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 The infant (Now named Nathan) we have come to know by six months of age will undergo dramatic tangible and inner changes in just the next few months. His growing capabilities to convert inner, discrete yearnings into emotionally-charged, purposeful gestures and acts start to transform him into an effective communicator and intentional being as he proceeds to his first birthday. Internally, Nathan progressively sculpts a raw, self-identity enlivened by a sense of prowess, consolidated models of his worlds, and elation at expressing intentions that shape interactions.

Mutual Love Seeks a Voice

We are now well acquainted ( See “THE DANCE” SECTION 1 ) that infant and mother are enfolded in their ever-deepening emotional bond. Their mutual devotion permeates him and drives him to seek mother and their mutual pleasure. She has fast become Nathan’s preferred person as he absorbs an emotionally shaped impression of himself as a loving partner in an exclusive relationship. Even their brief interactions seem delightful. The sensation of human desire has become part of Nathan as he thrills in receiving and returning his mother’s warm gaze and smile. Their own special babble is blossoming as utterances and cooing tones are more rapidly answered. As their responsiveness occurs more regularly, mother and Nathan both have a natural urge to better articulate their joint affection.



Creating Circles of Communication

Their established common devotion now serves to galvanize parent and child into finding a more unified form for him to express and for parent(s) to read his motives and passions.

Nathan’s enthusiasm for more workable communication and interaction is evidenced by his increasing attempts to make more reliable contact . At times he makes a hand movement, sound, and/or certain look in search of a reply from one of his parents. At the next moment Nathan may neutrally look at his caregiver and remain passive despite receiving a soothing touch. Over the course of the next few months, this hit-or-miss trend gradually gives way to more defined, brief expressions and replys. Gestural language is underway though initially the back-and-forth will be on-and-off, and arrhythmic. However, it is within this brief time (6-9 months)  that caregiver and Nathan will endeavor to make roots for the future cultivation of  cues ripening into successful transmissions.  When a message is understood by both parent and infant, we may describe it as a  “circle of communication”.


Here is a toddler and caregiver in a mutually, pleasurable engagement with brief, warm facial and vocal gesturing. They are beginning to form 1-2 brief  “circles “ at a time.



A “circle” consists of three deliberate, pre-verbal, transmissions between caregiver and child:

(1) an opening communication by initiator

(2) a compatible response by the recipient

(3) Initiator answers back that recipient’s response indicated (s)he understood and followed the initiator’s original intent.

For instance, Nathan grabs and bites a rubber ball while squealing excitedly. Father answers with an enthusiastic “Wow” and mimics his son’s holding the ball. Nathan answers with a beaming smile and vehement screech. Not only has father joined the fun, his son loudly announces that father indeed grasped and followed his son’s spirited action. Through countless trials, Nathan is establishing his gestural vocabulary to display his purpose. Caregiver and baby are co-constructing more discernible signals in order to interpret each others’ faces, motions, and utterances. Their emerging dialect is charged by their impassioned mutual wish to know their shared affection is being transmitted, felt, and returned in their every encounter.

Parents’ reading and response to their baby’s nascent, deliberate behavior plays an instrumental role in the dynamic work to found a more reliable means of communication. Father and mother spend less energy trying to accurately infer what is their child’s current want, joy, or concern. Instead, the child’s increasingly clear signals produce more complementary replies from them.

For instance, Nathan assertively seizes a ball, father cheers “WOW” to match Nathan’s enthusiastic accomplishment. By doing so, father is essentially saying,“ I understand your desire and what you want ”. In turn, Nathan knows his message was understood so he celebrates that they have formed a full “circle”. Moreover, caregivers now have a window into the baby’s internal life with the realization that their baby’s tangible behavior reflects his unseen inner motives. It is at these moments that caregivers often say that when these rudimentary conversations begin, they suddenly see the child is no longer a baby but a person with his own mind.

Within this gestural language building lies a more subtle but critical ingredient for its success. Nathan and his father also are inventing a tempo for generating “circles”.  They search out and find the best timing or pace for their back-and-forth exchanges in order to become fluent ‘speakers’ and ‘listeners’. Between approximately 6-9 months, this cadence is formed into a more consistent pulse. The dyad senses and enjoys their interactive harmony like a singing duet. Their evolving timing will soon provide the ‘beat’ and desire for father and son in the next several months to link more “circles” into continuous chains or pre-verbal discourse.


