Letters extra : A case for the 'good enough' infant

17th April 2003 at 01:00

In response to Libby Purves's article "How to make an ideal infant" (TES April 4 2003) I would like to make a case for the 'good enough' infant. The term 'ideal infant' led me to thoughts of Sainsburys cheese fridge, with pre-packed stackable homogenised products. Compare this with a specialist cheese shop with triangles, rounds and rectangles, crammed in a display cabinet in a joyous mix of colour, of smell and of taste.

E Erikson's. Childhood and Society ( 1995) has a lot to tell us about the essential grounding a child should have when about to start school.nbsp; The first strength a family can give to a child is trust. Trust in the world, trust in adults involved in their lives and trust in themselves and their responses.nbsp; D Winnicott's Playing and Realitynbsp;( 1974) and Erikson give the framework within which the infant achieves the development of trust. Through the meeting of basic needs, and the acknowledgement and validation of the child's rights to feelings and expectations, the child learns to trust those on whom he depends, and the world in which he finds himself. This trust in others is essential for a child to feel trust in himself.
Without trust a child has to be vigilant, to be defensive. He has to worry about survival and integrity. This drive for self-preservation and protection leaves little room for exploration, inquiry, interest or curiosity. A trusting child can relax, does not fear intrusions of new ideas and experiences. A relaxed child can expand without fear that their boundaries maybe breached, can absorb without fear of contamination, can give out without fear of running out. Such a child is not rigid and can adapt, is not fearful and can believe, is not defensive and can accept.
Learning readiness requires autonomy - the ability to do for oneself, to find out, to explore, to seek and to take risks. Such abilities are developed by the child who has struggled with the developmental crisis of autonomy versus shame (Erikson 1995) and has emerged with the understanding that striving and risk taking lead often enough to growth and success that the set-backs, frustrations and disappointments are bearable and surmountable. Such a child has learned within their relationships that failure is an essential step on the road to success. That getting there warrants the effort of the journey, that not getting there is acceptable and not the defining of their identity.
Winnicott (1974) assures us that the good enough carer can supply all that a child needs. That some 'failure' in parenting, some inability to respond and some mismatch of supply to demand are all part of the rounding of the human experience.
An ideal mother leaves little space between mother and infant for expansion, exploration, and individuality. The space Winnicott (1974) sees as the basis for creativity. The ideal teacher in a class of ideal infants leaves little space between for conflict, challenge and growth.
A class full of good enough infants who trust in the teacher and the community of the school and who feel safe enough to take risks, and to try is all that is necessary for a living, thriving, exciting learning environment.

Alison Woolf

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