Child Development:
getting started

Margaret Mahler's Child Development




Birth to 4 weeks

State of half-asleep, half-awake

Major task is to achieve homeostatic equilibrium with the environment

4 weeks to 5 months

Social smile characteristic (two to four months)

Dim awareness of caretaker but infant still functions as if he and caretaker are undifferentiated or fused.


5 to 10 months

Process of hatching from autistic shell, i.e., developing more alert sensorium that reflects cognitive and neurological maturation

* Beginning of comparative scanning, i.e., comparing what is and what is not mother
* Characteristic anxiety: stranger anxiety, which involves curiosity and fear

10 to 16 months

Beginning of this marked by upright locomotion -- child has new perspective and also mood of elation

* Mother used as home base
* Characteristic anxiety: separation anxiety

16 to 24 months

Infant now a toddler -- more aware of physical separateness, which dampens mood of elation
* Child tries to bridge gap between himself and mother -- concretely seen as bringing objects to mother
* Mother's efforts to help toddler often not perceived as helpful, temper tantrums typical

* Rapprochement crisis. Wanting to be soothed by mother and yet not be able to accept her help
* Child stands on threshold of door not knowing which way to turn in helpless frustration
* Resolution of crisis occurs as child's skills improve and child can get gratification from doing things alone.

Object Constancy
24 to 36 months

Child better able to cope with mother's absence and engage substitutes
* Child can begin to feel comfortable with mother's absences by knowing she will return

* Gradual internalization of image of mother as reliable and stable
* Through increasing verbal skills and better sense of time child can tolerate delay and endure separations