Like Nathan and his father, this little girl and mother find a common “beat” building many “circles”  in a spontaneously generated game of  finding food. Or is it actually ‘Hide and Seek’ ?



Presently, these ”circles of communication” will be practiced endlessly as the dyad assembles a system of gestural communication. As distinct, motions and rhythmic dialogue are translated into shared meanings, one circle will generate another until they have created several linked circles into brief conversations.

Now we see Nathan and father continue their ball play. Their first “circle” ended when Nathan smiled at father’s “Wow!”. This spurs Nathan to slap the top of his ball several times. Father then catches Nathan’s eyes and firmly raps on the carpeted floor exactly as Nathan had hit his ball. Nathan is mildly startled, pauses, stares at and whacks the sides of his ball.

Father again finds Nathan’s eyes but now hits himself in the ribs again imitating Nathan’s drum beat. In turn, Nathan squeezes his ball, gazes warmly at his father’s face, grins, and exclaims, “ Eeeehh! “.


During the 6- 9 month period, we can expect either parent and baby will gradually work up to approximately 6-10 continuous “circles”.

This fundamental, customized code of multi-sensory looks and actions is the bedrock upon which future verbal communication will be assembled in order to convey a widening assortment of meanings.


Separation-Individuation Phase – Beyond Feeling “Different”

As we recall, Nathan and parent’s attachment had been originated and sealed by their protective embrace. When the caregiver momentarily satiated the newborn’s somatic needs, their instinctive emotional attraction to each other came alive eventually resulting in their mutual impassioned love. Along the way, the baby has at first a murky, sensory-based perception that there is real boundary between their bodies. Ergo, they are two different beings not one. At this early point, these phenomena are largely undetectable but have long been considered the inauguration of the core, ongoing psychological process called the Separation-Individuation Phase of development. At this early point, their emotional attachment matures as an exclusive devotion to an “other” (Differentiation Subphase).

By adopting an essential language, Nathan and his caregivers now more explicitly feel their shared devotion. This astounding accomplishment of establishing a rudimentary communication fortifies their attachment, as they more reliably understand each other.  Nathan’s ties to his parent(s) are now being woven into a multi-layered fabric laced by basic need, mutual love, and purposeful exchange.

In turn, Nathan needs and adores his parents, he realizes he influences the other in ways he desires and expects. While he assembles and re-orders their countless exchanges, Nathan is molding a more elaborated, distinct self-image emerging further from within the vital essence of his attachment.


A Dawning Sense of Power

As the dyad’s emotional language is building, every victorious exchange carries an additional meaning for the developing baby; i.e. his actions affected the dialogue. What accumulates in Nathan internally is a glowing appreciation that he is now a purposeful communicator. He notices and revels in his parents’ admiration in his growing ability to animate his feelings. The more he affects his parent’s replies, Nathan more fully realizes how he can shape what happens next. Nathan is inspired by his prowess and how it captivates his parents. So he strives to be a more conversant partner in what are becoming customary interactions. In the process, the regulation, safety and mutual love founded months earlier now have been strengthened as the dyad establishes steadier contact.

In addition to being a loving partner, he now celebrates being a demonstrative communicator.


Here is an unquestionably determined toddler demonstrating her desire with forceful action. Her gestural signals are muscular, father easily reciprocates that he fully understands her intent.



Nathan Crawls and His Primary Relationship Transforms

By nine months, the child’s motor strength and coordination may have progressed enough to enable him to use his arms, legs, and torso in more unified motion. Hence, he makes dual discoveries. First, he finds he can voluntarily move his body. Second, when he succeeds in doing so, he can cover a distance across the rug, scratching new textures and gobbling up lint. While he first creeps and then tries to crawl, he takes in old sights up close then further away. His world is now more fully experienced through a three dimensional lens.


Here is a little boy crawling after a desirable wooden tricycle. Notice not only does he convey his persistence but his unmistakable message to his father that the tricycle is for him NOT for father. This boy pursues his goal with independent, purposeful action reflecting his charged, internal sense of autonomy and prowess taking possession of his tricycle.



