The Spontaneity Theory of Child Development


Psychodrama, Volume 1, J. L. Moreno, Beacon, NY 1946

“The Spontaneity Theory of Child Development.” Chapter 5.
By Sue Daniel

This chapter on spontaneity principles as they relate to child development is one of the most eloquent pieces of writing on a very profound subject that I have ever read.

Jacob Levy Moreno’s spiritual, philosophical and scientific nature is revealed here. His is a wholistic approach, everything is part of everything. Psychodrama is like this as well, it is a wholistic method and all is grist for the mill.

Central to spontaneity theory as developed by Moreno, is the notion of warm up. When we are about to do anything in life warm up is crucial for success. This applies to going to bed, going to sleep, going to school, going for a job interview, washing the dishes.

In this chapter, co-written by Moreno and his second wife, Florence (nee Bridge) Moreno there is a particular discussion on the warm up of the baby to its coming birth. They particularly talk about the baby’s social atom including doctor, mother, family members and nurses. These people are the baby’s auxiliary egos. They assist him to be in the world. Once we can do things ourselves, we need less auxiliary egos in our life. However, in working with children it is important to think of oneself as an auxiliary ego, an assistant in the young person’s life, someone who can take on relevant roles in order to assist the young person in gaining control over himself and his environment, when necessary.

Working with children is about co-being, co-action, co-creating and co-experiencing. Moreno spoke about the impulse in the baby towards life. “The infant is moving, at birth, into a totally strange set of relationships. He has no model after which he can shape his acts. He is facing, more than at any time during his subsequent life, a novel situation.” P. 50. Since many of the faculties of the baby are still yet undeveloped, s/he needs assistance to live.

According to Moreno, there is no time that the personality is set. This ties in with his ‘Theory of Roles’. P. 184. Over a lifetime we can assume many roles, develop new roles and gain satisfaction in life through our ability to develop and take on new roles, discard old ones, or enact new roles so that old ones diminish. The twin concept of the social and cultural atom also ties in With spontaneity theory and role theory because from the beginning everything we do is in relationship with the world around us. We are never in isolation, always relating to something or someone. As we interact with others, objects and animals in the world around us we develop new roles through these relationships. This never changes. It is always possible to develop new roles and new role relationships.

Whilst we cannot change another human being we can change our roles and then the other cannot stay the same. So the more we can develop a wide role repertoire the more we have the possibility of mastery over ourselves and our environment (please note that this is not having control over ours or about controlling others). By being in mutual positive relationships, we can become who we are through these relationships and experiences.

What does this mean for our work or life living with children? Basically it means children will develop on the basis of the people around them, their ability to take on roles, which will enable growth and development. Children develop in relation to their early caregivers and then their peers and get a sense of themselves through the mirroring they receive from these people. It behoves us all then to be good mirrors for our children. To see themselves as they are (mirror), then to see themselves as others see them (role reversal) P. 51.

The child coming into the world is a genius, psychodrama theory considers this a very important aspect of personality. Beyond libido, beyond animal or neurotic stereotypes, the child has within them an innate ability beyond too, genes, rather spontaneity factor is the soil from which later the spontaneous, creative matrix of personality grows.

When working with children it is essential that we understand the creative genius within them and work with them and their auxiliaries – mothers, fathers, peers, teachers….for the development of roles and role relationships which ensures the greatest opportunity for them to express themselves adequately, in the here and now and in relation to the world around them.

I trust this brief paper on a highly complex topic such as a theory of child development will prompt further discussion and writing in our blog and in any reading and educational groups.

The topic of working adequately with children is imperative, especially in immigration situations children are being held in detention centres for years, and sadly often from babyhood. A theory of spontaneity may well assist us in any work we do or are doing with those with their freedom and liberty at stake. We must work with the auxiliaries in these young people lives and assist them in their development of a wider role repertoire. A tired Mother, a stressed Mother can not be so spontaneous with her young and needs all the support she can get.