A kind psychology student has asked us the following question

Gentle Editor,
I have discovered the existence of your site sailing in Internet to the search news and information that could help me in the development of a very interesting, in my opinion, theme that I have chosen for a short dissertation coming up the university examination on "dynamic psychology."

I am a student of the University of ... and I frequent the faculty of psychology. I am enrolled in the second year and I have the intention to pass, if everything is all right, to the triennial "psychology of the development" study course.

My interest toward the childish and adolescent field is in fact, already for a long time, deep-rooted in me and also, developing my personal itinerary along my student career, I have the tendency to prefer these themes which enriches me. For this reason I dedicate my remaining leisure - excluding the study and my job as baby-sitter – to operate as voluntary worker in some infancy charities which care children suffering from psycho-motor troubles caused essentially by emotional-affective traumas or improper family relationships.

An interesting argument is the role of the baby-sitter in our society. We see in fact an increasing number of families that chooses this solution to face the parent’s absence due to working or something else. In a daily paper I have read an article raising a query about the future of these children, the development of their personality and the possibility that the baby-sitter (if she isn’t a cynical and materialist person that sees the baby only as the object of her job) can become a substitutive figure of that maternal. And with which consequences?

Embodying this figure, I ha interest to further develop this argument and therefore I would like you give me some bibliographical indications or anything else on the subject. Confiding in your availability and courtesy, Yours Sincerely …

Our Answer

First of all, my congratulations for your ability to pursue contemporarily study and job. All this does your honour.

Unfortunately we haven’t found any scientific article or manual concerning specifically the consequences of the baby-sitter’s figure on the development of child’s personality, therefore, make you the best of the followings hints, I hope they can be for you useful to develop your short dissertation.


For the child (except the first 12-18 months of life during which a dyadic mother-child relationship is essential) they aren’t important the hours spent together with him but, above all, how his parents meet, behave and establish a relationship with him. This is true for all the figures who, for a more or less prolonged time, cooperate with or replace the parents in the rearing children.


The figure of the baby-sitter can have some positive worth because it introduces in the child’s experiential world a “closer” approach to a person different from the “family" world. In this sense the "experiential world" and the baby-sitter’s persona represent for the child an occasion of experiencing a new relationship (and therefore the possibility of experiencing new affections, new emotions, new transferences); all that can result enriching because it is stimulating the child’s experiential world. In reality, the baby-sitter's presence "marks" the absence of the child’s parents but at the same time "mends it". Certainly the alternating of "presences" and of "absences" and the dynamic play of the feelings (love, animosity, ambivalence) favour the psychological development and prepare the child to loose a condition of great dependence that we can metaphorically designate as "permanence of the umbilical cord."

On another plan, there are a few negative factors, likable, I think, to the followings matters:

1) possible problems connected to a particular baby-sitter’s personality (serious emotional problems, instability-immaturity, troubles of the character, lack of "reverie" [incapability to intuitively understand the unexpressed needs of the infant); "unconscious impatience" concerning children and/or for that specific job; a formally correct but substantially "cold" professional personality;

2) problems linked to the lacking in constant affective relationship due to two orders of factors:

a) caducity of the affective tie; in fact, it is not positive for the child to experiment short-lived affective relationships (that is the child must be preserved from unconsciously foreseeing that his affective tie, with a person that cares and looks for him in substitution of his parents, is only temporary and that, sooner or later, a definitive separation will happen);
b) excessive variation of baby-sitters (if the "umbilical cord", as unique relationship in the child’s experiential world, can interfere with his progressive autonomy and maturation, on the contrary a "whirling" of "sitters" is excessive in relation to his still weak psycho-sensitive and experiential "holder" [that means apparatus able to tolerate prolong, intense or mutable, events, emotions, attachments, love, hate, ambivalence, frustration]); the (suffered) necessity of excessive multiple relationships can result not-proper to the delicate psycho-physical equilibrium of the child.

3) Factors connected to the particular child’s life-moment when the baby-sitter’s figure appears. These factors are linked not only to the child’s age and to the reached psycho-emotional-cognitive stadium of development (it is not an identical experiential event for the child if the presence of the baby-sitter happens within the first one, the second, the third one, the fourth year of life, etc.) but also to the historical moment that the parental couple and the whole family nucleus are living (we mean here to the story that the family and the whole child’s entourage are going through, the reasons that have determined the arrival of the baby-sitter, how, also if reputed necessary, it is lived in the parent’s fantasy the “intromission" of the baby-sitter’s figure between themselves and the child.

4) possible problems connected to the lacking in professional formation of the baby-sitter (in our opinion the baby-sitter should be a person who possess:
a) theoretical preparation in relation to all the problems above considered;
b) knowledge about the various stadiums of the child’s psycho-emotional development;
c) psychological formation on the adult-child relationship;
d) knowledge about the psychodynamic of the family relationships;
e) preparation on the worth of the play for children. From this point of view the baby-sitter can represent a privileged figure since, not having any essential educational role, she can have a fundamental a caring-entertaining role because she can privilege the ludic moments - we know, fundamental for children (as way of [projective and introjective] identification, emotional control, anticipative trying the reality, fantastic realization of the desire etc.)

Final Notation

The experience of the "kibbutz" in Israel it is the prototype of a community where the children live separated by the parents (except for the ritual periodic meetings). This unusual experience-modality of children’s rearing has shown that (since the adults, to whom the children are entrusted, are all highly specialized operators) it doesn't generally imply any alteration in the development and in the maturation of the "children of the kibbutz" (or rather, so it seems, one can normally develop and alive in presence of suitable parental substitutes). Only a problem has been seen: at war, the "young people native from the kibbutz" showed a notable greater facility to remain killed in comparison to the young people that had been normally reared by the family!
I hope to have helped you.
The more Kindest regards,
The Editor of the scientific journal "Psicologia Dinamica".