Child Psychology

   We cannot fully understand the psychology of the child or that of the adult if we regard it as the subjective concern of the individual alone, for almost more important than this is his relation to others.  Here, at all events, we can begin with the most easily accessible and, practically speaking, the most important part of the psychic life of the child.  Children are so deeply involved in the psychological attitude of their parents that it is no wonder that most of the nervous disturbances in childhood can be traced back to a disturbed psychic atmosphere in the home.  TDoP 39

During the first years of life there is hardly there is hardly any consciousness, though the existence of psychic processes manifests itself at a very early stage.  These processes, however, are not grouped round an organized ego; they have no centre and therefore no continuity, lacking which a conscious personality is impossible.  Consequently, the child has in our sense no memory, despite the plasticity and susceptibility of its psychic organ.  Only when the child begins to say “I” is there any perceptible continuity of consciousness.  But in between there are frequent periods of unconsciousness.  One can actually see the conscious mind coming into existence through the gradual unification of fragments.  This process continues through life, but from puberty onwards it becomes slower, and fewer and fewer fragments of the unconscious are added to consciousness.   TDoP 52

Now if we were to ask what would happen if there were no schools, and children were left entirely to themselves, we should have to answer that they would remain largely unconscious.  What kind of a state would this be?  It would be a primitive state, and when such children came of age they would, despite their native intelligence, still remain primitive – savages, in fact, rather like a tribe of intelligent ( ~ ~ ~ ~) or Bushmen.  They would not necessarily be stupid, but merely intelligent by instinct.  They would be ignorant, and therefore unconscious of themselves and the world.   Beginning life on a very much lower cultural level, they would differentiate themselves only slightly from the primitive races.   This possibility of regression to the primitive stage is explained by the fundamental biogenetic law which holds good not only for the development of the body, but also in all probability for that of the psyche.  TDoP 53

  According to this law the evolution of the species repeats itself in the embryonic development of the individual.  Thus, to a certain degree, man in his embryonic life passes through the anatomical forms of primeval times.  If the same law holds for the mental development of mankind, it follows that the child develops out of an originally unconscious, animal condition into consciousness, primitive at first, and then slowly becoming more civilized.  TDoP 53

The conditions during the first two or three years of his life, when the child is unconscious of himself, may be compared to the animal state.  Just as the child in embryo is practically nothing but a part of the mother’s body, and wholly dependent on her, so in early infancy the psyche is to a large extent part of the maternal psyche, and will soon become part of the paternal psyche as well.  The prime psychological condition is one of fusion with the psychology of the parents, an individual psychology being only potentially present.  Hence it is that the nervous and psychic disorders of children right up to school age depend very largely on disturbances in the psychic world of the parents.  All parental difficulties reflect themselves without fail in the psyche of the child, sometimes with pathological results.  The dreams of small children often refer more to the parents than to the child itself.  TDoP 53

Long ago I observed some very curious dreams in early childhood, for instance the first dreams patients could remember.  They were “big dreams,” and their content was often so very unchildlike that at first I was convinced they could be explained by the psychology of the parents.  There was the case of a boy who dreamt out the whole erotic and religious problem of his father.  The father could remember no dreams at all, so for some time I analyzed the father through the dreams of his eight-year-old son.  Eventually the father began to dream himself, and the dreams of the child stopped.  Later on I realized that the peculiar dreams of small children are genuine enough, since they contain archetypes which are the cause of their apparently adult character.  TDoP 54

   Whenever a young child exhibits the symptoms of a neurosis one should not waste too much time examining his unconscious.  One should begin one’s investigations elsewhere, starting with the mother; for almost invariably the parents are either the direct cause of the child’s neurosis or at least the most important element in it.   TDoP 68

   The collective unconscious is a problem that seldom enters into practical work with children: their problem lies mainly in adapting themselves to their surroundings.  Indeed, their connection with the primordial unconsciousness must be severed, as its persistence would present a formidable obstacle to the development of consciousness, which is what they need more than anything else.   TDoP 119

