Brain Development in Children from Seven to Twelve Years

Brain Development in Children from Seven to Twelve Years

By Richard Brodie

The child from seven to twelve years of age represents childhood in its full flowering, from full consciousness at seven to highly cognizant and emotionally developed individuality at twelve.  Only a year or two later, at thirteen or fourteen, the child will be an adolescent, a very different creature!  But at twelve, highly developed though he may be, he still has the qualities of the naive, imaginative, wonderstruck child that seem to characterize children everywhere!

Middle Childhood: Social & Emotional Development

Even before modern science with its brain scans, hormonal analyses, etc., human society has acknowledged the tremendous threshold that is crossed from the end of childhood into the beginning adolescence.  In Catholicism and Judaism, the thirteenth year is celebrated as a glorious culmination in development with the Communion and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah respectively.  In Charles Dickens’ England, only a century and a half ago, a boy of thirteen was assumed to have arrived at manhood, and, having apprenticed at a trade from the age of eleven, could now legally become a master of his trade at thirteen, an age at which he could also legally take a bride and marry!  Even Juliet, the heroine of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the symbol of impassioned womanhood everywhere, was only thirteen!

Clearly, then, some of the most important abilities and qualities of the adult are acquired in this period of late childhood.  Most amazing about this period ending around twelve is that some developing abilities of the brain reach their peak in this period, and then actually begin to decline in the next period, i.e., in adolescence!  These abilities involve the capacity to learn—comparatively effortlessly—certain complex cognitive and motor skills.



The most conspicuous cognitive ability that one has in abundance in the period from seven to twelve, and that begins to decline thereafter, is the ability to learn a spoken language, or even several languages, seemingly without effort and without accent!  Foreign languages learned in adolescence or later are almost invariably spoken with some accent—or even hesitancy—for the rest of one’s life, even by highly intelligent and gifted linguistic learners.

The most conspicuous physical ability that one has in abundance in this period is the ability to learn complex physical skills so expertly and seemingly effortlessly that they become—as the phrase so aptly puts it—second nature.  These skills are most evident in the field of sports, athletics, and in the playing of complex musical instruments.  If a boy, for example, has not learned to throw an object such as a stone or ball in boyhood, he may never learn to do it properly.  Or at least, he may never learn to do it in a natural, intuitive fashion.  The same applies to learning a complex instrument such as the piano, which an adolescent or young adult may learn to do very well, but rarely with the natural, intuitive mastery that comes with having learned the instrument in childhood.

Normal Development Middle Childhood & Adolescence Greatest Hits

Why does the brain actually seem to lose the ability to learn such skills with such thoroughness that they become “second nature”, when the brain, even in adolescence, is still growing?  We can only assume that it is because the ability to learn certain motor and linguistic skills has been superceded in importance by the now more important areas of cognitive reasoning and sexual development.  And why are these new areas more important for the adolescent?  They are more important because, from an evolutionary standpoint, the motor and linguistic skills required for survival are presumed to have been acquired by age thirteen; and now, for the survival of the species, the individual must be able to 1) reason intelligently and 2) to procreate!



What is the message in all this for the parents and educators of the older child in modern society?  Clearly, it is that the skills that will benefit the future adult must be taught as early as possible in the period from seven to twelve years of age.  These skills include, among many others, the learning of important or useful foreign languages as well as one’s mother tongue with expertise; the learning of specific athletic skills that are likely to bring the individual pleasure later in life; and the learning of a musical instrument, most preferably for starters, the piano, which with its versatility and matchless musical repertory can bring a lifetime of pleasure to the individual in any culture in the world!

Brain Development in Young Children From Four to Seven

Brain Development in Young Children From Four to Seven

By Richard Brodie

Preschoolers: How Three- & Four-Year-Olds Develop

“Give us a boy until he is seven years of age, and we will answer for him for the rest of his life!”  This proud boast of the Jesuits throughout the centuries underscores the importance of the milestone reached by children by the age of seven.  It signifies that not only has the child’s brain developed to the point where complex ideas can be embraced and understood, but that attitudes, too, can be inculcated on a basis so thorough that, unless consciously altered, they can last a lifetime!

Oddly, there is no word in English to define the child at this critical stage in life.  The terms “tot” and “toddler” define the one- to three-year-old very adequately.  But for children aged four to seven, no good word exists.  Terms such as “school-aged child”, “pre-schooler”, and the now old-fashioned “youngster” are too clumsy, too general, or too specific.  And yet it is in the years from four to seven that the child becomes the early version of the complete human being that he is destined to become.  It is at this stage that he goes from being the somewhat generic toddler to a highly individualized human being that can reason, show strong and subtle likes and dislikes, and interact socially to the point where he can even develop strong friendships.

Talking Together: The Movie

When speaking of “brain development”, we refer somewhat unthinkingly to our brains as organs, but our brains, naturally, are also who we really are!  The question arises, then, how do we best nurture brain development at this stage of life, as it involves not only the growth of the brain physically as an organ, but also our growth intellectually and emotionally as human beings!  Incredibly, actual physical brain growth is enhanced not just by good nutrition and exercise, but also by using the brain to think and feel with, just as muscle growth is enhanced by actually using the muscles, even though the growth of the brain is infinitely more complex than the growth of muscle tissue.

