Daniel Stern tells us that development happens not through stages or dramatic changes but through all the small interactions between the child and their parent’s day by day. There are no critical phases just a series of important moments that add up to create change.
For example, autonomy comes through small acts of assertion. The infant at 4 months moves their eyes away. At 12 months they walk away. At 18 they say ‘no’. These are acts of will and self-affirmation that are enabled to happen as the nervous system grows. There is a sense of becoming an ‘I’ and an individual.
The healthy developmental impulse can be stunted. If caregivers do not allow and encourage the expression of the child’s will, because of their own needs, then the will for independence may not be exercised and autonomy may be hindered. This can happen if the child is punished for saying ‘no’ or prohibited from walking away.
Stern would spend two-year periods videoing mothers and their new-born infants. He noticed that it was the small interactions between caregiver and child that established a template for how the child would behave in relationships later in their lives.