Play in Matrixes of Oppression and Attachment

The discourse of child care cannot and must not be removed from the discourse of economic practice, and those who wish to promote competent and compassionate childcare must advocate structural nonviolence within the community, via open access and open source resource economics as facilitated by direct cybernetic democracy.

I once overheard my friend tell their daughter, “It’s time to learn, not play!” 

Odd how this sentiment commonly takes hold of would-be rational minds. Of course, play and playful forms of creative participation are cornerstones in a child’s assimilation and retention of new information – renowned psychologist Lev Vygotsky even went so far as to say that in children of preschool age, play is a leading source of development.(1)

Free-play typically refers to a wide variety of self-chosen activities which children carry out according to their own interest, to their enjoyment or satisfaction. While circumstances inform the degree to which they do so, all children engage in play to varying degrees. Children from areas of high income inequality are less likely to engage in creative activities due to the stress living in communities with a high level of income inequality typically entails.(2) As play assists and support the psychological, emotional and social aspects of a child’s development, it follows logically that income inequality is severely counter the optimal development of a child, setting the stage instead for a staggered and impaired development at best, in which the individual in question is anxious and uninspired enough to suit the life of a 9-5 consumer/worker. This is a far cry from our potential to thrive in creative harmony with our environment and community.

Play invites children to explore the universe of their imaginations without restriction, as well as to expand them through the delight of playful experimentation, with ‘what if…’ scenarios and the like.

There is a liberty in play, not only from the routine of a child’s daily life but from their ever solidifying notion of their own identity. When playing group activities with the local children from my neighbourhood, it was lovely to see a twelve year old girl from a traumatised background, who often acts as though she is in her early twenties, shed her inhibitions and run around with the other children of mixed ages on a field, laughing and carefree. 

Notions of identity can be a restrictive burden on anyone, and are so especially for those of us whose identity has been sculpted by trauma, which settles so especially heavily. Such a weight is manageable as adults, and is not meant for the young shoulders of children.

Play affords children the opportunity to explore both intellectually and physically and to think about cause and effect scenarios. Children often extend their communication skills through the medium of play by talking and listening with and to their playmates, as well as with any adults who are involved in supporting their play experiences. Bruce & Meggitt acknowledge that play, “helps children to use what they know and to understand things about the world and people they meet” (3)

In my own experience of teaching my daughter, I have found that she receives and retains information better when she has playfully participated in the process of learning. This is because the emotional experience and memory of the fun we had while playing the educational game acts as a sort of lubricant and sticking agent for the information. She is more open and receptive to learning when it is fun and the happy memories of that time are attractive to revisit.

This recalls Piaget’s theory of development, in which a key component of the acquisition of new skills is the assimilation stage, in which children adopt new information into their schema of reality.(4)

Through allowing them to explore and discover themselves, play recognises children as individuals. A child may explore their own feelings and discover skills which may be developed through play – in this sense, play allows a child to develop at their own pace. Play can also be extremely cathartic for a child, as they often use it to act out real life situations and so doing relieve tension, emotions and fears. As children rarely learn facts, walk, talk or even think the same way at the same age, play allows children at different stages of development to play together, which can be enormously beneficial for the individuals involved.

As a child’s day to day activities are, to a large extent, beyond their control, it is very important that they have some time in which to experiment with scenarios in which they have power. This enables children to more freely explore the world which has been experienced by them – tension felt regarding situations in which they experienced anxiety or stress can be diffused through play.

Many modern children in childcare facilities are peer oriented – a term coined by child psychologist Gordon Neufeld to refer to a child or person who orients their behaviour towards the behaviour of their peer group instead of that of an adult caregiver. Children naturally imitate the behaviour of those to whom their bond of attachment is strongest. For a child in the educational or childcare system from seven in the morning to six in the evening every day since infancy, with only a small number of adult caregivers sharing their attention between large groups of children, the strongest bond often becomes those formed with their peers. 

The fact of the matter is, without a strong enough bond to an adult caregiver, and certainly without insightful, attentive adult intervention, young people will become locked into a feedback loop of immature behaviour – in which conflict is resolved through tantrums and vulnerability is exploited – which they will carry with them well into adulthood. Small wonder, then, that we observe a human global culture which is increasingly oppositional, uncooperative and divided! 