As children develop intellectually, emotionally, and socially, it is in all these areas that they should be stimulated—and preferably positively stimulated!  Healthy development in these areas is just as vital for the survival of man, the social animal as is food vital for the survival of man, the living organism!

Here are some suggestions for aiding this development:

Intellectual Stimulation.  Children, happily, are able to stimulate themselves intellectually!  This they do above all through play, something they are able to do intuitively, i.e., without adult intervention!  The role of the parent or caregiver in this area, therefore, is to provide an environment that is conducive to play.  This means providing not only the basic toys, but also access to play areas, playgrounds, other children playing—and ample time in which to engage in play.  The four- to seven-year-old is also eager to learn about the world, for which daily life provides no end of exciting sources of discovery!  To the eager young child, the learning experience is indistinguishable from play.  Picture books, alphabet books and early reading primers, nursery rhymes, poster paints, etc. offer endless sources on entertainment and stimulation.  And nothing can equal the joy of being read to by a loving parent!  If done in the spirit of loving nurture, it is also a thrill for the child to engage in select adult activities with their parents, such as backyard vegetable gardening, food preparation, excursions, etc.

Emotional Stimulation.  As we are all creatures of emotion, children of all ages must be stimulated emotionally, the sine qua non of all emotion stemming from the love of the parents themselves.  With parental love as a given, all good things flow from there.  Love of self, love of parents in return, love of others—all these forms of love are dependent on parental love.  If the child has received this love throughout his short existence, then he can flourish as a loving human being himself throughout his life.  Parents should also make available other traditional objects of love, whenever possible, with toys such as stuffed animals and real animals for pets.  They should also create an environment that is rich in the creations of the human emotions, such as music.

Social Stimulation.  Social stimulation begins above all in the family.  Mealtimes with the whole family together are a must; few basics are more important than this.  After that, any harmonious family activity is beneficial.  Get-togethers with other families with children of the same age are also beneficial, as this helps children later when making their own friends at school and in the neighborhood.  Such get-togethers also allow the children to witness friendly relations among adults.  Competitive sports at this age, if introduced at all, should be introduced non-competitively, as the winner-loser dynamic taken in earnest is not healthy for children.

Taken together, these “areas of development”, as they are so dryly referred to, constitute the joys of life!  And if the child experiences these joys as a child, he will surely seek them out for the rest of his happy life!

Brain Development in the Toddler (Ages One to Three)

Brain Development in the Toddler (Ages One to Three)

By Richard Brodie

It is commonplace in academic writing on child development to speak of a given year as being “critical”.  Naturally, in childhood, every year is critical, with the earlier years being more critical simply because it is in the early years that the child gains the ability, confidence, and sense of self-worth with which to deal with adversity in the later years!

But it is hard to argue with the premise that the first three years of life are the most critical of all, if for no other reason than the fact that seventy-five percent of total brain growth and development takes place during that period!  Interestingly, within that three-year period, the second and third years differ significantly from the first year in that the parents must now begin putting intelligent input into their nurturing.  In the first year, the infant is still in a semi-fetal stage, where sheer physical survival is the issue at hand.  At this stage, simple generic nurturing consisting of feeding, protection, and loving attention is enough.  But in the second and third years, the infant is already transforming from this semi-fetal creature into the thinking and feeling human being that he has the potential of becoming.  This puts extraordinary demands on the parents to put some real thought into what they are doing!

Supporting First Emotions Set: With Life First's Feelings and Exploring First Feelings

For the parents of toddlers, it is important to understand that brain growth depends on more than just the nutrients the brain receives in the blood stream.  Countless studies show that actual physical brain development is enhanced by the child living in an environment that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally nourishing.  How important is it that we provide this environment?  Considering this toddler will be a fully fledged human being, and a vital member of society and of our own family, it is one of the most important things in the world!

Here are some suggestions on how to promote healthy brain development in two- and three-year-olds:

  • Physical Development:  Good Nutrition and Exercise.  As soon the child is weaned from the breast, he should receive the best nutrition possible.  This means ample raw fruit and vegetables prepared in the most appealing recipes possible, making good use of the blender (e.g. fresh fruit and berry slushes) and the food processor so that their undeveloped little mouths can take it in.  Commercial baby foods in cans and jars are generally overcooked and overpriced.  Ample exercise can best be provided by play, play, and more play!  Sand boxes, jungle gyms, and playground equipment are always a hit, in addition to just running and playing with other children.
  • Intellectual Development:  Teaching and Play.  If presented properly, the learning experience and play are indistinguishable to the child.  Every thing to the child is fun and discovery.  Learning to recognize letters of the alphabet in a colorful book is just as much fun as playing in a sand box.  Providing the basic “can’t-miss” toys such as balls, building blocks, musical toys, dolls for girls, etc. is a must.  To the child, everything is new and wonderful!  (It is helpful if the caring adults think back on their own childhood experience!).
  • Emotional Development:  Loving and Being Loved by Others.  There is no limit to the amount of love and caring attention that parents can give their children at this age.  The child’s future ability to love others is dependent on him loving his parents and loving himself, a state of affairs that is must be achieved in this period of life!

