It is recognized among workers
in education and in child psychology that children who have spent
their entire lives in institutions present a type of their own and
differ in various respects from children who develop under the conditions
of family life. . . . Superficial observation of
children of this kind leaves a conflicting picture. They resemble,
so far as outward appearances are concerned, children of middle-class
families: they are well developed physically, properly nourished,
decently dressed, have acquired clean habits and decent table manners,
and can adapt themselves to rules and regulations. So far as character
development is concerned, they often prove—to everyone’s
despair and despite many efforts—not far above the standard
of destitute or neglected children. This shows up especially after
they have left the institutions.
It is because of these failures of development that in recent years
thoughtful educationists have more and more turned against the whole
idea of residential nurseries as such. And have devised methods
of boarding out orphaned or destitute children with foster families,
(etc.). But since all efforts of this kind will probably not be
able to do away altogether with the need for residential homes for
infants, it remains a question of interest how far failures of the
kind described are inherent in the nature of such institutions as
distinct from family life, and how far they could be obviated if
the former were ready and able to change their methods.
Careful comparison of our own residential children with children
of the same ages who live with their own families has taught us
some interesting facts. Advantages and disadvantages vary to an
astonishing degree according to the periods of development. . . .
In our former chapters we tried to establish one main fact: that
small infants in a residential nursery, though they develop community
reactions and enjoy the companionship of children of their own age,
search further for objects towards whom they can direct all their
emotional interests which they would normally direct toward their
parents. We have described how the grown-ups of the nursery are
turned into parent-substitutes. It is our next task to discuss how
far these emotional relationships satisfy the natural desires of
the child and how far they are destined to fail in this respect. . . .
1. Visitors to all residential war nurseries, ours not excepted,
will notice that single children often run up to them and, in spite
of their being complete strangers, show off their shoes, their dresses
or other articles of clothing. This behavior is only shown by children
who are emotionally starved and unattached.
2. Paul, two, came to us as a completely homeless and unattached
child. At first he would claim everybody’s attention with
his only word “hello” and an empty smile with which
he greeted friends and strangers alike. At the age of three, he
would still show off to everybody minute objects (buttons, little
sticks, tiny pieces of material) which he picked up wherever he
went. He was not really interested in these objects, they only served
to draw attention to himself.
3. Bob, another homeless child, who had never lived with his own
mother, went through a period of exhibitionism at the age of three.
He displayed his genitals indiscriminately in front of everybody. . . .
Early instinctive wishes have to be taken seriously, not because
their fulfillment or refusal causes momentary happiness or unhappiness;
but because they are the moving powers which urge the child’s
development from primitive self-interest and self-indulgence toward
an attachment and consequently adaptation to the grown-up world. . . .
To sum up once more:
The infant who shares his bodily pleasures with its mother
learns in this way to love an object in the outer world and not
merely himself. . . .
The normal and healthy growth of the human personality depends
on the circumstances of the child’s first attachments and
on the fate of the instinctual forces (sex, aggression, and their
derivatives), which find expression in these early and all-important
relationships. . . .
Since we are used to seeing these developments happen under the
influence of the Oedipal complex, i.e. the relationship to the parental
figures, it is of great interest to us to investigate what happens
when the whole family constellation is completely absent; how the
child reacts to the lack of emotional response; how it substitutes
for it by phantasy activity; and how the inner forces which control,
transform or repress the instincts, will contrive to work under
Residential Nurseries offer excellent opportunities for detailed
and unbroken observation of child-development. If these opportunities
were made use of widely, much valuable material about the emotional
and educational response at these early ages might be collected
and applied to the upbringing of other children who are lucky enough
to live under more normal circumstances.