A peer attached child’s bond to their peers naturally strengthens over their development, and because so many children’s social lives are kept separate from their family life (mostly due to parents’ increasingly long work schedules), and because the values of a peer oriented group will inevitably clash with the values of mature adults, we witness a state of competitive bonds, as the child’s attachment to their peer group ultimately wrenches them away from their increasingly anaemic bond with their primary caregivers. The result is “youth culture” – something which was much less of an issue several decades ago when working days were shorter and families were more involved in each others lives. Something which, in the pre-Neolithic Revolution time of our hunter gatherer ancestors, in which a community founded in connected, cooperative attachment was the norm, was virtually nonexistent. 

Nourished by a strong and healthy bond of attachment to their adult caregivers, children may build cooperative bonds of attachment with their peers – cooperative in the sense of active cooperation between children, but also in the sense of forming a network of bonded attachments within their community which support their own personal development.

Maria Montessori, born in Italy in 1869, soon realised the vital importance of measured and timely mental stimulation during what Itard referred to as “critical periods”, during her tenure at Rome’s Orthophrenic School for neurodiverse children. These periods in which children are more sensitive to stimulus and learning are periods in which they must be stimulated to develop normally, or risk growing up, “forever lacking the skills and intellectual concepts not developed at the stage when nature expects them to be readily absorbed.” (6)

The fact that our false, inequality-perpetuating market economy is actively degrading and undermining the development of the continuation of humanity is inescapable. Through privatisation, war-mongering and debt, state and business-governed economic practice is shredding the community. If we, as a neighbourhood, are incapable of providing our youth with the necessary opportunities for development, then we are failing in one of the most basic ways it is possible to fail as a species. The discourse of child care cannot and must not be removed from the discourse of economic practice, and those who wish to promote competent and compassionate childcare must advocate structural nonviolence within the community, via open access and open source resource economics as facilitated by direct cybernetic democracy.

Perhaps in recognition of this, Montessori set up her classroom to be equipped with varying materials to support young children along they journey across different stages of development, and pioneered child-centred environments, designed to facilitate a greater degree of freedom while minimising risk. Her developed structured program is used to this day in many educational centres, especially in Ireland, and her emphasis on the importance of observation as well as the idea that children have a natural will to learn are recognised across many early year settings.

Varying types of play often overlap across a child’s experience interacting with their surroundings across their life, and so it is of utmost necessity that they have continuous access to a wide array of options with which to experiment with for the sake of their optimum development. For example, a baby engages in exploratory play when they put a rattle in their mouth – they engage in exploratory play again as a toddler when they experiment with finger paints, and the same type of play will be used again when the same child makes ‘perfume’ with rose petals, water and mud at the age of five.

Active Play is play of a physical nature – skipping, jumping, running, dancing and rough and trouble. Climbing and sliding, swinging and cycling may also fit in this category. In babies, we observe activ play as they crawl, slide on their butts, roll and throw – pushing, pulling and chasing may all be considered as activities which are examples of active play. The equipment needed to facilitate active play includes climbing frames, bicycles, slides, balls, hula hoops, bats, gym mats, push along toys, skipping ropes and most essentially, plenty of space. Typical Irish home environments are often not large enough to accommodate many kinds of physical play and there is often insufficient space in the garden. Migrant families detained for as many as ten years in privatised temporary housing initiatives like Direct Provision often have to share one room between four or five – the stifling impact on the developing mental skies of children as directly witnessed through their being deprived of the resources they need in order to develop must not be accepted, for the sake of the individual, and for the sake of the continuing community.

Different overlapping areas of play are each equally vital to propel the child across their varying stages of development, and a childcare practitioner is tasked with recognising and implementing which playful outlet is most suited to the needs of the child at the time. Knowing which type of play promotes which area of development is an essential part of providing an experience of play which is valuable to the children. While the link between certain types of play and certain areas of development (for example, outdoor play and physical development) is more obvious, other links may be less so (for example, outdoor play can promote social development), and development in one area may promote development in another (for example, physical development promotes emotional development).

Finally, I would conclude by drawing attention to the fact that it is the spirit of play or a playful attitude which so frequently helps us connect to the children in our care, and this can be perennially present across all areas of our interaction with them. Bonobos have been observed to use play to mitigate conflict, alleviate feelings of stress and to strengthen bonds between adults as well as between children and between children and adults (8). Wearing the mantle of nonviolence can weigh down a heavy heart, and the process of growing can be complex and challenging – a playful attitude helps alleviate the weight of existence and interaction, as well as being a strong avenue for optimal development.

