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Children and adolescents depend not only on the relationships they have with their parents and peers for normative and validating experience (Field 2002), but they also seem to depend on relationships with non-parental adults (Rishel 2005). For very young children, at the beginning of their grade school years, forming relationships with adults is something that may seem to come naturally. They may seem to idolize the adults around them, or at the very least, their eagerness for learning as identified by Freud and Piaget, make them into children who are easy to nurture. However, how many of those early non-parental relationships are long term? Although research may not yet exist to demonstrate this unequivocally, it makes intuitive sense that long term relationships would be more vital than fleeting ones to a child’s continuing sense of self. Working from that assumption, one can begin to piece together the importance of relationships with grandparents, aunts and uncles in determining the self-concept of both the young child and developing adolescent.
Considering the importance of non-parental adults in the development of normative self-concept flies in the face of traditional Freudian psychoanalytic approaches. Whereas Freud was solely interested in the parental influence in how it affected psychosexual development, new research compels the practitioner to also consider the interaction between psychosocial and intrapsychic factors. Development of the concept of self within others is a relatively new psychological construct. How will the conceptualizations of self as interpsychic processes change how philosophy and practice view normative development?
Considering the role of the self-concept also flies in the traditional behavioral psychology. To Skinner, the personality was a black box, unobservable and thus unimportant to creating change. Although many of the practices developed for use specifically with young children focus on the role of behavioral interventions (sticker charts, token systems, ect), considering interpsychic processes, like interactions with significant adults, flies in the face of this philosophical standpoint. What is more important, fidelity to a particular philosophical paradigm or fidelity to the client? In other words, do we make our tools fit our box, or get a box that fits our tools?
Church, E.B. (2004) Joining the group: how kids learn to be themselves with others. Scholastic Parent and Child. September. 76
Field, T., Diego, M. & Sanders, C. (2002). Adolescents’ parent and peer relationships. Adolescence. 37(145). 121-130
Rishel, C., Sales, E. & Koeske, G.F. (2005) Relationships with non-parental adults and child behavior. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. 22(1). 19-34