Hal is now four and a bit and confident enough to demand new books rather than old favourites. His father, psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, reflects on the interaction between developmental issues and stages and the part that books play in Hal’s life.
Recently there has been a bit of sea change in Hal’s attitude to his book at bedtime. ‘I want a book that I haven’t had before’ he has started to say. Familiar titles don’t seem to excite him any more and evening after evening we find ourselves trawling through his 100 or so books in a desperate search for an unknown story. But barring a few books for the 11-year-old plus reader which have too many words for a pre-bed read, we now appear to have read the lot and visits to the library are getting more and more numerous.
This is all so different from how things use to be. Not long ago Hal’s taste was tremendously conservative. There was a handful of books that he knew he liked and he tended to go for the same favourite every night for a week before shifting to a new book fad, with ventures into the untried few and far between.
So what has happened? I talked in the last diary about a new level of curiosity in Hal, and I think his demand for books he hasn’t seen before is part of this. I’ve suggested in the past that the longing for repeat readings of the same book seems to me to be rooted in the desire for something that feels safe. A very small child needs above all to build up a sense of the world as predictable and reliable and what seems to make most sense to me is that by asking for the same book again and again the small child finds yet another way of having an experience of life not providing nasty (and perhaps psychologically overwhelming) surprises.
By the time you are four though, assuming that the early years have been secure enough, a good part of the foundations of psychological safety have been laid. The legacy of this is tremendous. Without a need to constantly reassure him or herself about the reliability of the world, a child can start to get on with discovering all sorts of things that haven’t been encountered before. And the safer Hal’s psychological world feels to him, the more time I think I am going to be spending driving to Seaford library in quest of books he hasn’t seen before.