  1. Vygotsky notes
  2. Pickett, K. Wilkenson, R.G. The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. March 05, 2009.
  3. (Bruce, T. and Meggitt, C.,1996).
  4. Piaget notes
  5. Official website for child psychologist Gordon Neufeld. The Matrix of Attachment. https://neufeldinstitute.org/# 
  6. Notes
  7. Official website for NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345176/

Official website for TED. Evolution’s Gift of Play, from Bonobo Apes to Humans. https://www.ted.com/talks/isabel_behncke_evolution_s_gift_of_play_from_bonobo_apes_to_humans?language=en

The Art of Cybernetic Care

In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. Ernst Fischer.

A personal skill of mine is humorous recognition of the duality of human nature. This is very valuable when addressing a confrontational situation between individuals both adult and child, as it enables one to address a person’s misbehaviour while still appealing to their better nature. Nothing pushes a person to misbehave like labouring under unfair expectations, and nothing fortifies a loop of poor behaviour like the reinforced notion of its inevitability. So bearing the duality of a person’s identity in mind, letting them know they are understood and presenting them to themselves as changeable is a core step in alleviating the oppressive feelings associated with being or behaving inappropriately, which is in turn a necessary part of transcending that behaviour.

The first step to successfully dealing with a tantrum or emotional outburst is to reassure the person that they are safe. Until the tantruming child is assured of their safety, no amount of logical reasoning will reach them. It might seem strange to us, to observe a child fear for their safety in a situation in which they are not under threat, but a characteristic of an emotional fissure is that once we are triggered into it, we no longer perceive our surroundings objectively. Everything is colored by our fear.

Reassurance of safety can happen in many ways, but often the most effective response has been one which blends a form of physical touch, environmental stimulation and verbal reassurance. For example, if a child in my care is experiencing an emotional outburst, I will typically offer them a hug and invite them to come with me into a more quiet part of the setting while I repeat a variation of, “You’re safe, I’m here, you’re here”. This mantra is designed to invite the tantruming person into the present and into a sense of security. Once we are somewhere more private and less-stimulating, I encourage the child in my care to focus on their breathing by joining me in a one-breath meditation. A one-breath meditation is a great way to tune into regulating ones breathing patterns without the prospect of attaining a deeply meditative state, which can feel very daunting, especially during an emotional outburst. Once the child has regained a greater degree of control over their breathing, I ask them whether they are ready to listen. Once they are, I explain what the situation demands from them – patience, calm, don’t hit Gary on the head with the Teddy, etc – and why. I ask them whether they’ve understood, and whether they would like to add anything. Once they are ready to rejoin the activity, I invite them to do so just as I would had there been no behavioural issue. This forgiving and inviting approach to misbehaviour gives the people I involve myself with / children I care for the space to process and grow from their mistakes. Few things bruise our relationships and dampen the nurturing benefits of our relationships like holding a grudge. Once the child has calmed down, demonstrated an understanding of their mistakes and a will to engage positively with the rest of the group, they must be treated no more suspiciously or begrudgingly than any of the other children – which is to say, of course, not at all.

The following is a plan for a typical day within an ECCE setting. Free play around designated activity stations is facilitated until 9am, with children arriving at the setting as early as 7.

(Typically, Irish creches and preschools accept children – as young as 6 months – as early as 6am, letting them go as late as 7.30pm – but as this is my creative vision for an optimal day, I allow myself to take creative liberties. Children are collected from the setting at 3.30pm.)

At 9am, children engage in circle time, in which themes of cooperation are discussed and cooperative games are played (eg. Taking turns adding onto a story as they pass a ball). This is in order to bring the often individualistic vibe of free play into a vibe of cooperation in a way which does not negate the individual – rather, makes room for it. Other circle time activities include song singing, show and tell, etc. At 9.30, children are each given pen and paper and encouraged to draw a picture of their feelings. 10am – snack time – fresh fruit and water. 10.30-11am – free play. 11am – music lesson – children swap drawings and “play” whatever emotion is on the drawing they hold, taking turn experimenting with a variety of instruments as conduits for emotion. 12am – lunch. Fruit, rice and vegetables. 1pm – free outdoor play. 2pm – 10 minute guided meditation followed by nap time. 2.40pm – afternoon snack, crackers and grapes. 3.30pm – children are collected by parents and taken home.

