The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood

Simon and Schuster, 1996 - 305 pagina's
A pioneering work on early childhood development that is as relevant today as when it was first published 60 years ago.

To a small child, the world is an exciting but sometimes frightening and unstable place. In The Magic Years, Selma Fraiberg takes the reader into the mind of the child, showing how he confronts the world and learns to cope with it. With great warmth and perception, she discusses the problems at each stage of development and reveals the qualities—above all, the quality of understanding—that can provide the right answer at critical moments.

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Geselecteerde pagina's


All About Witches Ogres Tigers
What Is Anxiety?
Laughing Tiger
An Infant Scientist
Shake Off Slumber and Beware
Civilization and Its Discontents
In Brobdingnac
Education Toward Reality
A Shut in the Center of the Universe
Education fob Love
Education of Conscience

Overige edities - Alles weergeven

Veelvoorkomende woorden en zinsdelen

Over de auteur (1996)

Chapter 1

All About Witches, Ogres, Tigers, and Mental Health


There once was a boy named Frankie who was going to be the very model of a modern, scientifically reared child. His mother and his father consulted the writings of experts, subscribed to lecture series and educated themselves in all the rites and practices of child rearing sacred to these times. They knew how children develop fears and neurotic symptoms in early childhood and with the best intentions in the world they set out to rear a child who would be free -- oh, as free as any child can be in this world of ours -- of anxiety and neurotic tendencies.

So Frankie was breast-fed and weaned and toilet-trained at the proper ages and in the proper manner. A baby sister was provided for him at a period in his development best calculated to avoid trauma. It goes without saying that he was prepared for the new baby by approved techniques. His sex education was candid and thorough.

The probable sources of fear were located and systematically decontaminated in the program devised by Frankie''s parents. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales were edited and revised; mice and their tails were never parted and ogres dined on Cheerios instead of human flesh. Witches and evil-doers practiced harmless forms of sorcery and were easily reformed by a light sentence or a mild rebuke. No one died in the fairy-tale world and no one died in Frankie''s world. When Frankie''s parakeet was stricken by a fatal disease, the corpse was removed and a successor installed before Frankie awakened from his afternoon nap. With all these precautions Frankie''s parents found it difficult to explain why Frankie should have any fears. But he did.

At the age of two when many children are afraid of disappearing down the bath-tub drain, Frankie (quite independently and without the influence of wayward companions) developed a fear of going down the bath-tub drain.

In spite of all the careful preparations for the new baby, he was not enthusiastic about her arrival and occupied himself with the most unfilial plots for her disposal. Among the more humane proposals he offered was that the baby should be taken back to the dime store. (And you know how thorough his sex education had been!)

And that wasn''t all. At an age when other children waken from bad dreams, Frankie also wakened from bad dreams. Incomprehensibly (for you know how ogres were reformed in Frankie''s nursery) Frankie was pursued in his bad dreams by a giant who would eat him up!

And that wasn''t all. In spite of the merciful treatment accorded to witches in Frankie''s education, Frankie disposed of evil-doers in his own way when he made up stories. He got rid of witches in his stories by having their heads chopped off.

What is the point of this modern fable? What does it prove? Doesn''t it matter how we rear a child? Are the shibboleths of modern child rearing a delusion of the scientist? Should we abandon our beliefs about feeding, toilet-training, sex education as matters of no consequence in promoting mental health?

Parental wisdom and understanding in the conduct of feeding, toilet-training, sex education, discipline, serve the child''s mental health by promoting his love and confidence in his parents and by strengthening his own equipment in regulating his body needs and impulses. But the most ideal early training does not eliminate all anxiety or remove the hazards that exist everywhere in the child''s world and in the very process of development itself.

We should not be shocked -- for there is no way in which children can be reared without experiencing anxiety. Each stage in human development has its own hazards, its own dangers. We will find, further, that we do not always serve the child''s mental health by vigilantly policing his environment for bogies, ogres and dead parakeets. We cannot avoid many of these fears. Nor do we need to. We do not, of course, deliberately expose a child to frightening experiences and we do not give substance to the idea of bogies by behaving like bogies ourselves, but when bogies, ogres and dead parakeets present themselves, it is usually best to deal with them in the open and to help the child deal with them on the same basis.

