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Parent, Adult and Child

The passion for truth is silenced by answers which have the weight of undisputed authority - Paul Tillion

Early in his work in the development of Transactional Analysis, Berne observed that as you watch and listen to people, you can see them change before your eyes. It is a total kind of change. There are simultaneous changes in facial expression, vocabulary, gestures, posture and body functions, which may cause the face to flush, the heart to pound, or the breathing to become rapid.

We can observe these abrupt changes in everyone: the little boy who bursts into tears when he can’t make a toy work, the teenage girl whose woeful face floods with excitement when the phone finally rings, the man who grows pale and trembles when he gets the news of a business failure, the father whose face “turns to stone” when his son disagrees with him. The individual who changes in these ways is till the same person in terms of bone structure, skin and clothes. So what changes inside him? He changes from what to what?

This was the question which fascinated Berne in the early development of Transactional Analysis. A thirty – five – year – old lawyer, whom he was treating, said, I’m not really a lawyer, I’m just a little boy.” Away from the psychiatrist’s office he was, in fact, a successful lawyer, but in treatment he felt and acted like a little boy. Sometimes during the hour he would ask, “Are you talking to the lawyer or to the little boy?” Both Berne and his patient became intrigued at the existence and appearance of these two real people, or states of being, and began talking about them as “the adult” and “the child”. Treatment centered on separating the two. Later another state began to become apparent as a state distinct from “adult” and “child”. This was “the parent” and was identified by behavior which was reproduction of what the patient saw and heard his parents do when he was a little boy.

Changes from one state to another are apparent in manner, appearance, words and gestures. A thirty-four-year-old woman came to me for help with a problem of sleeplessness, constant worry over “what I am doing to my children” and increasing nervousness. In the course of the first hour she suddenly began to weep and said, “You make me feel like I’m three years old.” Her voice and manner were that of a small child. I asked her, “What happened to make you feel like a child?” “I don’t know,” she responded, and then added, “I suddenly felt like a failure”. I said, “Well, let’s talk about children, about the family. May be we can discover something inside of you that produces these feelings of failure and despair.” At another point in the hour her voice and manner again changed suddenly. She became critical and dogmatic: “After all, parents have rights, too. Children need to be shown their place.” During one hour this mother changed to three different and distinct personalities: one of a small child dominated by feelings, one of a self righteous parent, and one of a reasoning, logical, grown-up woman and mother of three children.
Continual observation has supported the assumption that these three states exist in all people. It is as if in each person there is the same little person he was when he was three years old. There are also within him his own parents. These are recordings in the brain of actual experience of internal and external events, the most significant of which happened during the first five years of life. There is a third state, different from these two. The first to ware call Parent and Child, and the third, Adult. (See figure I).

These states of being are not roles but psychological realities; Berne says that “Parent, Adult and Child are not concepts like Superego, Ego and Id …. but phenomenonological realities.” * The state is produced by the playback of recorded data of events in the past, involving real people, real times, real places, real decisions, and real feelings.

The Parent

The Parent is a huge collection of recordings in the brain for unquestioned or imposed external events perceived by a person in his early years, a period which we have designated roughly as the first five years of life. This is the period before the social birth of the individual, before he leaves home in response to the demands of society and enters school. (See Figure 2.) The name Parent is most descriptive of this data in as much as the most significant ‘tapes’ are those provided by the example and pronouncements of his own real parents or parent substitutes. Everything the child saw his parents do and everything he heard them say is recorded in the Parent. Everyone has a Parent in that everyone experienced external stimuli in the first five years of life. Parent is specific for every person, being the recording of that set of early experiences unique to him.

The data in the Parent was taken in and recorded “straight” without editing. The situation of the little child, his dependency, and his inability to construct meanings with words made it impossible for him to modify, correct or explain. Therefore, if the parents were hostile and constantly battling each other, a fight was recorded with the terror produced by seeing the two persons on whom the child depended for survival about to destroy each other. There was no way of including in this recording the fact that the father was inebriated because his business has just gone down the drain or that the mother was at her wit’s end because she had just found she was pregnant again.

