IQ is Only Half the Picture: Cultivating your Child's Emotional Intelligence - Part 2
The following article constitutes Part II of a three-part series looking at the developmental stages of infant emotional intelligence. It draws upon a long tradition of research and clinical observation by psychologists and psychiatrists (from psychoanalytic and body-oriented psychotherapy disciplines) including Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen, Chris Campbell, Stanley Keleman, Margaret Mahler, Louise Kaplan, and more.
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.
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.
Third Rite of Passage: The Right To Support
What is happening:
This stage spans from 6 months to two years. It is during this time that the child begins to take his first frail and uncertain steps away from symbiosis, toward autonomy. Until roughly 18 months, the baby has not fully learned to distinguish his mother as separate from himself, and he experiences himself and Mother as part of one continuum. The fledgling move toward differentiation is of necessity fragile at first, and tentative. There is frequent regression back to Mother's (and increasingly Father's) side. Differentiation is made real for the child as he gradually discovers and masters his motor power to set his own direction, through crawling, standing and walking. Primitive speech patterns are now erupting, and all these changes begin to give the toddler his first sense that he can exert some influence over himself, over his environment, that he can start to exercise choice. He can articulate some basic needs with growing specificity, he can reach out and independently explore the world beyond Mother. A veritable revolution is taking place; a radical and momentous shift in how the toddler experiences himself in relation to the world. This transformation is both exhilarating and frightening.
This third stage marks a tenuous threshold of transition from babyhood into childhood, from prostrate helplessness to the boldness of standing. The developmental drama which unfolds at this time is about personal power, the power to exert some control on the environment as the child begins to learn to stand, to take his first steps and to utter his first words.
Optimal developmental experience:
There needs to be an abundance of support provided at this time. Support is only true support if it meets the child's needs as they emerge. In other words, support for the child's sake, as the child needs it, rather than "encouragement" to progress at the rate expected by parents or others. The toddler needs his parents behind him as he tentatively steps out to explore. He wants us to share in his wonder as he becomes more agile, to hold him when he stumbles, to be his unfailing safety net when he becomes afraid. He does not want us to cajole or pressure him to "make progress". The child's innate rhythm sets his pace; if allowed he will come to walk and talk without hurry or push. Appropriate support therefore embraces him both at his strength, as at his frailty.
Now that the toddler is mobile, boundary-setting becomes an issue. Realistic safety boundaries can be defined compassionately, clearly and respectfully; without resorting to punishment or shaming.
At this time, the toddler is learning whether he can trust in the support of others. He needs to find that it is OK to reach out for and receive support, as well as to rely on his own strength; that it is human to be vulnerable as well as strong. This includes trusting that his vulnerability will evoke care, rather than manipulation, seduction or shaming. It also involves the experience that his strength will be respected, and not exploited by others. He needs to distinguish help that is genuine from help that is manipulative, or bait on a hook. His autonomy and personal power are there to serve his own development, not others' expectations. Hopefully, he will learn by example that true personal power comes through honesty, not through domination. Finally, the toddler wants to learn that love is only real if it is love for being himself, not for being what others wish him to be.
The main wounding experiences:
The child's growing personal power is a central theme at this time. There are a number of ways in which the wrong kind of support can distort personal power so that instead of being based on honesty, it is based on manipulation, seduction or the use of force. Here are some of the ways that this might happen:
Unfulfilled or lonely parents at times seek comfort in their child, exploiting the child's willingness to be there for the parents' needs. The parent may not be consciously aware that they are loading the child with their own unfulfilled emotional needs, inadvertently leaning on the child, who then grows up too quickly. The pay-off for the child is that he gets to feel special.
It is very tempting at this time to manipulate the child to exceed his own need for supported growth. The trap lies in the temptation to make the child special for being a "champ", or compelling him to make Mummy or Daddy proud. This orients the child toward performance, or showing off: adults become their appreciative audience, as the child splits off from his authentic self to project an image or role designed to get the positive strokes. In the quest to have the "wonderful child" that we can gloat about, "support" becomes manipulative and exploitative. Encouragement to perform more competently (feats of walking, talking, being "cute") risks being seductive to the child, who willingly rises up to meet the parental expectation. He trades in his inner pleasure for the power to entertain, gratify, and thereby control others. Seductive encouragement stands in contrast to a sharing and celebrating of the child's own pleasure gained from his accomplishments.
