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Robertson, J. (1962). Mothering as an Influence on Early Development—A Study of Well-Baby Clinic Records. Psychoanal. St. Child, 17:245-264.

(1962). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 17:245-264

Mothering as an Influence on Early Development—A Study of Well-Baby Clinic Records

Joyce Robertson


When a mother swells with pride as she recounts her baby's achievements, or complains that he is not as accomplished as another, we tend to listen indulgently. We know that despite variations en route all normal babies will eventually smile, sit up, crawl, walk, and talk. The fact that babies develop at varying rates during the first year is commonly regarded as unimportant in itself.

It is well known that babies reared in institutions develop unfavorably and slowly in the first year as compared to family babies, even where the institution has made the best possible efforts to provide substitute mothering. Thus Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham (1944) say in Infants Without Families:

Whenever we have an opportunity to compare our five to twelve-months-old babies with family babies out of average homes we are struck by the greater liveliness and better social response of the family child. The latter is usually more advanced in reaching out for objects and in active play. He is more active in watching the movements of people in the room and more responsive to their leaving or entering, since whoever comes and goes is known to him and concerns him in some way. A child of that age is, of course, unable to take in and differentiate between all the changing personalities in a baby ward or big nursery. For the same reason the baby's emotional response to changing expression, face or voice, of the grown-up person may be slower to develop.

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