In the Parent are recorded all the admonitions and rules and laws that the child heard from this parents saw in their living. They range all the way from the earliest parental communications, interpreted nonverbally through tone of voice, facial expression, cuddling, or non-cuddling, to the more elaborate verbal rules and regulations espoused by the parents as the little person became able to understand words. In this set of recordings

• E Berne, Transactional Analysis in Psychothereapy (New York: Grove Press, 1951) p.24.

Fig. 1 The Personality

Fig. 2 The Parent

are the thousands of “no’s” directed at the toddler, the repeated “don’ts” that bombarded him, the looks of pain and horror in mother’s face when his clumsiness brought same on the family in the form of Aunt Ethel’s broken antique vase.

Likewise are recorded the coos of pleasure of a happy mother and the looks of delight of a proud father. When we consider that the recorder is on the time we begin to comprehend the immense amount of data in the Parent. Later come the more complicated pronouncements: Remember, Son, wherever you go in the world you will always find the best people are Methodists; never tell a lie; pay your bills; you are judged by the company you keep; you are a good boy if you clean your plate; waste is the original sin; you can never trust a man; you can never trust a woman; you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; you can never trust a cop; busy hands are happy hands; don’t walk under ladders; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; do others in that they don’t do you in.

The significant point is that whether these rules are good or bad in the light of a reasonable ethic, they are recorded as truth from the source of all security, the people who are “six feet tall” at a time when it is important to the two-foot-tall child that he please and obey them. It is permanent recording. A person cannot erase it. It is available for replay throughout life.

This replay is a powerful influence throughout life. These examples – coercing, forcing, sometimes permissive but more often restrictive – are rigidly internalized as a voluminous set of data essential to the individual’s survival in the setting of a group, beginning with the family and extending throughout life in a succession of groups necessary to life. Without a physical Parent the child would die. The internal Parent also is lifesaving, guarding against many dangers which, perceived experientially, could cause death. In the Parent is the recording, “Don’t touch that knife!” It is a thunderous directive. The threat to the little person, as he sees it, is that his mother will spank him or otherwise show disapproval. The greater threat is that he can cut himself and bleed to death. He cannot perceive this. He does not have adequate data. The recording of parental dictates, then, is an indispensable aid to survival, in both the physical and the social sense.

Another characteristic of the Parent is the fidelity of the recordings of inconsistency. Parents say one thing and do another. Parents say, “Don’t lie,” but tell lies. They tell children that smoking is bad for their health but smoke themselves. They proclaim adherence to a religious ethic but do not live by it. It is not safe for the little child to question this inconsistency, and so he is confused. Because this data causes confusion and fear, he defends himself by turning off the recording.

We think of the Parent predominantly as the recordings of the transactions between the child’s two parents and their transactions with him. It may be helpful to consider the recordings of Parent data as somewhat like the recording of stereophonic sound. There are two sound tracks that, if harmonious, produce a beautiful effect when played together. If they are not harmonious, the effect is unpleasant and the recording is put aside and played very little, if at all. This is what happens when the Parent contains discordant material. The Parent is repressed or in the extreme, blocked out altogether. Mother may have been a “good” mother and father may have been “bad,” or vice versa. There is much useful data which is stored as a result of the transmission of good material from one parent; but since the Parent does contain material from the other parent that is contradictory and productive of anxiety, the Parent as a whole is weakened or fragmented. Parent data that is discordant is not allowed to come on ‘audibly’ as a strong influence in the person’s life.

Another way to describe this phenomenon is to compare it with the algebraic equations: a plus times a minus equals a minus. It does not matter how big the plus was, or how little the minus was. The result is always a minus – a weakened, disintegrated Parent. The effect in later life may be ambivalence, discord and despair - for the person, that is, who is not free to examine the Parent.

Much Parent data appears in current living in the “how-to” category; how to hit a nail, how to make a bed, how to eat soup, how to blow your nose, how to thank the hostess, how to shake hands, how to pretend no one’s at home, how to fold the bath towels, or how to dress the Christmas tree. The how to comprises a vast body of data acquired by watching the parents. It is largely useful data which makes it possible for the little person to learn to get along by himself. Later (as his Adult becomes more skilful and free to examine Parent data) these early ways of doing things may be updated and replaced by better ways that are more suited to a changed reality. A person whose early instructions were accompanied by stern intensity may find it more difficult to examine the old ways and may hand onto them long after they are useful, having developed a compulsion to do it “this way and no other.”

