Fathers Have a Role in Change

Teachers know that a great repression, or forgetting, of the earlier years ensues during the transition from a preschool to a school-aged child and that the teachers and the preschool experiences apparently are almost forgotten by most school-aged girls and boys.

Preschool teachers also know that conscience formation is something that follows from the struggles that mark this transition period. For example, kindergarten teachers cannot leave a class alone for a moment at the start of the semester, but they can at the end of the school year have some children who can manage on their own to stay in control for brief periods. These children have become school children, latency children, with consciences that can function adequately, if the demands are not too great.

These are the observable phenomena of this transition period, well known to the observant educator of children of this age: the instinctual wishes become latent, a repression sets in and a functioning conscience now appears. How all this comes about is perhaps not so easy to describe and it is a struggle for most of us to understand all that goes into this transition, what motivates and sustains it.

It appears that the preschooler follows the dictum, “If you cannot lick ‘em, join ‘em.” For the young boy this means surrendering competition with his father, giving-up instinctual wishes for his mother and modeling himself after his father (a process of identification). All this leads to the boy taking into his personality an image of father that becomes the focal point for a developing and functioning conscience.

What has been attempted to be understood is how some girls and boys come through this transitional period sure of, and content with, their sexual identity. They are kind, caring, considerate and giving people with reasonable consciences. Others come through as if chronically discontented with themselves and as rather nasty selfish human beings with great troubles with their consciences.

Fathers have a great deal to do with how this transition period is concluded regarding these vital characterological features. When a father fulfills the “average, expectable” role with his child, one of kindness, appropriate and realistic pride and respect, the father becomes a person who cannot be wished ill without great internal stress and pain. A difficult conflict arises, an unresolvable one, unless the child decides to bow to the love of the father.

As the father goes inside (internalization) to become an integral part of a child’s conscience, it is the loving father that is taken in. A conscience is formed that has a better chance of becoming a helpful aid for growth and development, not just a punitive force and voice. This inside father also becomes a source of identification with the outside father, acquiring in this way his kind, affectionate and protective qualities.

Insofar as reality plays its role, especially in the boy surrendering his wishes to compete with father, there is less of a loss of self-esteem and less sense of being vanquished in a vital struggle. All the prior years of the father’s love and caring availability benefit the child when she or he can master the transitional phase with a healthy identification with father and thus acquire those attributes of compassion, mindfulness, lovingkindness, sympathetic joy, equanimity, giving and caring for one’s self and others, while simultaneously reducing the poisons of greed, hatred and ignorance.


Barney Greenspan, PhD

Dr. Greenspan is currently in full-time solo independent practice (Meridian, Idaho) as a clinical psychologist, child/adolescent psychoanalyst and zen practitioner with clients at all developmental stages.