Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Piaget's Mountains - "What Does the Doll See?"


So the impetus for this post was initially that since my husband never had children with his previous wife, he asked me recently why "Peek-A-Boo" was so funny to babies, and for how long? 

I gave my answer as both a mother and a former social-work student lol ...

"Object permanence, and it's only funny to them from about 3 months to 8 months, give or take, depending on the child.  Peek-A-Boo is actually a very important lesson for babies.  Piaget's four stages of child development explains it best." 

"So during the first stage, the first part of the sensorimotor stage, before language acquisition, everything is learned through the five senses -  particularly tactile and taste (which is why everything goes in the mouth) - proving we are still animals, underneath it all lol." 

"Thus, they cannot yet grasp object permanence, that something is still there and still exists, even though they can't see it. If they can't see it, it doesn't exist, out of sight, out of mind.  So it's a happy surprise to them when they can't see you one minute, then suddenly, they can :)" 

"BUT - it can't be done too loudly or aggressively or it will trigger the startle reflex.  No scary sounds meant to scare like 'rawr.' Teaching coping skills with negative surprise or fear will come later, although the bigger teacher with that, for better or for worse, is how the parents cope with fear or negative surprise, unfortunately." 

"But for this stage, it's all about routine and reassurance - of both their safety and that just because they can't always immediately see their parents when they want to (bedtime, work, etc.), that doesn't mean they've been abandoned and alone, and they won't rush in if need be." 

"Over time, on the basis of that first-year secure foundation, they'll hopefully learn self-soothing self-comfort, for times when they can't see you.  But for now, it's just a happy "Boo!" surprise, like "Hey, even though you can't see me, right at that moment - Look, I'm still here!" :)

Then, of course, I went off on a tangent about Piaget's learning theory/theory of cognitive development, which I, at least, find super interesting lol. I think his eyes glazed over, at some point, but I did answer his question? lol

(Sometimes we both can be the sort of people who, if you ask us what time it is, we unfortunately tell you first how the watch is made before getting to the time lol.) 

I think his final comment afterwards was like, "Geez, if everyone knew how significant every little thing was to child development, they'd never have children for fear of effing them up for life lol."

Right?  It suuuucks lol.

AND - you can know all of this stuff in advance and still make mistakes, sometimes thinking you're doing what's best for them.

It's amazing, though, most people do better than you'd think they would do. 

I especially find the next phase, the operational phase, interesting -  because so many people get partially stuck there well into adulthood, both male and female lol.

Actually, we all can revert back to operational phase, now and then,  with certain "triggers," but some people are still stuck there chronically and this is their usual behavior and personality lol.

What is the operational phase? 

The second phase of cognitive development, which is from 18-24 months to 5-7 years, where they're discovering a sense of self and  just beginning to sort out other living things and objects as being separate entities from themselves.

So - if you place a child at this age - particularly the earlier years of this stage -  at a table, or on the floor, facing a doll who is opposite them, with a partial barrier, such as a landscape with mountain on one side, but still being able to see the doll on the other, with certain objects only the person on one side can fully see, and then ask them, "What does the doll see?"  

They will invariably tell you what THEY see - they can't yet tell you what the doll sees from  the perspective of the doll - because as of yet, the doll, other people, and animals are all still viewed as extensions of themselves.

NOT because they're evil -  children are egocentric - and it's normal lol. 

They have to be taught the perspective of others, develop the ability to see things from another's perspective and as separate entities - it's an extremely important part of human development regarding both a sense of self separate from others, as well as developing empathy for others.

This is also why when a child in the early operational phase might do something like pinch you,  you say "Ouch," and they laugh - because they can't understand why it doesn't hurt them -  they think it's a game.

Children of this age are just beginning to test the boundaries of where they stop and you begin (which unfortunately will exist in some form until late young adulthood lol).

In fact, children in the early operational stage will often pinch, scratch, slap, or even bite you, just to see what happens, in experiment - not because they're evil, but because they can't understand why it hurts you, but not them - and this is a very important lesson.

Now - when they do so, the goal is to try not to overreact, get angry, or punish them, like they're a terrible, evil child for  daring to hurt the king or queen.

Equally important is not to ignore it, like what they're doing doesn't hurt - not only because it could teach them to ignore pain, but because it teaches them that what they want to do, and their feelings, aren't more important than anyone else's.

Remember that they're displaying normal child development, finding out where they stop and you begin - so just a quick "Ouch"  should suffice - the first time.

If it happens again, or the "experiment" goes on too long, distraction works, along with a "No, let's not do that, let's be gentle with each other.  That's not a fun game for mommy, let's find another game to play together.  Look, we didn't finish building the blocks together. Let's see how high you can build them!" :)

Said with a smile - so that they know that you're not angry with them or withdrawing your love, but they've successfully found the boundary of where they stop and you begin -   and that although what they find fun is still central and most important to you, as their parents, we also need to make make sure that whatever they find fun doesn't negatively or harmfully impact others ;)

Unfortunately, you may also see this behavior with their siblings or even your pets - again, it's not usually the sign of an aggressive temperament or psychopathy, nor is it even usually jealousy - it's usually testing the same thing:  "Where do I stop and where does this entity around me every day begin?

Same reaction, when you find them pulling the cats tail or squeezing its ears too hard - "Nooo, no, gently - let's be gentle with cat-cat, let's be sweet to the cat-cat -  we don't want to hurt the sweet cat-cat, right?"