The mother of a teenager related the following parental edict, which had long governed her housekeeping procedures. Her mother had told her, “You never put a hat on a table or a coat on a bed”. So she went through life never putting a hat on a table or a coat on a bed. Should she occasionally forget, or should one of her youngsters break this old rule, there was an over-reaction that seemed inappropriate to the mere violation of the rules of simple neatness. Finally, after several decades of living with this unexamined law, mother asked grandmother (by then in her eighties), “Mother, why do you never put a hat on a table or a coat on a bed?

Grandmother replied that when she was little there had been some neighbor children who were “infested,” and her mother had warned her that it was important they never put the neighbor children’s hats on the table or their coats on the bed. Reasonable enough. The urgency of the early admonition was understandable. In terms of Penfield’s findings it was also understandable why the recording came on with the original urgency. Many of the rules we live by are like this.

Some influences are more subtle. One modern housewife with every up-to-date convenience in her home found she simply did not have any interest in buying garbage –disposal unit. Her husband encouraged her to get one, pointing out all the reasons this would simplify her kitchen procedures. She recognized this but found one excuse after another to postpone going to the appliance store to select one. Her husband finally confronted her with his belief that she was deliberately not getting a garbage disposal. He insisted she tell him why.

A bit of reflection caused her to recognize an early impression she had about garbage. Her childhood years were the Depression years of the 1930s. In her home, garbage was carefully saved and fed to the pig, which was butchered at Christmas and provided an important source of food. The dishes were even washed without soap so that the dishwasher, with its meager offering of nutrients, could be included in the slops. As a little girl she perceived that garbage was important, and as a grown woman she found it difficult to rush headlong into purchasing a new-fangled gadget to dispose of it. (She bought the disposal unit and lived happily ever after.)

When we realize that thousands of these simple rules of living are recorded in the brain of very person, we begin to appreciate what a comprehensive, vast store of data the Parent includes. Many of these edicts are fortified with such additional imperatives as ‘never’ and ‘always’ and ‘never forget that’ and, we may assume, pre-empt certain primary neurone pathways that supply ready data for today’s transactions. These rules are the origins of compulsions and quirks and eccentricities that appear in later behavior. Whether Parent data is a burden or a boon depends on how appropriate it is to the present, on whether or not it has been updated by the Adult, the function of which we shall discuss in this chapter.

There are sources of Parent data other than the physical parents. A three-year-old who sits before a television set many hours a day is recording what he sees. The programs he watches are a “taught” concept of life. If he watches programs of violence, I believe he records violence in his Parent. That’s how it is. That is life! This conclusion is certain if his parents do not express opposition by switching the channel. If they enjoy violent programs the youngster gets a double sanction – the set and the folks – and he assumes permission to be violent provided he collects the required amount of injustices. The little person collects his own reasons to shoot up the place, just as the sheriff does; three nights of cattle rustlers, a stage holdup, and a stranger foolin’ with Miss Kitty can be easily matched in the life of the little person. Much of what is experienced at the hands of older siblings or other authority figures also is recorded in the Parent. Any external situation in which the little person feels himself to be dependent to the extent that he is not free to question or to explore produces data which is stored in the Parent. (There is another type of external experience of the very small child which is not recorded in the Parent, and which we shall examine when we describe the Adult.)

The Child

While external events are being recorded as that body of data we call the Parent, there is another recording being made simultaneously. This is the recording of internal events, the responses of the little person to what he sees and hears. (Figure 3.) In this connection it is important to recall Penfield’s observation that the subject feels again the emotion which the situation originally produced in him, and he is aware of the same interpretations, true or false, which he himself gave to the experience in the first place. Thus, evoked recollection is not the exact photographic or phonographic reproduction of past scenes or events. It is reproduction of what the patient saw and heard and felt and understood.*{Italics mine.)