The Infant Brain: A Long Way to Grow!

The Infant Brain: A Long Way to Grow!

By Richard Brodie

Making Sense of My World Set

Did it ever occur to you that you remember almost nothing of your first three years of life?  Three years is a long time!  And did you ever notice how tiny an infant’s head—and thus his brain—is when compared to an adult’s?  Well, there is a connection between these two facts.  Namely, that when you were an infant, you didn’t have much of a brain!  Or at least certainly not a brain to think with, much less to take in anything by way of stimulus or experience from your little world that you might be able to remember later!

Your small brain size when you were born should not be a surprise.  Only nine months earlier your entire body including your brain was a single cell.  And when you were born your brain was only one-third the size of what it was when you were three years old, which was still a long way from adulthood!  The truth is that the brain of the human infant is much closer to its fetal stage that it is to its adult stage, both in size and in length in time of development.

Most Important Baby in the World As a Newborn

This truth is apparent even to the most casual observer.  When a baby is born his actions and motions with his slowly waving little arms resemble more those of a sea anemone than of a mature human being.  Even a pet mouse or guinea pig is more cognizant of its surroundings one week after birth than a human infant is at six months.  But this seemingly slow development is misleading.  The truth is that the brain is growing with tremendous speed, but the stages take longer than with other animals because the human brain in the end is going to be so much bigger!

Almost the entire development of the infant’s brain in the first six months of life is the development of motor skill and the five senses—taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight—with cognitive abilities virtually nil.

What can parents and caregivers do to promote maximum brain development during the first six months?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Nutrition.  The mother, who is hopefully breastfeeding at this time, should be eating as nutritiously as possible.  This means plenty of raw fruit and vegetables, preferably organically grown for maximum mineral content and lack of pesticides.  Fetuses and infants are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides.
  • Basic Nurturing.  The baby should be given all the warmth and protection and loving attention that are part of the universally known basics of infant nurturing.  As a part of the survival instinct, infant are aware at a primitive level almost from the beginning if they are lacking in nurture, and they will be terribly damaged through impeded development if this is the case.
  • Sensorimotor stimulus through loving attention and play.  Since infant brain development involves mainly motor skills and the five senses, the loving parent should stimulate the infant in these areas.  This involves much hugging, coddling, singing and cooing, and—already at this stage—talking with simple speech.  The environment, too, should be positively oriented, with music, toys, pleasant conversation, and other signs of a happy family life.

Identifying Developmental Delays

Identifying Developmental Delays

By Barbara L.M. Fedoroff

At no time is a parent more concerned about his or her child than when first faced with the possibility of a developmental delay. It is critical at this time to separate the possible delay from the identity of the child. The caregiver’s role is to assure the parent that the child’s wholeness is still valued. Separating the child from the non-typical behavior does this best.

“We’ve noticed that things like crayons and spoons keep falling from Mary’s hands” defines a caregiver’s concern while acknowledging that Mary is much more than her development, and that she continues to be Mary regardless of any developmental findings. “Have you noticed that Mary cannot hold a crayon or spoon,” is not acceptable. It is conclusive and lessens Mary by identifying her too closely with the function of holding.

Identifying Developmental Delays

When first hearing that their child may have a delay, many parents will immediately move out of the present moment, anticipating that their child is not whole. This can be manifested by fear, which is then demonstrated by anger toward the caregiver –- the messenger. Others may move to the future, asking questions about all the worst possibilities their child may face; or they’ll go to the past, looking for the key to the delay— even seeking to blame someone.

In any case, the caregiver can gently assist the parent by bringing them back to the present moment. “These are preliminary findings. The muscles that hold crayons and utensils may be developing at the outer edge of typical and in time, will strengthen. Before we anticipate anything else, it’s best to see your pediatrician and get an evaluation.”

By taking one step at a time, a caregiver can help the parent stay in the present moment, where he or she has the best possibility of making good decisions. In extreme cases, a stopping exercise will help, such as abruptly shifting from the conversation and bringing the parent’s attention to something else.

For example, “Oh, did Mary tell you she made a new friend this week? His name is David.” The parent may be relieved to engage in this conversation and relax somewhat. After a few minutes this may give the caregiver an opportunity to continue with a productive conversation that leads to the ultimate aim: to get Mary’s muscle development evaluated by the family pediatrician or a developmental specialist.

Caregivers have the ability to observe children for the greater part of the day. Their skill at identifying possible developmental delays is enhanced when they have professional tools to aid them. Identifying Developmental Delays presents real-life examples of delays among children in childcare and clinical settings. These authentic presentations help childcare professionals identify the “red flags” of delays among the children in care and give the support you needed to get children help.

