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Schmideberg, M. (1935). 'Bad Habits' in Childhood; Their Importance in Development. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 16:455-461.

(1935). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 16:455-461

'Bad Habits' in Childhood; Their Importance in Development

Melitta Schmideberg

I do not want to deal with 'bad habits' related to certain character traits or an asocial attitude, but only with those which might occur in any child independently of its character development.

Most bad habits in children concern their own body, their physiological functions and their everyday activities, such as being dressed or undressed, washed, going to bed and getting up, walking, etc. Clinically they are often of phobic or obsessional character, and are caused by paranoid or phobic anxieties related to food, fæces, urine, lavatory, clothing, water, bed, street, surrounding objects or persons. Often these bad habits serve also to prevent the expression of perverse phantasies related to these objects and activities, which phantasies in their turn represent a cure for psychotic anxieties.

To give some examples: the child might refuse to have its nails pared, its hair brushed or its face washed, because it regards these manipulations as attacks. Often it fusses over being dressed because it equates this with a dangerous introjection or feels imprisoned in or attacked by the clothing ('robe of Nessus' or strait-jacket). Fussing over being undressed might be due to anxiety of being robbed of something precious (clothing equated to a love-object or to a part of its own body) or of being helplessly exposed to attacks or seduction if naked. Difficulties over going to bed often go hand in hand with difficulties over getting up. In the evening all anxiety centres round the night, the dreamlife, sleep, bed and darkness, while in the morning it is shifted on to the daylight, the day's work and reality. Going to bed may be equated with dying. The child is afraid of various attacks if in bed; often there is dread of the bed (equated to a prison) and its contents, e.g. that the sheets might strangle it. In addition it is afraid of the temptation to masturbate. Some people fear going to bed, because in the morning they have to get up again. Difficulties over getting up are also connected with the idea of being naked, with anxiety of washing and dressing, etc.


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