Like the tricycle seeker, our friend Nathan starts to motor and is  transforming his panorama and reconfiguring (again) his internal schemes of his loving relationships and self-definition. Whether he becomes mobile by nine months or shortly thereafter, it marks a pivotal juncture across virtually all aspects of Nathan’s growth. Being self- propelled and able to create his own excitement will imbue him with a sharper sense of autonomy and individuality. The efficacy Nathan has felt as a purposeful communicator intensifies as he converts his curiosity into deliberate action and achieves goals. Nathan is electrified by his newfound physical skills and delighted his parents are so interested in what he is “doing”. He is charged up to exhibit his newest feat, capture his parents’ cheering attention, and humor onlookers resembling a “showoff”.

He explores at will, manipulates objects, experiments with new physical skills, and even mimics his parents’ behavior.  His sense of power escalates as he “makes things happen in both his interpersonal and material realms. He senses he creates his own moments as he alters standard interactions, turns dirt into mud, or plays patty-cake with his father.

Possessing novel, physical skills, Nathan may broaden the scope of his play. Returning to the father-son ball play, Nathan enhances their previous fun (aka “circles”) by poking at the ball with his hand and arm. Father looks at the rolling ball with animated interest, gleams at Nathan, and collects the ball. Father then imitates Nathan by poking the ball back to his son. Nathan squeals, smiles and tries to grab the ball. . Father cheers, “ Yea, you got the ball!!”

Nathan’s appetite to investigate, to practice and exercise his maturing dexterity may ‘catch fire’ overnight.  If so, finding adventures seem now his relentless quest. What inherently occurs is that he gradually moves away from his primary caretakers, squirming along the floor to inspect new realms by himself. Nathan demonstrates to his caregivers that he can learn without them by inching away and making physical space between them. They all witness that Nathan’s maneuvers represent that he feels separate from his loved ones. Finding he can supply himself with endless new horizons, he senses he is becoming his own agent. He is liberated as he no longer needs them close to him at all times. This is a testament to the multi-layered bonds they have all achieved. Nathan remains assured of his parents’ presence and love as he experiences the electrifying sensation of self-reliance.


Here is another toddler like Nathan intent on meeting a challenge and demonstrating his inner sense of prowess and competence. Notice how mother and child communicate from across the room their confidence and excitement about his hard work and victory.



However, as Nathan begins this dramatic change, the nature of his attachments will necessarily undergo profound shifts as well. In the coming year or so, Nathan will want to feel and maintain passionate ties with parents while also yearning to “fly solo”. While his connections to parents are multi-dimensional and solid, their attachment has been based on holding, touch, and close proximity to each other. Nathan and his parents now must reconstruct the security, love, and meaningful interaction from a distance.

This dilemma of competing cravings delineates and characterizes the Practicing Subphase of the Separation-Individuation Phase of early development. At nine months, parents may start to see Nathan slither away, find a rattle, and be absorbed shaking and banging it on the floor. When the toy rolls under a chair, Nathan works to get around the edge of the chair to recover the rattle. He suddenly realizes he can no longer see his parents as they are obscured by the chair. He fears they are gone, cries, and scrambles to find them and be enveloped in their arms.

Nathan and his caregivers have played out the classic scene which will repeat itself in varying forms over many months to come. They will practice countless times daily how to convey feelings when physically apart, reassure Nathan of parents’ availability, establish a standard practice for Nathan to leave and return (commonly called “plugging in”), and more. The family has entered a new frontier in which Nathan and parents will strive to navigate and coalesce his internal images of himself as loving partner, competent communicator, and powerful individual.


Here is an accomplished crawler who is intent on celebrating that she can move at will while exercising her freedom and browsing around her home. However, she wants to know her caregiver sees her and where she is headed. She is assured that she may gleefully dash off knowing she is admired and loved.




The child’s vital need to feel connected while dynamically defining himself as a whole person will take many twists and turns virtually permeating all aspects of his development. At this juncture, the Separation-Individuation dimension of his growth is well underway and will continuously serve as a core process shaping not only his sense of self but the quality of both his/her developmental capacities and ever-unfolding relationships.