It is this “seeing and hearing and feeling and understanding” body of data which we define as the Child. Since the little person has no vocabulary during the most critical of his early experiences,

Fig: 3 The Child

* W. Penfield, “Memory Mechanisms,” A.M.A. Archives of Neurology and Psychiastry 67 ( 1952): 178-1198, with discussion by L. S. Kubie et al.

most of his reactions are feelings. We must keep in mind his situation in these years. He is small, he is dependent, he is inept, he is clumsy, he has no words with which to construct meanings. Emerson said we “must know how to estimate a sour look.” The children does not know how to do this. A sour look turned in his direction can only produce feelings that add to his reservoir of negative data about himself. It’s my fault. Again. Always is. Ever will be. World without end.

During this time of helplessness there are an infinite number of total and uncompromising demands on the child. On the one hand, he has the urges (genetic recordings) to empty his bowels ad lib., to explore, to know, to crush and to bang, to express feelings, and to experience all of the pleasant sensations associated with movement and discovery. On the other hand, there is the constant demand from the environment, essentially the parents,that he give up these basic satisfactions for the reward of parental approval. This approval, which can disappear as fast as it appears, is an unfathomable mystery to the child, who has not yet made any certain connection between cause and effect.

The predominant by-product of the frustrating, civilizing process is negative feelings. On the basis of these feelings the little person early concludes, “I’m not OK.” We call this comprehensive self –estimate the NOT OK, or the not OK Child. This conclusion and the continual experiencing of the unhappy feelings which led to it and confirm it are recorded permanently in the brain and cannot be erased. This permanent recording is the residue of having been a child. Any child. Even the child of kind, loving, well-meaning parents. It is the situation of childhood and not the intention of the parents which produces the problem. (This will be discussed at length in the next chapter, about life positions). An example of the dilemma of childhood was a statement made by my seven-year-old daughter, Heidi, who one morning at breakfast said, “Daddy, when I have an OK Daddy and an OK Mama, how come I’m not OK?”

When the children of “good” parents carry the NOT OK burden one can begin to appreciate the load carried by children whose parents are guilty of gross neglect, abuse and cruelty.

As in the case of the Parent, the Child is a state into which a person may be transferred at almost any time in his current transactions. There are many things that can happen to us today which recreate the situation of childhood and bring on the same feelings we felt then. Frequently we may find ourselves in situations where we are faced with impossible alternatives, where we find ourselves in a corner, either actually, or in the way we see it. These “hook the Child,” as we say, and cause a replay of the original feelings of frustration, rejection, or abandonment, and we relive a latter-day version of the small child’s primary depression. Therefore, when a person is in the grip of feelings, we say this Child has taken over. When his anger dominates his reason, we say his Child is in command.

There is a bright side, too! In the Child is also a vast store of positive data. In the Child reside creativity, curiosity, the desire to explore and know, the urges to touch and feel and experiences, and the recordings of the glorious, pristine feelings of first discoveries. In the Child are recorded the countless, grand a-ha experiences, the firsts in the life of the small person, the first drinking from the garden hose, the first stroking of the soft kitten, the first sure hold on mother’s nipple, the first time the lights go on in response to his flicking the switch, the first submarine chase of the bar of soap, the repetitious going back to do these glorious things again and again. The feelings of these delights are recorded, too. With all the NOT OK recordings, there is a counterpoint, the rhythmic OK of mother’s rocking, the sentient softness of the favorite blanket, a continuing good response to favorable external events (if this is indeed a favored child), which also is available for replay in today’s transactions. This is the flip side, the happy child, the carefree, butterfly – chasing little girl with chocolate on her face. This comes on in today’s transactions, too. However, our observations both of small children and of ourselves as grownups convince us that the NOT OK feelings generally outweigh the good. This is why we believe it is a fair estimate to say that everyone has a NOT OK child.

