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Symbolic play used to enlist parents' help with anxiety-laden feelings

When the family move to a new city, Eric is quite unhappy, particularly without his playgroup friends. The strain of being without a diversion from baby and baby's relationship with the parents is obvious.

Eric at thirty-two months and new baby at ten months: This shows Eric's fear of "the monster” and the falling baby. Baby is crawling behind Eric wherever he goes and trying to touch everything with which Eric is playing. Eric says, "Go away it's mine!”

Then Eric becomes anxious about his hostility to baby. When baby goes near the staircase,

Eric tells father, "Watch, because baby will fall down the stairs.” Father laughs and sits on the staircase while mother prepares the children's bath. Eric then goes to his bedroom and looks out of the window. He exclaims, "Why there's a dinosaur out there. Come look.” Father replies, "Oh no, I can't because I'm watching to make sure that baby doesn't fall down the stairs.” Eric then gets teddy from his bed, leans near father and throws teddy down the stairs. Father says, "Oh, poor teddy.” Eric laughs excitedly. He orders father to "go and get it.” Father says, "No, I'm watching the stairs for baby.” Eric says, "I'll go and get it”. He climbs over father and asks, "See? I'm not going to fall, am I?” He retrieves teddy and takes him into the bathroom where he hides him under the bathtub.

Returning to father and me, he tells us, "There's a dinosaur out there. It's very big. It's sitting in the middle of the road. It has two teeth. See how big it is”. He points to the road outside. Then Eric tells me he is going to hide. While hiding under the parents' bedcovers he calls out, "I'm hiding from the dinosaur, Daddy.” When father comes into the room he wants father to hide too.

In these activities Eric is striving to get father to notice how when Eric is left without mother, he feels he is falling. Eric tries to distract father from protecting baby and tempt father to concentrate on him. When father doesn't take seriously enough Eric's wish to be protected, Eric is subjected to the frightening dinosaur. The dinosaur embodies combined bad internal parents, mother joined with daddy in a union filled with projections of his hatred for the new baby created from this union. Eric's own sadistic wishes against the parental couple turn them into a monstrous dinosaur, revengefully coming back to attack him. Teddy is used to personify his vulnerable self, his fear of being the annihilated baby. A secret protected life for his "fragile self” is sought through his hiding of teddy, symbolizing his baby self.

On the same day, following this elaborate play activity, Eric is able to relate to his hostilities and fears with more concern than persecution:

Eric at thirty-two months: Having struggled to take away baby's toys in their joint bath, Eric returns to father to show him a slight cut on his hand. He then finds an army tractor, rolls it in front of me and says, "The wheels are broken, fix it, Jeanne.” I put the wheel on, but when the tractor doesn't roll, he brings it to father. Then he calls loudly to me from the other room, "Daddy is fixing it. I'm helping.” He sounds very pleased.

One of the striking features here is how Eric tries to enlist his good external parents and me to help him with his fears. These fears are related to his need to be held more securely, particularly in the face of his jealous attacks to his damaged self, the damaged internal brother and parents.

But it is not simply jealousy with which Eric is struggling. Eric feels the new baby takes away a sense of his own identity. Alone with his parents Eric has a sense of being their child whom they love. When he is coupled with baby, joined with baby in play or in the mutual bath, or looking at baby feeding on mother's lap, Eric loses his sense of identity as "the baby." He is not yet certain about his new identity, that of an older child, the big brother who doesn't need to be just the same as baby or just the same as father to have what the parents provide for him.

 
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