I read something interesting in my Child Development course book today: our relationships with each other usually depend on some sort of mental representation of the other person; this representation often includes elements of our own thoughts and feelings, as well as the other person’s actions etc.
Say, for example, you have a child who wants your attention all the time – but you are busy. You have a house to clean, work to do, people to see. You don’t have time to sit on the floor and read the same book over and over again.
|“I absolutely must hold your hand and
cling to you while I watch TV.”
You might think of this child as being controlling, trying to interfere and prevent you from doing the things you need to. The child is trying to manipulate you into reading her favourite book. Your mental representation of her is not based solely on her actions, but also your interpretation of them.
From the child’s point of view, though, she is too young to understand that you need to do the washing up or there won’t be clean plates for tea. Children are not born with an innate understanding of these things. Her demanding behaviour is much more straightforward than any sort of manipulation or control: she just wants your attention. She just likes that book, and wants you to read it to her. There is no game-plan, no ulterior motive.
This is the concept of projection, and it’s used a lot in parenting manuals, when they tell you that your child is trying to control and manipulate you. How does a baby even know how to do those things? The child just wants a cuddle, some attention. That is what children thrive on.
You know that saying about how when someone does something that really winds you up, it’s usually because it’s something you do? That’s projection. We often handle our feelings by seeing them as partially located in other people. This is something it’s worth bearing in mind generally, but especially when it comes to interaction with our children.
This is not something I just thought up out of my head, it’s not something from some wishy washy hippie magazine or website; it’s in a university course book, written by a respected lecturer in child development. Therefore I’m more inclined to listen to him than any self-proclaimed “expert.”
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