Helen Ross, 88, a child psychoanalyst and author who had taught at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute for the past 12 years, died of cancer Wednesday at her Washington home.

During her years at the institute she taught courses in child development and analysis to psychiatrists who were training to become psychoanalysts.

She herself had studied during the 1930s at the Vienna Institute of Psychoanalysis, founded by Dr. Sigmund Freud, where she was closely associated with Freud's daughter, Anna, and Helene Deutsche.

Miss Ross wrote a number of technical works. She was the author of "Fears of Children," a book that appealed to both scholars and laymen and has appeared in more than a dozen languages, and was coauthor with Dr. Bertram D. Lewin, of the "Psychoanalytic Education in the United States," an early study of the training of analysts that was published in 1960.

She wrote a column for the Chicago Sun-Times during the 1950s on child development, called "Your Child."

She began her psychoanalytic career in 1934 as a research associate at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. She served as administrative director of the institute for 15 years before moving to New York City in 1956.

Until falling ill about a year ago, Miss Ross had traveled widely and conducted seminars on child development and classes in advanced psychology. She been a visiting teacher and administrator in child analysis programs in Washington, New York, and Pittsburgh.

In 1976 the University of Chicago established the Helen Ross Professorship in Social Welfare Policy endowed by grants from the Ford and Field foundations.

Miss Ross was a director of the Freud Archives and the Hampstead Clinic in London, a life member of the American Psychoanalytic Association and the Washington Psychoanalytic Society, an honarary trustee of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, and a member of the board of directors of the Field Foundation.

She was a native of Independence, Mo. She graduated from the University of Missouri and taught Latin and English in Missouri high schools before World War I.

During the war she worked in Washington for the old Federal Railway Administration.

During the 1920s, while living in Chicago, Miss Ross became interested in the application of psychoanalysis to child development theory. Wishing to study analysis she consulted the noted University of Chicago psychoanalyst, Franz Alexander.

According to Miss Ross who later wrote of these years, Franz Alexander "listened to my interests, and then said quite simply, 'Why don't you go to Vienna? Anna Freud is there and Helena Deutsch.' This suggestion seemed sophiscated, almost absurd, to a novice with slim means. I have always felt grateful to Alexander for making such a fanciful undertaking seem a normal thing to do."

She went and later characterized her time, studying in Vienna as "exciting days of learning, exchange of discoveries, readiness to share experiences."

Among her fellow scholars were Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, Margaret Mahler, and Eric Erikson.

Miss Ross is survived by four sisters, James B. Ross, of the home in Washington, Virginia R. Weston, also of Washington, Louise R. Holmquist, of Phoenix, and Frances R. Leake, of Ada, Ohio.

Her brother, Charles G. Ross who died in 1950, was President Harry S. Truman's press secretary.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Anna Freud Foundation in New York City.