Mentalizing is a useful and important skill and capacity around babies as they cannot verbalize their thoughts yet. This ability to think of another’s thinking can liberate us from many misguided assumptions we impose on the meaning of other’s behaviour.
” A person’s specific memories and experiences are like individual beads that can achieve continuity and gestalt form only when they are strung together to become a necklace. The string on which they are assembled is the child’s continuous existence in the mind of the parents, which provides the continuity on which the beads of experience are strung together and become the necklace of a connected life.” (Sheldon Bach (2001) On being forgotten and forgetting one’s self.)
For babies – mentalizing involves thinking about what they may be thinking. This enables us to be able to realise why they may be behaving in certain ways. Why they get cranky when you pick up your handbag or put your shoes on. Does this not usually indicate that you are about to go to work (or to the shop) – and leave them?
When we, as adults, can begin to have a place in our minds for another – as we often do when we have a baby – we are able to take in their fears, angers, sorrows and digest and reflect upon them. We are also able to mentalize about what these may mean to them. This helps us to understand behaviour and respond to the underlying message rather than the behaviour.
In my therapy sessions, I find it helpful to bring the art of mentalizing into the sessions as it is a very useful skill allowing us a sense of insight (as closely as we can of another) – into the motivations of other’s behaviour. Having this capacity to wonder or speculate about what is happening in your infant or child’s mind, then liberates the assumption that we may make that ” My child is doing this to irritate me.” or “They are doing this deliberately so that I am late for work.” – When perhaps if we held the infant’s fears of abandonment in mind, it may be the expression of a terrible and overwhelming fear that manifests in vomit or expulsion of faeces or coughing fit.
To parent perfectly is to allow no room for the building of a sense of self in the baby. “Good enough parenting” (Donald Winnicott: Psychoanalyst Paediatrician.) allows our babies to gain enough security to explore and enough failure to realise they can manage and cope with some unpredictable/uncertainties in life and still be OK.