We are apt to confuse two things. Anxiety is not in itself a neurosis. Frankie, of our fable, is not to be regarded as neurotic -- not on the basis of this evidence. Is he afraid of the bath-tub drain? Many two year olds share this fear. It is not necessarily an ominous sign. Has he bad dreams about a giant? Nearly all pre-school children have anxiety dreams of this type occasionally. Doesn''t he like his baby sister in spite of the expert preparation? Preparation for a new baby is essential and makes things easier, but no amount of preliminary explanation can adequately prepare a child for that real baby and the real experience of sharing parental love.

It is not the bath-tub drain, the dream about the giant or the unpropitious arrival of a sibling that creates a neurosis. The future mental health of the child does not depend upon the presence or absence of ogres in his fantasy life, or on such fine points as the diets of ogres -- perhaps not even on the number and frequency of appearance of ogres. It depends upon the child''s solution of the ogre problem.

It is the way in which the child manages his irrational fears that determines their effect upon his personality development. If a fear of bogies and burglars and wild animals invades a child''s life, if a child feels helpless and defenseless before his imagined dangers and develops an attitude of fearful submission to life as a result, then the solution is not a good one and some effects upon his future mental health can be anticipated. If a child behaves as if he were threatened by real and imaginary dangers on all sides and must be on guard and ready for attack, then his personality may be marked by traits of over-aggressiveness and defiance, and we must regard his solution as a poor one, too. But normally the child overcomes his irrational fears. And here is the most fascinating question of all: How does he do it? For the child is equipped with the means for overcoming his fears. Even in the second year he possesses a marvellously complex mental system which provides the means for anticipating danger, assessing danger, defending against danger and overcoming danger. Whether this equipment can be successfully employed by the child in overcoming his fears will depend, of course, on the parents who, in a sense, teach him to use his equipment. This means that if we understand the nature of the developing child and those parts of his personality that work for solution and resolution toward mental health, we are in the best position to assist him in developing his inner resources for dealing with fears.


In recent years we have come to look upon mental health as if it were nothing more than the product of a special dietary regime, one that should include the proper proportions of love and security, constructive toys, wholesome companions, candid sex instruction, emotional outlets and controls, all put together in a balanced and healthful menu. Inevitably, this picture of a well-balanced mental diet evokes another picture, of the boiled vegetable plate from the dietician''s kitchen, which nourishes but does not stimulate the appetite. The product of such a mental diet could just as easily grow up to be a well-adjusted bore.

Therefore, it seems proper in this discussion of mental health to restore the word "mental" to an honored position, to put the "mental" back into "mental health." For those qualities that distinguish one personality from another are mental qualities, and the condition which we speak of as mental health is not just the product of a nourishing mental diet -- however important this may be -- but the work of a complex mental system acting upon experience, reacting to experience, adapting, storing, integrating, in a continuous effort to maintain a balance between inner needs and outer demands.

Mental health depends upon an equilibrium between body needs, drives, and the demands of the outer world, but this equilibrium must not be conceived as a static one. The process of regulating drives, appetites, wishes, purely egocentric desires in accordance with social demands, takes place in the higher centers of the mind. It is that part of the personality that stands in closest relationship to consciousness and to reality which performs this vital function. It is the conscious ego that takes over these regulating and mediating functions, and it does this work for all of the waking hours of a human life.

We should not err by regarding personal satisfaction, "happiness," as the criterion for mental health. Mental health must be judged not only by the relative harmony that prevails within the human ego, but by the requirements of a civilized people for the attainment of the highest social values. If a child is "free of neurotic symptoms" but values his freedom from fear so highly that he will never in his lifetime risk himself for an idea or a principle, then this mental health does not serve human welfare. If he is "secure" but never aspires to anything but personal security, then this security cannot be valued in itself. If he is "well adjusted to the group" but secures his adjustment through uncritical acceptance of and compliance with the ideas of others, then this adjustment does not serve a democratic society. If he "adjusts well in school" but furnishes his mind with commonplace ideas and facts and nourishes this mind with the cheap fantasies of comic books, then what civilizat

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