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Malcove, L. (1945). Margaret E. Fries' Research in Problems of Infancy and Childhood—A Survey. Psychoanal. St. Child, 1:405-414.

(1945). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 1:405-414

Margaret E. Fries' Research in Problems of Infancy and Childhood—A Survey

Lillian Malcove, M.D.

While still a practising pediatrician, in 1928, Margaret E. Fries became interested in the mental hygiene aspects of child development. She began a project within the structure of Well Baby Clinic of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. For the study she selected from the "larger" clinic group forty-five babies in whom the possibility of feeble-mindedness had been ruled out. Their ages ranged from six weeks to eighteen months. As the study progressed, newborn infants were added to the group. The therapeutic aim was to make the word "well baby" more "meaningful" by "adding mental hygiene to physical hygiene". The investigatory aim was to study the genetic aspects of integrated development. Fries thought that the modern tendency to shorten the period of infancy through early habit-training affected deleteriously the formation of character traits and produced symptomatologies. Consequently she planned to investigate, in empirical fashion, the life experiences of the child within his milieu, in order to find out what factors influenced the development of character traits and symptomatologies. She took into consideration the fact that the child functions physically, emotionally, and intellectually in a social environment; thus the organization of the group formed to study the child consisted of a psychiatrist, a pediatrician, a social worker, and a psychologist.

Not long after the project was begun, Fries supplemented her pediatric skills with a training in mental hygiene and psychoanalysis, including child analysis. The structure of the group she then worked with, which included social workers and volunteer nurses, was similar to that of the already established child guidance clinics, but it differed in two main aspects. Its function was primarily preventive, and its method was the study of the child in his environment, from birth to adolescence. The development of the child, of his character traits and symptomatologies, were observed currently, and in their earliest appearances. Furthermore, this development was studied in relation to the existing influences and events in the child's life. The differentiation in development as related to differences in experiences were compared and evaluated.

The author originally began her study with the premise that there were three main contributing etiological factors in the child's psychic development: constitution, habit-training, and parental emotional stability.

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