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Normal development of family relationships in the first year of life


One cannot separate the treatment of the child from the parents when treating developmental disorders in the first two years of life because normal development starts with a merged parent infant dyad.  According to Winnicott (1987) ‘A baby cannot exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship’.  Another paediatrician, Brazelton (1991), said that he could only help infants to optimal development if parents were involved.  However, apart from what the parents bring, he recognised in his study of the new-born, the powerful interaction between the ‘motor, affective, automatic and cognitive systems and how they fuelled each other as the infant strove to achieve each developmental task.’  Infants are interactive organisms from the start; not only extremely sensitive to their environment but they shape that environment.


The child's powerfu, innate capacities are evident even before birth as the foetus responds to the mother’s internal and external environment with all of his senses.  From birth, the child’s personality is shaped in the context of relationships with caregivers and with the environment.  It is crucial that the new-born baby forms an attachment and attunes to caregivers because failure to bond means failure to thrive and this could even end in death.  The baby connects, communicates and expresses personality through gazing, pre speech, movement, etc. and caregivers must read and respond to his signs by enlarging his communication in order to facilitate his development.  So powerful is the connection with the caregiver that the infant becomes distressed when contact is broken.





Parent Infant Experience is an early intervention service that offers early help for families, from pregnancy through the early years.  The bonding process between mother and baby or father and baby can be disturbed for many reasons, such as separation after birth or due to traumatic experiences.  Through parent infant psychotherapy parent/s and child are helped to recover the relationship.


The Parent-Infant pair must be cared for as a unit if they are to be helped towards optimal development.  Early intervention in the mother-baby relationship can reduce developmental disorders in later years.

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A baby cannot exist alone but is essentially part of a relationship.


D W Winnicott 1987



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