All children, by definition, are in the business of learning. Learning in the educational sense is an essential part of their experience but in addition the fundamental tasks inherent in being a child are to learn in a broader sense about themselves and their world and thereby to develop into an adult. Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theory is centrally concerned with the emotional aspects of learning and the conscious and particularly the unconscious barriers that can impede it (Salzberger-Wittenburg 1983; Youell 2006). Much psychoanalytic literature centres on the difficulty of learning from emotional experience and being able to think (Bion 1962b; Britton 1987), which are obviously far wider issues than learning in the formal sense, but these theoretical contributions are relevant to both kinds. Learning is a complex process for all of us, fraught with the emotional conflicts around dependence, taking in from others, tolerating not knowing, coping with failure, managing success and digesting and making use of what we are ‘fed’. For children who have experienced trauma, deprivation and inconsistency in their early life, the process is made extremely challenging.
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