You should be careful, therefore, not to impute an adult’s psychology to a child.  You cannot treat a child as you would an adult.  Above all, the work can never be as systematic as with adults.  A real, systematic dream-analysis is hardly possible, because with children the unconscious should not be stressed unnecessarily: one can easily arouse an unwholesome curiosity, or induce an abnormal precociousness and self-consciousness, by going into psychological details which are of interest only to the adult.  When you have to handle difficult children, it is better to keep your knowledge of psychology to yourself, as simplicity and common sense are what they need most.  Your analytical knowledge should serve your own attitude as an educator first of all, because it is a well-known fact that children have an almost uncanny instinct for the teacher’s personal shortcomings.  They know the false from the true far better than one likes to admit.   Therefore the teacher should watch his own psychic condition, so that he can spot the source of the trouble when anything goes wrong with the children entrusted to his care.  He himself may easily be the unconscious cause of evil.  Naturally we must not be too naïve in this matter: there are people, doctors as well as teachers, who secretly believe that a person in authority has the right to behave just as he likes, and that it is up to the child to adapt as best he may, because sooner or later he will have to adapt to real life which will treat him no better.  Such people are convinced at heart that the only thing that matters is material success, and that the only real and effective moral restraint is the policeman behind the penal code.  TDoP 120

Childhood, however, is a state of the past.  Just as the developing embryo recapitulates, in a sense, our phylogenetic history, so the child-psyche relives “the lesson of earlier humanity,” as Nietzsche called it.  The child lives in a pre-rational and above all in a pre-scientific world, the world of the men who existed before us.  Our roots lie in that world and every child grows from those roots.  Maturity bears him away from his roots and immaturity binds him to them.  TDoP 144

We need not concern ourselves so much with the amount of specific information a child takes away with him from school; the thing of vital importance is that the school should succeed in freeing the young man from unconscious identity with his family, and should make him properly conscious of himself.  Without this consciousness he will never know what he really wants, but will always remain dependent and imitative, with the feeling of being misunderstood and suppressed.  TDoP 57

The child who enters school at six is still for the most part the psychic product of his parents, endowed, it is true, with the nucleus of ego-consciousness, but incapable of asserting his unconscious individuality.  One is often tempted to interpret children who are peculiar, obstinate, disobedient, or difficult to handle as especially individual or self-willed.  This is a mistake.  In such cases we should always examine the parental milieu, its psychological conditions and history.  Almost without exception we discover in the parents the only valid reasons for the child’s difficulties.  His disquieting peculiarities are far less the expression of his own inner life than a reflection of disturbing influences in the home.  If the physician has to deal with nervous disorders in a child of this age, he will have to pay serious attention to the psychic state of the parents; to their problems, the way they live and do not live, the aspirations they have fulfilled or neglected, and to the predominant family atmosphere and the method of education.  All these psychic conditions influence a child profoundly.  TDoP 54

(re The Freudian method)    To document the polyvalent germinal disposition of the child with a sexual terminology borrowed from the stage of fully-fledged sexuality is a dubious undertaking.  It means drawing everything else in the child’s make-up into the orbit of sexual interpretation, so that on the one hand the concept of sexuality is blown up to fantastic proportions and becomes nebulous, while on the other hand spiritual factors are seen as warped and stunted instincts.  Views of this kind lead to a rationalism which is not even remotely capable of doing justice to the essential polyvalence of the infantile disposition.  Even though a child may be preoccupied with matters which, for adults, have an undoubtedly sexual complexion, this does not prove that the nature of the child’s preoccupation is to be regarded as equally sexual.  For the cautious and conscientious investigator sexual terminology, as applied to infantile phenomena, can be deemed at most a professional façon de parler.  I have my qualms about its appropriateness. 

We do not usually listen to children at any stage of their careers; in all the essentials we treat them as non compos mentis and in all the unessentials they are drilled to the perfection of automatons.   TDoP 14