Some children are turned to by one parent to fill the space of an absent, inadequate or alcoholic partner. Responding to the parent's cues, and sensing the parent's pain, the child grows prematurely to become "Mama's little man", or "Daddy's little girl". In order to meet the adult's emotional need, the child must learn to deny his own frailty, his own need for support. He quickly learns to abandon his true, childish self, and to present a false self-image scripted to enchant his parents. Inside, he feels deeply betrayed, and becomes suspicious and mistrustful; yet he adapts: he gains control over the parents by pleasing them, by disguising his vulnerability, and by becoming indispensable. It is alarming how young a child can mold himself to the role of protector, healer or confidant. This prematurely developing child becomes astute about other's unspoken needs, and gains control by promising to meet those needs. The abuse this time consists of over-empowering the child, who is given (or intuitively picks up) the message that the parent is dependent on him.
As boundary-setting becomes increasingly important, punishment, shaming and humiliation rear their heads in authoritarian families. Dismayed by the new exuberant mobility of the toddler, parents try to wrest control by dominating or overpowering the child. Children respond to domineering parents with alternating "good behavior" and rebellion. They soon get the impression that relationship is about control, manipulation, about might-is-right; and they begin to act accordingly. As babyhood wanes, boys in particular are humiliated for their vulnerability; they begin to hear such messages as: "Boys don't cry, Be a man, etc." He soon learns to puff up his little chest and be "tough" for his Dad.
The more the child strives to act out the qualities he feels are expected of him, the more he loses touch with his natural self. The child is metamorphosed into the clever, precocious little grown-up that takes care of his parents, or impresses their friends. There is the tough little kid, the seducer or actor who by rising above child-like innocence and vulnerability, reaps parental pride and positive strokes.
Emotional function and core beliefs:
Optimal support at this time leads to core beliefs such as: I have the right to be supported. I can reach for support from others without shame, and without fear of being used, exploited manipulated. I have the right to be afraid, to feel vulnerable, to feel weak. It's OK and not shameful to ask for help. Being "up-front" and honest works better than manipulating, scheming or pretending. I am loveable for who I am, not for the image I present.
Core beliefs and attitudes arising from injurious experiences at this stage include: Never trust anyone. Always suspect other's motives. Always stay on top, in control, preferably in authority. I am not a worthy person unless I am a "winner". If I lose, then I am a worthless, shameful "loser". If I let people in close to me, they'll see my weakness, and I'll be used. Vulnerability is shameful. If I'm really honest, I'll be manipulated. People only love me for what I can give them. I am safe as long as I can manipulate others. People can be easily manipulated, once you know what they need.
Potential adult manifestation of injury:
When he learns early in life that he has the power to gratify his parents, this gives the child an over-expanded sense of ego. The introduction of harsh "discipline" or control at this stage begins a hardening of the personality. The results are either an overly dominant personality, or an individual who has learned to control through making promises and being seductive; through pretense. Personal power is distorted in meaning, and is exerted through domination, threat or seductive promise. A proclivity to mistrust others inhibits any show of weakness, and he therefore maintains control through denial of his human vulnerabilities and shortcomings. The persona presented to the world can be charming, charismatic, intimidating, even larger-than-life. Yet he will seem unreal and inauthentic to those who look for his humanness, or his earthy-ness. Personality types range from the charmer to the tough-guy; from the actor, the rock-star, the wily salesman, to the dictator.
Our system of commerce is based on the interplay of seduction and gullibility; a dovetailing of dysfunctions stemming from the second and third rites of passage. The generally credulous attitude to "image" and P. R. springs from unfulfillment at the second stage, and provides a fertile ground for the work of seductive advertisers, marketers and P. R. illusionists. Our model of "strong" and implacable authority breeds submissiveness and hero-cults, and dates back to unresolved issues from this third early-childhood rite of passage. The stage is set here for a "winners-and-losers" mentality, and an attitude of exploitative dominion toward the world and its resources.
This article is Part 2 of a 3-part series.
◄ Part 1 Part 3 ►
Robin Grille is a Sydney-based psychologist. He has a private practice in individual psychotherapy and relationship counseling. For further information and articles, visit Robin's website and blog hearttoheartparenting.org.
Robin Grille's book Parenting for a Peaceful World (Longueville Media, 2005) is available from Amazon.
Reprinted with permission of the author.