Identifying Developmental Delays is made up of three videos in one convenient DVD:

  1. A World of Hope illustrates developmental milestones in children birth to three
  2. Next Steps illustrates developmental milestones in children ages three to five; and
  3. Talking to Parents helps caregivers and teachers share their findings with parents by explaining the many emotional reactions parents may experience.

The program also includes:

  • a workbook to reinforce the information in the videos
  • age-appropriate worksheets for recording findings
  • the age-appropriate Assessment Checklist

The Identifying Developmental Delays video training package received an international Aurora Award for Excellence among public awareness videos.


Barbara L. M. Fedoroff is the Chief Executive Officer of Programs for Parents, Inc., the ninth largest not-for-profit company in New Jersey, serving more than 20,000 children and families. Fedoroff majored in journalism at New York University and is certified in not-for-profit management by Harvard Business Management for Executives. Fedoroff is certified by the American Institute for Mental Imagery, New York in Mental Imagery, Imagination and Phenomenology. She is a graduate of The New Seminary, where she was ordained as an Interfaith Minister. She has developed an ethical management system, Inner-Focused Management (IFM) in which Imagery is integrated with sound business practices. IFM focuses on helping staff members develop their individual potential so they can best serve the company’s 7,500+ clients.

Is My Baby Developing Normally? Advice for New Parents

Is My Baby Developing Normally? Advice for New Parents


By Geri Fox, M.D.

Along with the delight of seeing your baby grow and develop new skills, every parent experiences anxiety. You watch and wonder, “Is my baby developing normally?” You may be looking at a list of developmental milestones, and worrying whether or not your baby is coming along okay. This article will define what is normal or typical development, look at developmental milestones from newborns to 18 months, and then discuss common developmental delays in babies.

First, in order to think about the question of normal development in babies, it will help to consider the four different commonly accepted definitions of “normality”.



Normal Development in the First Ten Years of Life: Complete Version plus Greatest Hits

Normality as Health: This is the traditional medical perspective. Your baby is normal if he is “not sick”; if he has no signs or symptoms of illness or medical syndromes.

Normality as Utopia: This is the perspective of functioning according to the ideal. Using this model, your baby is normal if she is “the best that she can be,” or performing at the optimal level. This is a tough standard to be measured by, but is nice to fantasize about.

Normality as Average: This is the perspective of mathematical norms created by studying a large population. This is how developmental milestone charts are created. Using this model, your baby is normal if his behavior falls within the middle of the bell-shaped curve (for example, most babies walk between 9 and 16 months). Using this model, any extreme is abnormal—your baby could develop a skill early and it would be considered “abnormal”! It is essential to remember that these are measures of groups, not individuals.

Normality as a Transactional System: This is probably the most complicated perspective to understand. Basically, it describes how different systems interact over time. For example, your interactions with your 5-month-old baby are normal when he smiles at you and you smile back. Your one-year-old baby is acting normally if she gets upset when you leave the room, crawls after you, and is comforted when she is reunited with you.



When thinking about the question, “Is my baby developing normally?” it is important to remember that there is a wide range of development, with many individual routes to a goal. Infant Development at One Month

For example, at 9 months, one baby may be doing a lot of weight bearing on her legs, while another baby may avoid weight-bearing but prefers to roll everywhere. Both babies may still start walking on their first birthdays! On the other hand, it is important to monitor your baby’s development for any serious delays. The challenge is, how can we differentiate individual normal variations from those that are cause for concern, and stay calm at the same time?

In order to monitor effectively, here is a general list of (infant development) milestones. Please remember that all milestones below have been simplified to provide easy “mental markers;” however, there is a wide variation of normal range that is not indicated below, but must be taken into account.

In the first month, your baby is likely to:

  • Language: have different vocalizations for pain, hunger, and pleasure.
  • Motor: lift her head while prone. Her hands are mostly in fists.
  • Social: focus on an object and follow it for a bit with her eyes.

At 3 months, your baby is likely to:

  • Language: respond differentially to his caretaker’s voice; babble; respond to singing
  • Motor: hold his head up 90 degrees (from prone position). He is beginning to put his hands together, and to bat at objects. He is just beginning to bring objects to his mouth, but he does not yet have a refined grasp.
  • Social: spontaneously smile at you.

At 6 months, your baby is likely to:

  • Language: start saying nonspecific “bababa” and “dadada”, and produce one or more vowel sounds.
  • Motor: roll over from stomach to back. She can bear some weight on her legs, push up on extended arms in a prone position, pull to sit without head lag, and sit with support. She easily reaches for objects. She should be actively using her thumb rather than having it tucked into her palm. She can rake a Cheerio with her fingers and get it into her mouth, but doesn’t have a pincer grasp yet. She enjoys exploring objects in her environment with her eyes, hands, and mouth.
  • Social: laugh (starts at 4 months). She should make good eye contact and smile interactively. She may play peek-a-boo. Stranger anxiety may be beginning.

At 9 months, your baby is likely to:

  • Language: understand simple commands, imitate sounds, and respond to his name. He can use voice inflections to indicate in baby-talk if he has a question or is making statement.
  • Motor: sit independently, get to sitting, and stand while holding on. He can bang two cubes together, and grasp objects using his thumb and fingers. He can find an object that he has watched you hide. He can transfer an object from hand to hand.
  • Social: show stranger anxiety.

