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Observation and Interpreting Infants’ Behavior


Interpreting infants’ behavior is a challenging task since the nature of maternal-child relationships is complex. A child is typically completely dependent on its parent (usually the mother), and it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure a safe transition from complete reliance to partial dependence. Winnicott created a theory that tracks the development of a child and divides the progress into three stages. This observation paper analyses the behavior of Seb, a three years old boy, and determines the progress he makes during one year of development.

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An infant’s development is tied directly to its dependence on its mother. Winnicott (1960) describes three stages of infant development: unity, transition, and relative independence (pp. 588-589). The first stage highlights the inseparable nature of mother and child. The latter feels in control over any situation if it is in the presence of the former who answers its needs. Even a brief separation from the mother leads the child to feel stress and shatters the illusion of unity. This happens due to the infant’s lacking and underdeveloped sense of self and egocentricity. The second stage is the transition, which implies the gradual realization that the child and mother are separate entities. It does not suggest complete independence, merely an understanding of others’ feelings and needs. The child gains a small sense of autonomy, which later develops into the third stage, relative independence. It implies developing a sense of false self that can be presented to society to avoid traumatizing or stressful experiences.

The observation of Seb begins when he is two years and eleven months old and ends with his fourth birthday. Seven separate sequences were picked for this study to illustrate the infant’s progress (Science Videos, 2019). They cover his activities, emotions, interactions with peers and parents, motor skills, imagination, and overall behavior. Most importantly, the sequences help highlight his transition from complete reliance to relative independence.

The first sequence illustrates the complete omnipotence the infant feels when in the presence of its mother. Seb is sitting in his high chair in the kitchen, actively interacts with surrounding toys, and communicates with his mother, who is always close by. However, he interacts with toys one at a time and plays with them simultaneously only after the mother makes them compatible. The playdough is given a form of bone that suits the toy dog.

The second sequence that happens four months later illustrates the development of the sense of self. It is crucial for the stage of transition, signifying that the child is mindful of others’ desires, feelings, and needs. Seb partakes in a birthday party of his peer, congratulates her, shares the cake. The infant feels comfortable, observant, and playful, actively interacting with its surroundings. The adults are close by monitoring the whole process, ready to intervene if needed.

The third sequence illustrates the development of imaginative and motor skills. The infant spends six minutes playing with playdough to make a cake for its mother’s friend. The fact that Seb can spend a continuous amount of time playing without the parent’s supervision can be attributed to successful “object presenting” (Rafferty, 2000). The mother has previously shown him the process of making a cake and it gave the infant a sense of omnipotence and a realization that the result relies solely on his actions. However, the main interaction happens with another adult when the baked cake is given to her by Seb. The child shows signs of autonomy when interacting with another person yet feels uncomfortable talking to her on his own. This discomfort in conversation highlights that the transition to relative independence has not yet happened and Seb’s autonomy in making the cake is the result of proper parenting but not his initiative.

The fourth and fifth sequences that happen within a month highlight that in conversation with peers, the situation is quite the opposite for Seb. He feels comfortable communicating with other children of the relatively same age. He attempts to help and organize them, respects their personal space. However, both sequences include conflict, and it is challenging for the infant to find a solution. In the first instance, Erin, a girl that is a year older than Seb, interferes, and takes the initiative in organizing the game. The infant does not know how to react to this, so he calmly observes her rather than trying to keep his authority over the other children. The second instance happens when Seb and Chelsea are playing with a toy rocket in the garden. The infant shares his toy with the girl; however, when Chelsea invents a new game, she is reluctant to let Seb participate. This leads Seb to withdraw from conflict and stop playing, further proving the point that his sense of self that would help him resolve the situation has not yet developed.

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The last two sequences show the final transition to relative independence. In both instances, Seb is attempting to play a role, to imagine himself as somebody else. In the first instance, he attempts to impersonate a father and fix the den’s roof and then proceeds to be a doctor and analyze his friend’s health. The child acts according to the situation and abides by social norms, which proves the development of its false self. However, the next instance proves that Seb has become relatively independent from his mother when he acts as a policeman, and she plays a robbery victim. The fact that both parent and child play different roles highlights that the infant realizes that he is a separate being and does not form a unity with his mother.


In conclusion, Seb has gone through three stages of child development in one year. In the beginning, he was completely reliant on his mother and showed underdeveloped motor and imaginative skills. His transition to the next stage gave him confidence in interacting with his peers, but not adults. However, due to the sense of false self still being underdeveloped, the child struggled to resolve conflicts. The final transition to the relative independence stage happened by the end of the observation year when Seb realized himself as a separate entity from his mother and developed a sense of false self to better adapt to his life in society.


Rafferty, M. A. (2000). A conceptual model for clinical supervision in nursing and health visiting based upon Winnicott’s theory of the parent-infant relationship. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 7(2), 153–161.

Science Videos. (2019). Child observation the 3 to 4 year old learning through play [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Winnicott, D.W. (1960). The theory of the parent-infant relationship. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41, 585-595.

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