Control and Autonomy of Infants
(Vinod Anand)

Parents everywhere set limits on their infants’ behavior. If they did not, there could be no more babies, since babies creep and toddle right into danger, whether it be off the platform of a house built on poles over the sea or under a station wagon parked in the driveway. There are always dangers to be kept from exploring fingers and mouths, too—a dung fire in the corner, incense burning before a household god, an electric socket. Little fingers and mouths have to be prevented from destroying precious objects, such as a threaded loom, a clay water pot, or a piece o Steuben glass.
Cultures vary widely in whether babies are expected to learn self-control from the limits placed on their behavior, In some societies, keeping the baby safe is just that and no more. Somebody is expected to look out for him during his early years to see that he does himself no harm. But in many societies, including the American culture, keeping safe is, of course, a prime motive, but a variety of other aims makes for a wide range of practices.
One dimension of parent—child behavior is autonomy-control or permissiveness-restrictiveness. Parents vary according to how strict or permissive they are with children, or how much autonomy they permit, versus how much they try to control the child. Some parents permit wide autonomy, others a little less; some are very controlling, others somewhat controlling. Parents vary on this dimension within the same culture, and cultures also vary in autonomy-control in adult—child relationships. The teaching manual Soviet Preschool Education spells out, for example, that the child at 18 months should be taught not to take toys away from others, not to interfere with them, to sit at a table calmly, to obey adults, to feed himself neatly, to wash his hands, to pull up his socks and overalls... and more. Probably most Americans would think that this picture presents a great deal of control and not much permissiveness for autonomy.
Ideals in America are probably more diverse than they are in the Soviet Union. Individual freedom and self-expression, however, are high on the lists of many people. The development of a strong sense of autonomy, according to Erikson requires freedom for a toddler to make choices and planning by adults that will ensure a large proportion of successful choices. Thus the toddler comes to feel, “1 can decide” and “What I choose is all right.” Some confirmation of the importance of autonomy in infancy for later personality development is offered by longitudinal study on infants and their mothers. During the infancy period, the mothers of the babies were observed and rated on how much autonomy they permitted and how much they tried to control their children. For example, would the mother let the baby decide when he had had enough to eat, or would she try to get him to take more? When the children reached preschool age, they were rated on a number of personality characteristics, and these ratings correlated with the mothers’ autonomy-control behavior. Significant correlations were found, showing that there were relations between the mothers’ behavior during infancy and the children’s preschool behavior. Another study indicates that boy babies and girl babies react differently, in terms of their intellectual development, to opportunities for autonomy and the degree of control given by their mothers.
Adaptations in the home which make possible the permission of wide limits include the provision of spaces where little damage can result from play and exploration. Fussy, breakable objects can be put away. Furniture can be upholstered or slip-covered in tough, washable fabrics. Floor coverings and draperies can be of relatively indestructible materials. A baby is able to creep in this kind of room without hurting himself or anything else. A toddler climbs, explores, runs his cars, and pushes a doll carriage. The bathroom can be arranged so that a toddler can climb steps in front of the washbasin and there enjoy freedom with water play. Some of the cupboards in the kitchen may offer young children freedom to pull out pots and pans and perhaps put them back again.

Author's Bio: 


Born in 1939, and holding Master’s Degree both in Mathematics (1959) and Economics (1961), and Doctorate Degree in Economics (1970), Dr. Vinod K.Anand has about forty five years of teaching, research, and project work experience in Economic Theory (both micro and macro), Quantitative Economics, Public Economics, New Political Economy, and Development Economics with a special focus on economic and social provisions revolving around poverty, inequality, and unemployment issues, and also on informal sector studies. His last assignment was at the National University of Lesotho (Southern Africa) from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he was placed as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of North-West in the Republic of South Africa, and University of Allahabad in India, Professor at the National University of Lesotho, Associate Professor at the University of Botswana, Gaborone in Botswana, and at Gezira University in Wad Medani, Sudan, Head, Department of Arts and Social Sciences, Yola in Nigeria, Principal Lecturer in Economics at Maiduguri University in Nigeria, and as Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria. Professor Anand has by now published more than 80 research papers in standard academic journals, authored 11 books, supervised a number of doctoral theses, was examiner for more than twenty Ph.D. theses, and has wide consultancy experience both in India and abroad, essentially in the African continent. This includes holding the position of Primary Researcher, Principal Consultant etc. in a number of Research Projects sponsored and funded by Universities, Governments, and International Bodies like, USAID, IDRC, and AERC. His publications include a variety of themes revolving around Economic Theory, New Political Economy, Quantitative Economics, Development Economics, and Informal Sector Studies. His consultancy assignments in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana, and the Republic of South Africa include Non-Directory Enterprises in Allahabad, India, Small Scale Enterprises in the Northern States of Nigeria, The Absolute Poverty Line in Sudan, The Small Scale Enterprises in Wad Medani, Sudan, Micro and Small Scale Enterprises in Botswana, The Place of Non-Formal Micro-Enterprises in Botswana, Resettlement of a Squatter Community in the Vryburg District of North West Province in the Republic of South Africa, Trade and Investment Development Programme for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises: Support for NTSIKA in the Republic of South Africa, and Development of the Manufacturing Sector in the Republic of South Africa’s North West Province: An Approach Based on Firm Level Surveys. Professor Anand has also extensively participated in a number of conferences, offered many seminars, participated in a number of workshops, and delivered a variety of Refresher Lectures at different venues both in India and abroad. Dr. Anand was placed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in the State Himachal Pradesh, India as a Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and had completed a theoretical and qualitative research project/monograph on the Employment Profile of Micro Enterprises in the State of Himachal Pradseh, India.