Frequently I am asked, When do the Parent and Child stop recording? Do the Parent and Child contain only experiences in the first five years of life? I believe that by the time the child leaves the home for his first independent social experience – school – he has been exposed to nearly every possible attitude and admonition of his parents, and thenceforth further parental communications are essentially a reinforcement of what has already been recorded. The fact that he now begins to ‘use his Parent’ on others also has a reinforcing quality in line with the Aristotelian idea that that which is expressed is impressed. As to further recordings in the Child, it is hard to imagine that any emotion that any emotion exists which has not already been felt in its most intense form by the time the youngster is five years old. This is consistent with most psychoanalytic theory, and, in my own observation, is true.

If, then, we emerge from childhood with a set of experiences which are recorded in an inerasable Parent and Child, what is our hope for change? How can we get off the hook of the past?

The Adult

At about ten months of age a remarkable thing begins to happen to the child. Until that time his life has consisted mainly of helpless or unthinking responses to the demands and stimulations by those around him. He has a Parent and a Child. What he has not had is the ability either to choose his responses or to manipulate his surroundings. He has had no self-direction, no ability to move out to meet life. He has simply taken what has come his way.

At ten months, however, he begins to experience the power of locomotion. He can manipulate objects and begins to move out, freeing himself from the prison of immobility. It is true that earlier, as at eight months, the infant may frequently cry and need help in getting out of some awkward position, but he is unable to get out of it by himself. At ten months he concentrates on inspection and exploitation of toys. According to the studies conducted by Gesell and Ilg, the ten-month-old child.

….. enjoys playing with a cup and pretends to drink. He brings objects to his mouth and chews them. He enjoys gross motor activity: sitting and playing after he has been set up, leaning far forward and re-erecting himself. He secures a toy, kicks, goes from sitting to creeping, pulls himself up, and may lower himself. He is beginning to cruise. Social activities which he enjoys are peek-a-boo and lip play, walking with both hands held, being put prone on the floor, or being placed in a rocking toy. Girls show their first signs of coyness by putting their heads to one side as they smile.*

The ten-month-old has found he is able to do something which grows from his own awareness and original thought. This self – actualization is the beginning of the Adult. (Figure 4). Adult data accumulates as a result of the child’s ability to find out for himself what is different about life from the “taught concept” of life in his Parent and the “felt concept” of life in his Child. The Adult develops a “thought concept” of life based on data gathering and data processing.

The motility which gives birth to the Adult becomes reassuring in later life when a person is in distress. He goes for a walk to ‘clear his mind.’ Pacing is seen similarity as a relief from anxiety. There is a recording that movement is good, that it has a separating quality, that it helps him see more clearly what his problem is.

The Adult, during these early years, is fragile and tentative. It is easily “knocked out” by commands from the Parent and fear in


the child. Mother says about the crystal goblet, “No, no! Don’t touch that!” The child may pull back and cry, but at the first opportunity he will touch it anyway to see what it is all about. In most persons the Adult, despite all the obstacles thrown in its way, survives and continues to function more and more effectively as the maturation process goes on.

The Adult is “principally concerned with transforming stimuli into pieces of information, and processing and filing that information on the basis of previous experience. * It is different from the Parent, which is “judgmental in an imitative way and seeks to enforce sets of borrowed standards, and from the Child, which tends to react more abruptly on the basis of prelogical thinking and poorly differentiated or distorted perceptions.’ Through the Adult the little person can begin to tell the difference between life as it was taught and demonstrated to him (Parent), life as he felt it or wished it or fantasized it (Child), and life as he figures it out by himself (Adult).

The Adult is a data-processing computer, which grinds out decisions after computing the information from three sources; the Parent, the Child, and the data which the Adult has gathered and is gathering (Figure 5). One of the important functions of the Adult is to examine the data in the Parent, to see whether or not it is true and still applicable today, and then to accept it or reject it and to examine the Child to see whether or not the feelings there are appropriate to the present or are archaic and in response to archaic Parent data. The goal is not to do away with the Parent and Child but to free to examine these bodies of data. The Adult, in the words of Emerson, “must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must examine if it be goodness”; or badness, for that matter, as in the early decision, “I’m not OK.”

The adult testing of Parent data may begin at an early stage. A secure youngster is one who finds that most Parent data is reliable: “They told me the truth!”