At 1 year, your baby is likely to:

  • Language: have said her first word, and use “mama” and “dada” to refer to her parents (although often mixing them up!). She can respond to spoken requests to identify some familiar objects (“where’s the doll?”). If your one-year-old is very quiet and you don’t hear a variety of consonant-vowel sound productions (mama, dada, baba), please request a hearing test.
  • Motor: crawl on her hands and knees (“creeping”). She may begin walking. She has a neat pincer grasp, using her thumb and fingertip, and can feed herself foods using her fingers. She can release an object, such as a cube, into a cup. She begins creeping upstairs. Most one-year-olds can pull themselves to stand and lower themselves to sit.
  • Social: indicate wants without crying, using pointing or verbalization. She is likely experiencing separation anxiety.

At 18 months, your baby is likely to:

  • Language: use at least 10 words, and point to at least one named body part. By 18 months, a toddler is likely to have 10 to 20 words. Jargoning is the norm: this is when he speaks in what sounds like sentences, but maybe one word is intelligible (“java-da-ba-go-baba-mama.”). He is following verbal directions given without gestures (“go get the ball”, without your pointing or looking at it). He can indicate 3 body parts, either on himself or you or a doll (“where is Mommy’s nose?”). He is using sounds to get your attention. If your baby has not said his first word, please request an evaluation from your pediatrician.
  • Motor: walk backward, scribble, and feed himself with a spoon without much spilling. He can build a tower of two cubes. If your baby is not walking, please request an evaluation from your pediatrician.
  • Social: throw a temper tantrum! He wants to share, but is ambivalent about it. His separation anxiety may be peaking. He begins to imitate others in his play, and may show symbolic play (“pretending”). He is learning how to take turns. He should respond to his name, and be able to name someone familiar to him.

Developmental Warning Signs*

  • Poor head control after 3 months
  • Stiff or rigid arms or legs
  • Pushing away or arching back as a typical posture
  • Floppy or limp body posture
  • Cannot sit up without support by 8 months
  • Uses ones side of body or only the arms to crawl
  • Extreme irritability or crying after 3 months
  • Failure to smile by 3 months
  • Persistent gagging or choking when fed
  • Tongue persistently pushes soft food out of mouth after 6 months

Normal Development in the First Ten Years of Life: Greatest Hits

What should you do if your baby is not doing some of the activities listed above? First: don’t panic; this does NOT automatically mean that something is wrong. Sometimes, parents are embarrassed or hesitant to bring their concerns to the attention of their pediatrician. Please, don’t be afraid to ask for an evaluation. At best, you will be reassured. If a delay is identified, you have done your baby a favor in getting early intervention. Parents should be proactive in requesting regular developmental screening. If your pediatrician prefers not to do the actual screening, ask for a referral to someone who does developmental screening routinely.

What if it turns out that your child does have a delay? Early intervention is key. You may be wondering what can be done. This of course varies according to the delay. In general, a therapist will show you ways to work with your child to help him in the area of the delay. A good therapist will empower parents to help the baby learn the necessary skills. There are usually many things that you can do as part of your daily activity with the baby.

For example, John was a one-year-old who had wonderful motor skills (crawling, starting to walk) but was socially delayed. He didn’t make good eye contact, rarely smiled, and had poor social interaction. His parents weren’t concerned because his motor skills were excellent. When a developmental evaluation revealed his social delay, he received early intervention. His parents were encouraged to help him focus and interact, playing hide-and-seek and other games, reading to him, etc. He is now a bright, focused, interactive, happy first-grader.

Another example: Mary was 13 months old and could follow directions but wasn’t talking or making sounds. An evaluation revealed that she had fluctuating hearing loss due to multiple ear infections. After she received simple treatment for this problem, her hearing returned to normal and her speech quickly began to catch up.

Is Baby OK? Assessing Development

Okay, you’re sold on the importance of regular development screening, and you’re not afraid to ask for an evaluation or early intervention. However, you may be worried about your rights to an evaluation or the expense of services. You should know about The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (IDEA, Part C). This is a federal entitlement program, which ensures that every child has access to developmental screening and early intervention.

Whatever your doubts or concerns are, you need to remember that you are the best expert on your child. And if you are not satisfied or convinced by one professional’s opinion, keep exploring. Sometimes your child’s challenges or behaviors are not as evident to others as they are to you. Your pediatrician is an excellent resource. Or, you can contact your local school district, or your local health department, either of which can tell you how to receive a free screening. So, please don’t hesitate to have your concerns evaluated. Regular screening and early intervention are the best ways to maximize your child’s development and functioning.

About the Author: Geri Fox, M.D. is Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at University of Ilinois at Chicago/Institute for Juvenile Research. She is a nationally-known educator. Her award-winning 2-part stimulus documentary, Normal Development in the First Ten Years of Life and Normal Development in Middle Childhood and Adolescence, uses short vignettes to follow the growth of one child from infancy through adolescence, and is designed for educators to use in illustrating their teaching points. Clips may be viewed on-line at her faculty page. The complete set, along with “Greatest Hits” samplers of each section, are available for purchase on our website.

