How Children See.
Because many of the adult brain functions are not yet developed at birth, the human infant “sees the world” totally differently to how we are used to perceiving it as adults. The various senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste) are not experienced as separate entities by an infant.
If babies hear a loud noise, many of them will startle extremely, and begin crying. This is in part because the infant not only hears the noise, but also experiences it as a felt disturbance in his/her body, a visual image of the sound that also shocks the sense of sight etc – ALL senses will experience the shock and startle of the noise, so any such disturbance to the infant’s natural flow of experience will be magnified manyfold compared to how we may experience such things as adults.
If an infant cannot actually see someone, or something, then there is no perception that that thing is still within reach. How many parents have had the experience of driving, with their young infant crying as if inconsolably in the rearwards facing safety seat? These seats are essential for safety, yet the infant is not able to comprehend that his/her carer is still there driving the car, just out of the line of sight.
The baby’s brain and body systems are not yet developed enough to manage such shock and disturbance. They may greatly overreact to powerful or unexpected stimuli because they lack the means for modulation of behaviour and affect (emotion) which is made possible by the development of higher brain functions.
This is where the impact of the carer is so greatly felt. The carer in effect takes on the role of these higher brain structures.
The adult, in their care and reassurance and calming of the infant, in effect teaches the growing and developing physical systems of the young human being that such ‘shocks’ are manageable, that such distress need not be overwhelming. The interaction of the dyad of the infant and his/her carers directly influences the affect (emotion) regulating development and maturation of the structural system responsible for the young individual’s socio-emotional function.
Through providing appropriate stimulation that can be managed, and appropriately helping the developing infant modulate disturbances that are too great to manage, the carer directly influences the growth and development of connections in the young brain and bodily systems.
As parents, we can only do our best. Human babies are made to love, and be loved. The best we can do is to allow them to love us, as we love them. And generally, our best will be “good enough”. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect carer’ of any young human being.
The core of the experience of a sense of self in a mature human being rests on the patterns of affect regulation (emotional control) that are maintained throughout the experience of many varied feelings and emotions over the time of a lifespan. This maintenance of emotional control allows a continuous flow of inner experience.
Thus, through our ability to know our feelings we can “know our selves”.