Now, note that Piaget gave a range of ages - and that is because some sensitive children develop these skills earlier and some later (and some never do).  The range is just a mean average, and if you do these tests yourself, you'll find Piaget was right :)

Also, as brilliant as Piaget was, it's interesting to note his theories didn't explain everything, like why babies get so excited to see other babies, if everything and everyone is an extension of themselves.  

My theory is this may have to do with conditioning, we point it out excitedly to them - and also that it's not that they recognize them as a separate entity, it's more like "Oh, there's another me." lol

Also, children love to see pets - again, I think this is also conditioning and positive experience, but it's a safe bet that they don't truly understand animals are separate entities yet.

It is also important to note that Piaget didn't address clinical depression, trauma reaction, or survival mode -  just normal child development.  

It's not that he didn't recognize those things existed, it's just he was trying to establish a "normal-range" baseline.

However, we know since, based on a plethora of other studies,  that when in trauma or survival mode, adults may at least temporarily not be able to see past their own perspective, but this is generally temporary, until far removed from the stimulus, with time. 

Also, clinical depression impairs one's ability to see past one's own negative perspective.

Then again, there are legitimately others who are chronically stuck in the operational phase for life - OR -  who willfully choose to be there and don't want to look at things from others' perspective, they want to be only concerned with what they see.

For example, imagine what would come out of Trump's mouth if you asked him:   "What does the doll see?" LOL

This also explains why so many people overly identify with Trump - Trump is them - they clearly have "operational phase" issues, being unable to separate out other people they deem as being "like them"  as actually being separate entities from themselves.

Regardless, the inability to see the doll's perspective - or another's perspective - past age 7 means:  

A) Something went wrong in their operational stage of child development that adversely affected their personality and is a chronic and likely permanent state.

B) They're aware of other's perspectives and needs, but nevertheless willfully choose not to see what the doll sees and thus focus on only their own needs as most important.

C) They're in trauma or survival mode


D) Clinically depressed.

With the latter two, if you treat them with appropriate medication or get them away from the trauma stimulus or out of the situation that has induced their focus on their need for basic survival - and give them kind and appropriate support -  you'll see these behaviors disappear.  

If they don't, well, then Houston, we have a personality problem - i.e., people like Trump, considering the chronicity of Trump's egocentricity/narcissism and his over-privileged life, I'm going go with stuck in operational stage for life, ingrained in his personality (disorder), and likely won't change without hard work, intervention, and a stoppage in the supply of enablers ;)

Also, Piaget's experiments were done almost exclusively on white, Western European, children.

They have since been performed on children of all races with similar results - but sometimes with a twist. 

Enter the husband-and-wife psychologist team, Drs. Kenneth and Marmie Clark's "doll tests" in the 1940s, which ultimately was responsible for the Brown Vs. the Board of Education decision, which ultimately helped desegregate public schools.

They performed a twist on the "doll test" experiment on American children of color in the 1940s segregated South.

School-age children of color under age 7 were given a choice between white and black dolls.

Interestingly, though they recognized by verbal confirmation that the black dolls were "like them," they instead chose the white dolls to play with, giving negative reasons for not choosing the black doll. 

This was a departure from Piaget, in that although children of color recognized dolls like themselves, they instead chose dolls unlike themselves for play.  

Now -  what does this mean?

This suggests that the sense of self of children of color in America was skewed, a negative self-perception - they saw dolls of color as being like themselves and therefore viewed them negatively, and thus aspired to play/pretend as white,  already having been socialized to believe that white children are more deserving, things go better for white children - that "white is better."  :(

Super sad, right?

Also, a recent study was performed about child's play and dolls - and their conclusion was that playing with several different dolls is an important part of teaching empathy :)

So next time someone sees something differently from you, remember this experiment, and ask yourself, "What does the doll see?" 


Of course, I'm saying this tongue-in-cheek, as these are live, sentient human beings we're talking about, rather than inanimate dolls, but the analogy will remind you of your empathy and to listen to others' perspectives :)

You may be surprised how other people see things outside of yourself, you might learn sumpthin lol.

Or conversely, you may learn that it's them who are incapable or unwilling to see things from others' perspective and therein lies the problem lol.

Either way, always a good question to ask yourself :) 

And hey, I'm also a Erikson fan, as these two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive of each other, and actually, they're adjunctive.

Unlike many childhood-based psychologists, Erikson proposed stages past childhood development into lifelong human development, up until you die - purporting that one can overcome any stage, at any point in life, once they complete the stage challenge successfully, citing successful examples - and not necessarily Damascene-like conversions lol.

Thus, I believe anyone can change, anyone can develop empathy, no one is beyond redemption.  

It usually takes something dramatic for that to happen, enablers to stop enabling, and hard work, but yes -  though very rare, it IS possible :)

For example - John Newton - who, after being a hardened, merciless captain of slave ships for many years, repented and became a cleric and an  active abolitionist  - and thus penned the hymn "Amazing Grace." - which is about God's grace for even a "wretch" like himself, a former slave-ship captain-turned-cleric-and-abolitionist.

No worries, I'm still a realist - boundaries and distance until such time as real change is proven, but prayer and hope for them, always - because despite the rarity, none of us is beyond redemption :)

And that kind of change can start by asking yourself this simple question "What does 'the doll' see?"  ;)

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