Children and Grief

Children and Grief

It goes without saying that the grieving process is a complicated and intensely personal one. It is difficult enough for adults to deal with the loss of a loved one, but it can be even more difficult for children, particularly if their adult caregivers are working through their own grief. Understanding how grief affects children at various developmental stages and knowing the best ways to assist children as they grieve can help children to process their grief in the most healthy way possible.

Keep in mind that, while grief is usually associated with a death, there are many circumstances under which children grieve. Separation due to the dissolution of a relationship or due to a military deployment or job-related separation can also cause grief in children.

Reactions to Loss and How to Help

Losing a Parent to Death in the Early Years

How old a child is at the time of loss certainly affects the child’s perception of the event. Although babies are unable to express themselves verbally, they will certainly exhibit reactions to loss. They may seem more fussy, inconsolable, or have changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. Very young children, ages 2 to 4, are egocentric: they think the world revolves around them, and their concept of death is limited. They may think that death is reversible, and their main reactions to death may be that their daily routine and care are altered.

The adult whom they have lost, or who is also grieving, will be either absent or unable to care for the child in the accustomed manner. At this age, reactions are often regressive, exhibiting themselves in eating, sleeping, or toileting disruptions. Children this age need reassurance and consistency. Try to maintain regular routines and to be comforting, giving hugs and kisses and lots of gentle touches. Keep the discussions of death short, but keep interactions with the child frequent. Even if you feel like the baby or young child cannot understand your words, they will understand your interest in their feelings and your wish to console them. Keep talking – it will help you to get used to the discussions that will become longer and more detailed as the child gets older, and it will help you to figure out what to say.

Children ages 5 to 7 have a little more understanding of the permanency of death, but it is not a deep understanding. These children are more autonomous than younger ones, but they still have trouble separating fantasy from reality. They may think they are somehow responsible for the death, although they still see death as reversible. They may ask many “why” and “how” questions, and may want to play funeral or try to take on the role of the dead person. Repetitive questions and possible nightmares, eating and sleeping disruptions, and violent play are all potential reactions at this age.

Caregivers can help by allowing children to tell stories or create drawings or express themselves through play. Be there to talk about the process and encourage the child to share his or her emotions. As with younger children, don’t worry if your child cannot fully grasp the complexities of the topic. Simply keeping an open dialogue is beneficial to you both.

Grief in the Family

At age 7 through 11, children are starting to think more logically, and they are better able to see death as permanent (but don’t be surprised if they still view it as reversible). They may fear bodily harm and may be concerned with how others are responding to the death and whether their response is the “right” one. Children this age may think of suicide as a way to join the person who died and they may withdraw from social groups and exhibit anger toward parents. They will ask questions and want specific answers.

The best thing to do is to be willing and available to talk about the grief. Answer questions. Be there when they want to talk, but honor the time in which they need to be alone to process their emotions. Encourage these children to express themselves through symbolic play.

Ages 11 through 18 bring about a period when a child can think abstractly and process the meaning of death. Their reactions to death may be more adult-like; they may want to talk more to people outside of, not within, their family, and may become depressed or angry and otherwise “act out.” Do not try to take away the grief from these children or to shield them from grief. Instead, encourage them to verbalize their emotions and be available to talk or listen as they work through this complex process. Don’t attempt to take control of the situation, but simply be there for them.

Commonalities of Grief

While these developmental stages usually correspond with a child’s chronological age, don’t expect there to be a bright line of delineation between these states just because a child is a certain age. All children may exhibit shock, denial, and anger before finally accepting the loss. There will be a period of upheaval, followed by a transitional period where children try to make sense of their loss, and then finally a reorganization as they adjust to their new situation.

Grief, though, is cyclical: like adults, children may think they have accepted a loss only to have a setback that leaves them feeling hopeless or helpless again. There isn’t a prescribed time period in which the grieving process takes place. The most important things to remember are to be available for the child and to let him express grief without trying to impose the “right” way to grieve. Children may exhibit typical grief-related behaviors for their age or developmental stage, but they are all individuals who will process their grief differently.

If the Child Needs Additional Help

The Grieving Student: A Teacher's Guide

Parents and caregivers want to do everything possible to assist a grieving child, but if they are grieving themselves, or it the child is having a particularly difficult time of processing the loss, outside help may be necessary. Your child’s pediatrician, his or her school counselor, or the person who leads your place of worship may have some recommendations for counseling. Individual and group counseling can be helpful. For older children, connecting with peers who have suffered a loss can be useful. While the grieving process is a personal one, just knowing one is not the only one who has suffered a loss can be valuable.

Your local library may have some reference material that can be helpful in assisting children with loss, and a search of Internet sources can turn up credible and useful source material as well.

Day camps, residential camps, and even residential schools can offer services beyond the scope and expertise of parents and caregivers and can be invaluable resources as children work through the grieving process and begin to establish a peace with their loss.

