What makes a good childhood?

shutterstock_2040590By Dr. Nicole Milburn, Clinical Psychologist and Internal Consultant for Infant Mental Health at Berry Street Take Two

The Berry Street Childhood Institute has a primary task of helping the community think about what makes a good childhood. In health and welfare work, we are so often required to focus on what is not good enough and what requires improvement. To have an institute in our field that is dedicated to sharing a conversation about what makes a good childhood is a really wonderful addition.

I am a Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Specialist. The field of infant mental health has been burgeoning over the last 50 years and has much to say about what constitutes a good childhood. Infant mental health has particular strengths in this area, having come from the fields of both psychoanalytic theory and developmental psychology.

Psychoanalysis has a long history of thinking about what lies inside people’s heads; what conscious and unconscious drives and motivations are acted out in behavior, and how people see themselves in relation to one another. shutterstock_97150604

Psychoanalysis has had a great focus on infancy since the time of Freud. The very first infant analysis of a child with a phobia was conducted by Freud himself, on his young grandson, known as ‘Little Hans’.

It was, however, those theorists who came after Freud who furthered the study into the emphasis on the experience of the infant. Theorists such as Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna, along with Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott, Rene Spitz, and John Bowlby took Freud’s understanding of a one-person psychology of individual drives to an understanding of the relationship between people, or object relations, and then to attachment relationships.

Developmental psychology has its roots in the science of behaviour and the testing of capacities. The experiments of developmental psychologists have provided us with an understanding of the capacities of the newborn. Their experiments have also given us knowledge about the development of the brain, as seen areas such as infants’ understanding of the concepts of things existing when they can’t be seen (object permanence), as well as that amounts are the same even if they are in different containers. shutterstock_3395305

These concepts have been crucial in helping us understand how infant and small children grow and learn. Putting these two fields together gives birth to the whole baby – the internal world as it interacts with the external world of objects, relationships, family, and culture.

So, why is all of this important for the purpose of the Berry Street Childhood Institute?

Because a good infancy is the key to a good childhood. In the coming months, I will take aspects of a good infancy, starting with pregnancy, and explore the important factors that contribute to a good infancy and a good childhood. These are the things that build resilience.


For those who work with infants and their caregivers, we have two opportunities to learn more about infant mental health coming up with Dr. Nicole Milburn and other experts in the field:

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