It really is true that cars in the street are dangerous”, concludes the little boy who has seen his pet dog hurt by a car in the street. It really is true that things go better when I share my toys with Bobby,” thinks the little boy who has been given a prized possession by Bobby. “It really does feel better when my pants aren’t wet,” concludes the little girl who has learned to go to the bathroom by herself. If parental directives are grounded in reality, the child, through his own Adult, will come to realize integrity, or a sense of wholeness. What he tests holds up under testing. The data which he collects in his experimentation and examination begins to constitute some “constants” that he can trust. His findings are supported by what he was taught in the first place.

Fig. 5. The Adult gets data from three sources.

It is important to emphasize that the verification of parent data does not erase the NOT OK recordings in the Child, which were produced by the early imposition of this data. Mother believes that the only way to keep three – year – old Johnny out of the street is to spank him. He does not understand the danger. His response is fear, anger and frustration with no appreciation of the fact that his mother loves him and is protecting his life. The fear, anger and frustration are recorded. These feelings are not erased by the later understanding that she was right to do what she did, but the understanding of how the original situation of childhood produced so many NOT OK recordings of this type can free us of their continual replay in the present. We cannot erase the recording, but we can choose to turn it off!

In the same way that the Adult updates Parent data to determine what is valid and what is not, it updates Child data to determine which feelings may be expressed safely. In our society it is considered appropriate for a woman to cry at a wedding, but is not considered appropriate for that woman to scream at her husband afterward at the reception. Yet both crying and screaming are emotions in the Child. The Adult keeps emotional expression appropriate. The Adult’s function in updating the Parent and Child is diagramed in Figure 6. The Adult within the Adult in this figure refers to updated reality data. (The evidence once told me space travel was only fantasy; now I know it is reality).

Fig 6. The updating function of the Adult through reality testing

Another of the Adult’s functions is probability estimating. This function is slow in developing in the small child and, apparently, for most of us, has a hard time catching up throughout life. The little person is constantly confronted with unpleasant alternatives (either you eat your spinach or you go without ice cream), offering little incentive for examining probabilities. Unexamined probabilities can underlie many of our transactional failures, and unexpected danger signals can cause more Adult “decay,” or delay, than expected ones. There are similarities here to the stock ticker in investment concerns, which may run many hours behind on very active trading days. We sometimes refer to this delay as ‘computer bag,’ a remedy for which is the old, familiar practice of ‘counting to ten.’

The capacity for probability estimating can be increased by conscious effort. Like a muscle in the body, the Adult grows and increases in efficiency through training and use. If the Adult is alert to the possibility of trouble, through probability estimating, it can also devise solutions to meet the trouble if and when it comes.

Under sufficient stress, however, the Adult can be impaired to the point where emotions take over inappropriately. The boundaries between Parent, Adult, and Child are fragile, sometimes indistinct, and vulnerable to those incoming signals which tend to recreate situations we experienced in the helpless, dependent days of childhood. The Adult sometimes is flooded by signals of the “bad news” variety so overwhelming that the Adult is reduced to an “onlooker” in the transaction. An individual in this situation might say. “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself”.

Unrealistic, irrational, non-Adult responses are seen in a condition referred to as traumatic neurosis. The danger, or “bad news” signal, hits the Parent and the Child at the same time it hits the Adult. The Child responds in the way it originally did, with a feeling of NOT OK. This may produce all kinds of regressive phenomena. The individual may again feel himself to be a tiny, helpless, dependent blocking. One place this can be seen is in psychiatric hospitals that have a locked-door policy. When the door is locked on a new patient, his retreat is rapid and pronounced. This is why I am opposed to treating patients in a setting where the emphasis is on parental care. Catering to the helpless Child in the individual delays the reconstructive process of restoring the Adult to the executive function.

An ideal hospital would be a comfortable motel with “play area” for the Child, surroundings a clinic building devoted to activities designed for achieving autonomy of the Adult. The nurses would not wear uniforms or serve as parents to the patients. Instead, nurses in street clothing would apply their skills and training to help each individual learn the identity of his Parent, Adult, and Child.