The most important thing to remember is that children are individuals, and they will process their grief differently. Be there to listen, to guide, to help children express themselves, and be attuned to the child’s needs. Listen respectfully and let the child express himself in his own words, no matter his age. Stay tuned into child’s progress as he navigates these new emotions, particularly if you feel he needs some more expert assistance in working through the complexities of the grieving process.

Margaret Mahler: Child Development Pioneer

Margaret Mahler: Child Development Pioneer

By Richard Brodie

That many experts on child development were themselves the victims of an unhappy or traumatized childhood should come as no surprise, since an unhappy experience can give birth to a passionate interest just as much as a happy one.  Even more so, perhaps, since an unhappy experience can produce a sense of mission to undo the damage from that unhappy experience, or at least, to understand why it happened, and perhaps to prevent it from happening to others!

Like John Bowlby and Benjamin Spock, Margaret Mahler (born Margaret Schonberger in 1897 in Sopron, Hungary) grew up with a profound sense of outrage and hurt that she had somehow been cheated out of a happy childhood with a loving family.  The first-born child of an unhappy marriage, Margaret’s had her initial unhappiness compounded by what seemed to be an unusually emphatic rejection by her mother, a rejection possibly caused by her father’s apparent preference for Margaret over her mother.  The defining moment of this rejection happened when Margaret overheard her mother confide dotingly to her younger sister—”I have brought you into this world, I suckle you, I love you, I adore you, I live only for you, you are my whole life!”

Margaret later acknowledged that the way her mother treated her was probably the reason she grew to have such an interest in pediatrics and psychoanalysis.  One of the “happiest moments” of Margaret’s childhood, she recounts, was when her two-year-old younger sister and rival for her mother’s affections badly burned her cheek with a hot iron.  Their mother was mortified and hysterical; she couldn’t believe that it was her “pretty daughter” who ruined her face.  Surely Margaret’s situation was one of the sadder examples of the emotional devastation caused by parental favoritism.  Her other accounts of her childhood depict an unusually austere and loveless atmosphere.

Margaret’s unhappiness at home was only in part compensated for by extraordinary success in school, where she excelled in math and science.  Even in academia she would encounter future unhappiness in the form of discrimination against women and Jews.  In 1916, as only the second female from her home town to be admitted to an institution of higher learning, she began studies in art history at the University of Budapest, but only one semester later she switched to the study of medicine.

She then attended first the University of Munich (where she encountered anti-Semitic discrimination), and then the University of Jena, where she discovered how important play and love were for infants in order for them to grow up mentally and physically healthy.  Upon graduating cum laude she moved to Vienna where she received her license to practice medicine, concentrating on pediatrics and psychiatry.  In 1926 she began her seven-years analysis with Helen Deutsch, culminating in her certification as a psychoanalyst.  By this time she had developed a strong love for working with children, and always enjoyed the loving attention they showed her.

In 1936 at a seminar of Anna Freud’s, Margaret met her future husband, Paul Mahler, a chemist.  With the advent of Nazism they moved first to Britain and then to the United States, where she began a private practice in New York City.  In 1939 she met Benjamin Spock, and subsequently joined the Institute of Human Development, the New York Psychoanalytic Society, and in 1950, the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.

In the following thirty years until her death in 1985, she was to research and publish the works that were to make her famous, specifically her development of the Separation-Individuation Theory in which she describes the process by which the infant first identifies with and then separates from the mother.  Her most famous books are The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, the Memoirs of Margaret Mahler, Infantile Psychosis and Early Contributions by Margaret Mahler Vol. 1, and Separation-Individuation Vol.2: Selected Papers of Margaret Mahler.  Some of her famous papers include and “Psychoanalytic Evaluation of Tics”,” Infantile Process”, and “Autism and Symbiosis, Two Extreme Disturbances of Identity”.

John Bowlby: The Father of Attachment Theory

John Bowlby: The Father of Attachment Theory

By Richard Brodie

The importance of motherly love has been recorded throughout history.  A mother lovingly cradling her baby is one of the most potent visual and emotional symbols in all cultures.  The most venerated symbol of Christianity itself, after the Cross, is the Nativity, with the Virgin Mary looking adoringly down at the Christ child cradled in her arms.  So important is motherly love in most cultures that the lack of it is felt intuitively to be catastrophic for the fate of the child.  And devotees of English literature all know of Charles Dickens depiction of nineteenth-century London’s dreary orphanages, and of the emotional deprivation of its sad and tiny residents!

Pioneer of Attachment Theory

John Bowlby Attachment Theory

John Bowlby, the mid-twentieth-century English psychologist, is widely credited with having put a “scientific” name to motherly love and to the widely held assumptions as to its importance to the mother’s child.  He called his premises Attachment Theory.  Bowlby’s primary thesis is that the success of all relationships or “attachments” in life is dependent of the success of the first one, namely, of the bond between the infant or small child and his mother or primary caregiver.

