Psychological Dimensions in Child Placement Conflicts


In order to set the stage, let me start with a quote from Sigmund Freud, since both Beyond the Best Interests of the Child and Before the Best Interests of the Child represent an effort to bring together the best of psychoanalytic thinking with the best of legal thinking. In his paper on anxiety, Freud states:

The biological factor is the long period of time during which the young of the human species is in a condition of helplessness and dependence. Its intra-uterine existence seems to be short in comparison with most animals and it is sent into the world in a less finished state. As a result, the influence of the real external world upon it is intensified and an early differentiation between the ego and the id is promoted. Moreover, the dangers of the external world have a greater importance for it, so that the value of the object which can alone protect it against them and take the place of its former intra-uterine life is enormously enhanced. The biological factor, then, establishes the earliest situations of danger and creates the need to be loved which will accompany the child through the rest of its life.

The developing child’s needs reflect the characteristics of her immaturity and forecast the next steps in her development. Conversely, in parenting, an adult taps her inner yearning for historic continuity and for closeness with the child. These yearnings lead to self-fulfillment and confidence as a parent if there is mutual satisfaction for child and parent as a result of the day-to-day, hour-to-hour care of the infant and young child. In this way adults become bonded to their children, who in turn develop firm primary attachments to their parents. These primary mutual relationships unfold as the parents’ empathic responses become refined and adjust to the maturing, developing baby and as the baby becomes able to cling to and hold on to the parent, at first physically, and then psychologically. The baby moves from need-satisfying responses to the capacity for what we call object constancy, that is, the ability to keep a recollection of the parent or parent’s psychological presence available even in the absence of that parent or during the time that the parent is being frustrating or in some way disappointing. Self-fulfillment and a sense of competence are achieved in parenthood through launching a child into progressive development, a development that enables the child to utilize parental nurture, protection and guidance.

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