In our treatment groups we use certain colloquial catch phrases such as, “Why don’t you stay in your Adult?” when a member finds his feelings are taking over. Another of these is, “What was the original transactions?” This is asked as a means of “turning on the Adult” to analyse the similarity between the present incoming signal producing the present distress and the original transaction, in which the small child experienced distress.

The ongoing work of the Adult consists, then, of checking out old data, validating or invalidating it, and refilling it for future use. If this business goes on smoothly and there is a relative absence of conflict between what has been taught and what is real, the computer is free for important new business, creativity. Creativity is born from curiosity in the Child, as is the Adult. The Child provides the “want to” and the Adult provides the “how to”. The essential requirement for creativity is computer time. If the computer is cluttered with old business there is little time for new business. Once checked out, many Parent directives become automatic and thus free the computer for creativity. Many of our decisions in day-to-day transactions are automatic. For instance, when we see an arrow pointing down a one-way street, we automatically refrain from going the opposite way. We do not involve our computer in lengthy data processing about highway engineering, the traffic death toll, or how signs are painted. Were we to start from scratch in every decision or operate entirely without the data that was supplied by our parents, our computer would rarely have time for the creative process.

Some people contend that the undisciplined child, unhampered by limits, is more creative than the child whose parents set limits. I do not believe this is true. A youngster has more time to be creative – to explore, invent, take apart, and put together – if he is not wasting time in futile decision making for which he has inadequate data. A little boy has more time to build a snowman if he is not allowed to engage Mother in a long hassle about whether or not to wear overshoes. If a child is allowed to be creative by painting the front room walls with shoe polish, he is unprepared for the painful consequences when he does so at the neighbor’s house. Painful outcomes do not produce OK feeling. There are other consequences that take time, such as mending in the hospital after a trial-and-error encounter with a car in the street. There is just so much computer time. Conflict uses a great deal. An extremely time-consuming conflict is produced when what parents say is true does not seem to be true to the Adult. The most creative individual is the one who discovers that a large part of the content of the Parent squares with reality. He can then file away this validated information in the Adult, trust it, forget about it, and get on with other things – like how to make a kite fly, how to build a sand castle, or how to do differential calculus.

However, many youngsters are preoccupied much of the time with the conflict between Parent data and what they see as reality. Their most troubling problem is that they do not understand why the Parent has such a hold on them. When Truth comes to knock at the Parent’s has such a hold on them. When Truth comes to knock at the Parent’s door, the Parent says, “Come, let us reason together”. The little child whose father is in jail and whose mother steals to support him may have a loud recording in his Parent, “You never trust a cop!” So he meets a friendly one. His Adult computes all the data about this nice guy, how he gets the ball game started in the sand lot, how he treats the gang to popcorn, how he is friendly, and how he speaks in a quiet voice. For this youngster there is conflict. What he sees as reality is different from what he has been taught. The Parent tells him one thing and the Adult another. During the period of his actual dependency upon his parents for security, however tenuous this security may be, it is likely he will accept the parent’s verdict that cops are bad. This is how prejudice is transmitted. For a little child, it may be safer to believe a lie than to believe his own eyes and ears. The Parent so threatens the Child (in a continuing internal dialogue) that the Adult gives up and stops trying to inquire into areas of conflict. Therefore, “cops are bad” comes through as truth. This is called contamination of the Adult .








Recordings of imposed, unquestioned, external events perceived by a person between birth and age five (a taught concept of life)


The mother and father become internalized in the Parent, as recordings of what the child observed them say and do.




Recordings of internal events (feelings) in response to external events (mostly mother and father) between birth and age five (a feit concept of life)



Recording of data acquired and computed through exploration and testing (thought concept of life)

Recording of external events (taught concept of life)

Fig. 4. Gradual emergence of the Adult beginning at ten months.

Recording of internal events (fit concept of life)

(Birth to five)

(Birth of five)

Adult (ten months on)

• Arnold Gesell and Francis L.IIg, Infant and Child in the Culture of Today (New York: Harper, 1943), pp. 116-122.

1. Parent

C om pu t e r Decisions

Probability estimating

2. Data bank (updated)

3. Child


Updated, validated, Parent data

D a t a B a n k R

C o m p u t er




Updated, Adult data

Updated, appropriate child data


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