As clinical and cold as the term “attachment” may sound, it nevertheless defines a phenomenon that the term “motherly love” does so only imperfectly, and that is the mutual love of mother or caregiver and child for each other!  In English this fills a linguistic void, for, oddly, no term in English exists to describe the other side of the equation of “motherly love”, namely, that of the love of a child for its parent.  Bowlby extended his theory to cover not just parent-child bonding or caregiver-child bonding, but eventually all human relationships that involve an emotional bond between one person and another.

Like so many experts on the effects of emotional deprivation, Bowlby was able to write from first-hand experience.  Born in 1907 and raised in the emotionally stifling manner of the traditional British upper-class family, Bowlby rarely saw his mother during the day, and was instead cared for by a nanny.  Shockingly by today’s standards, “too much” love and affection by a parent was thought to spoil a child!  When Bowlby was four, his nanny left the services of the family, an event that devastated the young boy.  At seven, again in the tradition of upper-class Britain, young Bowlby was sent off to boarding school, an environment so emotionally impoverished that Bowlby would later write that he “wouldn’t send a dog away” to such a place!

John Bowlby: Attachment and Loss Seminar

At the University of Cambridge, Bowlby studied psychology, and upon graduation worked with maladjusted and delinquent children.  He then enrolled in University College Hospital in London in the field of medicine, and later completed the requirements necessary to become a psychoanalyst.  In 1938 he became the head of Trinity College.  During World War II Bowlby did extensive work with child refugees from Europe who had been torn away from their parents, as well as with English children who were deliberately separated from their parents to protect them from the German air raids on London.  By the late 1950s Bowlby had accumulated a body of theoretical and theoretical work to indicate the fundamental importance for human development of attachment from birth.

While working for the World Health Organization, Bowlby wrote “Maternal Care and Mental Health” in 1951, in which he developed his theory on maternal deprivation.  In 1956 he began his defining work, the three-volume Attachment, the first volume of which was published in 1969 and the final volume in 1974.  In his last volume Bowlby propounded the theory that attachment behavior is essentially an evolutionary mechanism for protecting the infant from predators.  He died in 1990 in Scotland survived by his wife and four children.

Classic Treasures: The Work of James and Joyce Robertson

Classic Treasures: The Work of James and Joyce Robertson

By Margie Wagner

In 2005, while visiting my friend Katrin Stroh, author of Every Child Can Learn, in London, I had the great pleasure of meeting Joyce Roberston, the co-producer (with her husband James Robertson) of the remarkable video series, Young Children in Brief Separation. James and Joyce also co-authored Separation and the Very Young. My time with Joyce sparked the hope that someday CDM might be able to distribute the Robertson films — invaluable and irreplaceable contributions to the field. We are pleased to announce that that time is now.

A Two Year Old Goes to Hospital

The Robertsons’ work on separation began in 1948 when James joined John Bowlby in a study at the Tavistock Clinic in London. The task was to document the responses of young children to separation from their mothers. As a working example of separation his plan was to observe children separated from their mothers who had been confined to hospital after giving birth. However, identifying significant numbers of children was difficult.

To order to achieve the objective of the study, Robertson reversed the scenario and obtained permission to observe young hospitalized children who were separated from their mothers as a result of severe visitation restrictions. What he found was that while the children were adequately cared for they were overwhelmed and bewildered by the experience, particularly those under three years of age. The children cried and became desolate and withdrawn, a near-universal emotional response that had been largely ignored by the field. For several years Robertson contributed objective observations to the Tavistock study. During this time he became determined to find a way to help humanize pediatric medicine.

In 1951 Robertson filmed A Two Year Old Goes to Hospital, followed a few years later by Going to Hospital with Mother. These two films, shown around the world and combined with the diligent advocacy of James Robertson, have had a dramatic impact on the way young children and their families are cared for in hospitals everywhere.

Young Children in Brief Separation Series

Young Children in Brief Separation, the five-film series was published between 1967 and 1973. Prior to the release of the films, the prevailing and controversial theory of separation at the time was, “that acute distress is the usual response of young children (between about six months and three to four years of age) to separation from the mother, regardless of circumstances and quality of substitute care; and, by implication, that there is no distinction between the responses of these infants at different levels of development”(Bowlby, 1960). The Robertsons resolved to clarify the issue.

As research colleagues James and Joyce together decided to closely examine the variables that influence the behavior of healthy young children during a ten-day separation from mother during her stay at a hospital after the birth of a new child. In order to achieve this direct contact with young children, the Robertsons became foster parents providing full-time care giving to a series of children while making written and filmed observations of Lucy, Thomas, Kate, and Jane. These children did not show any signs of acute distress or despair during the separation and were reunited successfully with their mothers.

Young Children in Brief Separation: JohnThe Robertsons also filmed the reactions of John, a young, healthy child, to life in a residential nursery for nine days during the confinement of his mother. In residential placement John received inconsistent care, the children were aggressive and demanding, and the environment was chaotic. John deteriorated rapidly. Reuniting with his mother was difficult and behavioral issues lasted for several years.

Today the Robertson films and the book Separation and the Very Young are used in academic training programs and staff development programs worldwide.

We would like to express our gratitude to the Robertson family for working with us to bring these remarkable films on DVD to the USA.