The ‘wave-particle’ child: reconnecting the disconnect in the concept of latency

Celine Maroudas, Hadas Wiseman, Judith Harel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this paper is to re-examine psychodynamic understanding of middle childhood towards a conceptual reformulation of this critical developmental stage. We believe such a reformulation is necessary in the light of contemporary psychoanalytic thought and developmental findings outside of the psychoanalytic field. This is intended as a preliminary stage in the direction of a recalibration of the technique and language of child analytic treatment to fit the particular psychological challenges and needs of middle childhood. Historically, middle childhood (or latency) has been regarded as a period of psychosexual dormancy and psychic rigidity. We review contemporary developmental findings and suggest a shift in emphasis in psychodynamic thinking towards the psychic growth, developmental challenges and emotional fragility that also characterise middle childhood. We propose that the psyche of the school-aged child is at once wave and particle, constantly growing and evolving and yet simultaneously stable and structured. We also emphasise the complexity of psychosocial development in middle childhood beyond the triangular, into what we term the polygonal psychic space. The familiar structured games of middle childhood–card games, ball games, board games and today’s console games–reflect this complex and paradoxical developmental picture, but the traditional child psychotherapy paradigm remains biased towards the toys and make-believe games of early childhood. Adaptation of technique and clinical theory to middle childhood is critical, particularly given the recent steep rise in referrals of school-aged children to mental health clinics across the globe, and the relatively high treatment drop-out rate commonly seen, especially in boys. We suggest the game-play typical of middle childhood offers a safe and developmentally appropriate medium of play, through which the child can express and explore their intrapsychic and interpsychic world in a psychotherapeutic setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-431
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Child Psychotherapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Child psychoanalytic psychotherapy
  • board games
  • child development
  • latency
  • middle childhood
  • structured games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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