holding, and eye-contact that communicates the pleasure of mothering. Contrary to the fast-track trends in modern childcare in the West, this is not the time for the child to learn about independence. The baby should sleep very close to or in bed with the parents at this stage, staying connected to them through their scent, their sounds, and their touch.

If listened to, the infant issues very clear indications of their readiness to begin flirting with autonomy. They reach for the ground so they can feel themselves against the earth. They look away from Mother to the mystery and allure of distant objects. They move their limbs in early strivings to self-propel, thence to crawl and walk. Yet for the most part, they still want to be inside or near Mother's orbit. Our task as parents is to release our babies according to their need, rather than to expel them according to ours. In the meantime, touching, holding and body contact is still needed frequently to constantly, and the baby benefits from being carried in a sling or otherwise on the body. Typically, babies who are offered this kind of environment tend to be more placid and content, as long as the parents are relatively unstressed in their giving.

If the infant at the oral stage of development is allowed the occasional comfort-suckle at the breast until she naturally self-weans (usually much later than Western custom demands it) the next level of psychological independence develops naturally from a stronger base of emotional equanimity.

Developmental task:

The child is at this time trying to learn that it is OK to need, to reach out interpersonally and to ask for what she wants. At a core level she is also learning about deserving, and the joy of receiving. What can be imprinted during this stage is that satisfaction and fulfillment are a birthright, always worth vigorously and assertively pursuing. Our capacity for interpersonal care, giving, and generosity is most authentic to the degree that our passage through this time was favorable. True independence, as opposed to defensive self-reliance, can only spring from satiation of dependency needs.

The main wounding experiences:

When a baby of this age is left alone to cry for extended periods, and is refused the holding and attention that she is calling for, this has profound and long-term consequences for her emotional make-up. She deeply absorbs the message that she mustn't ask for what she wants or needs, her impulses to reach out collapse and she becomes resigned. She is not as yet equipped to cope with delayed gratification, and therefore experiences rigidly scheduled feeding, early weaning and "controlled crying" as abandonment and neglect. On the other end of the scale, over-anxious and over-indulgent parenting startles her and disturbs her natural serenity, interrupting her need to express her accumulated emotional stress. The middle road consists of being guided by the baby's cues, and letting her take the lead.

Emotional function and core beliefs:

Some core beliefs arising from injurious experiences at this time include: I must do it alone, I must show that I don't need anyone or anything. I don't deserve love, I am not loveable. I am loveable only if I don't have emotional needs. I am only loveable when I am "giving". Others' needs are more important than mine. My happiness depends on being liked by others.

Some core beliefs arising from positive experiences during this stage include: I have a right to have and to express my needs and wants. Life nourishes me. Life is plentiful and abundant, and I deserve Life's generosity. I am free and fulfilled enough to care for others. Others have a right to their needs too. These are the emotional foundations underpinning the capacity to be appropriately assertive, and to be direct rather than manipulative or seductive.

The fulfillment of these essential developmental needs is the font from which we can later draw a natural generosity of spirit. Full gratification of infantile need is also what gives us the capacity to be genuinely respectful of others' needs and limits; to gracefully let go when someone says "no" to us. The organic strength that enables us to sustain disappointments, and to cope with the fact that we don't always get what we want, springs from early childhood satisfaction; not from premature, enforced "independence".

Initiative, self-motivation, emotional stamina and endurance, patience - all of these qualities are fostered when the optimal conditions are encountered at this second stage of development. True independence, as opposed to defensive self-reliance ("I don't need anyone"), is paradoxically the product of dependency having been embraced. Emotional independence enables us to care deeply for ourselves, it empowers us to reach out to others for intimate connection, yet also to let them go.

Potential adult manifestation of injury:

When our needs go unanswered at this oral stage of development, this leaves us stuck in dependency, living as if waiting for Mother to show up, subconsciously longing for the lost bliss of unity at the breast. We "suck" at and cling to relationships, food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling or material goods. We feel as if life owes us, waiting passively for things to change, or impatiently grasping at life. Unfulfilled at the core we remain as "suckers", gullible to the seductive wiles of P. R. machinations, merchandising campaigns and "charismatic" individuals. An individual whose needs of the heart are essentially met is less susceptible later in life to co-dependent relationships, idolatry and addictions. A healthy passage through this time contributes toward a healthy skepticism later. One is not so easily fooled, and will be more perspicacious in relationships.

Our co-dependent clinging in relationships provides no contentment, so we blame each other for our personal dissatisfaction. We fantasize romantic notions of a "true love" which lasts forever, a fanciful and symbiotic union that will meet all our needs for love and understanding; and thus we harbor unrealistic expectations of one another. Alternatively, we convince ourselves that we don't need anyone, but collapse with exhaustion or bitterness. The unsatiated grow up to become insatiable. The breathless greed that afflicts our civilization is no more than the cry of the emotionally malnourished baby disguised in adult garb.

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