Long working hours split the family unit. An optimum day in an ECCE setting would be able to occur in a society which was oriented around the family, in which the community comes together to promote the well being of the child. In lieu of a healthy culture stemming from a functionally egalitarian economy, our attempts to facilitate the optimal development of our children (and consequently species) will be dragged through the recurring nightmare of being nipped in the bud, time and time again.

Exploring Autism

Excerpt from an assignment which explores a “special need”. 

Selected “special need”: Autism.

In posting it here, I’ve left out some of the more technical bits which anybody who’s studied autism will already know by heart.

Every person has needs which are special or unique to them. While compartmentalisation  serves to further a technical understanding of the individual, it is equally important to remember that we all belong to the group of humanity first and foremost, lest we begin to fail to see the forest for the trees. We have more in common than otherwise.

Identification of characteristics of this specific special need.

Autism is a developmental condition which can sometimes be characterised by difficulties with social interaction, over_stimulation and communication as well as by restrictive and repetitive behaviour. The autism spectrum is vast and nuanced so the characteristics ascribed to some people on the spectrum vary greatly, and may not be ascribed to another person who is also on the spectrum. 

“You’ve met one person with autism, and you’ve met one person with autism.”

– Dr. Stephen Shore

Clear identification of the causes of autism are unknown. It is worth mentioning that clear identification of the causes of a person being ‘neurotypical’ are also unknown, although we do know that the majority of people become people after being born.

Delays in speech, learning disabilities and anger management issues may stem from childhood trauma, poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or corrupted DNA passed down from older parents, but these characteristics are not intrinsic to people on the autism spectrum (although they may overlap).

Analysis of medical/alternative treatments.

As the spectrum of autism is vast and nuanced, there is no medical treatment for a condition which can be simply described as a type of operating system. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the global economic system of intrinsic access inequality perpetuating competitive stress and rewarding ruthlessness is disabling, rather than to say that those who fail to be well-adjusted to it are intrinsically disabled.

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” 

– Krishnamurti. 

But falsely, challenging the fundamental fabric of our culture appears more uncomfortable and technically complex than marginalising a group of individuals with shared or similar behavioural and processing patterns which are incompatible with the prevalent culture. And so history has seen a variety of attempts to ‘recondition’ or ‘rewire’ people on the autism spectrum via such gems as electroshock abuse, behavioural conditioning and the like.

More compassionate endeavours to integrate people on the spectrum into the absolute thresher for sensitivity which is modern Western culture include;

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Behavioural management therapy
  • Education and school-based therapies
  • Nutritional therapy: gut bacteria health is closely linked to neurological health, so many mental complications which may occur alongside a person’s autism diagnosis are likely to be eased by adhering to a non-inflammatory and adequately nutritious diet.
  • Speech-language therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Medication therapy: For example, a person on the autistic spectrum who also has epilepsy may take anti-spasming medication to reduce the likelihood of brain damage resulting from seizures. The U.S. FDA has approved the use of some antipsychotic drugs, such as risperidone and aripripazole, for treating irritability associated with ASD in children between certain ages.

The role of the “special needs” assistant.

 Aside from technical involvement with creating a welcoming environment, an assistant to a person on the autism spectrum’s primary objective is to act as a buffer between that person and the challenges they may be presented with. This cannot be effectively done without taking the time to become acquainted with the individual in question and their particular, individual needs. For example, because people on the autism spectrum tend towards a higher degree of sensitivity to stimulus such as sound or light, any person who assumes the role of an assistant to an autistic person would do well to take steps to ensure the environment they find themselves in is softly lit and not noisy. Bright light has also been reported by certain individuals to trigger their seizures. Where this is unavoidable, an assistant ought to provide a source of soothing to the person in question.

Certain individuals may be prone to outbursts – these usually have triggers and/or warning signs. In addition to being hard to shock, flexible and humorous, an assistant would do well to learn these triggers with the aim of aiding the person they seek to assist in avoiding and/or transcending them. An assistant to a person on the autism spectrum ought to be attentive to warning signs of agitation in order to be able to diffuse tension and preserve the peace of mind of the individual they are assisting.

In the instance of a person experiencing other debilitating impediments (such as anger issues, physical disabilities or the like) alongside their autism diagnosis, an assistant would be trained to respond to these additional requirements optimally.

Educational options available for a child on the autism spectrum vary depending on their unique needs, the laws of the region they are living in and the financial power/resource access of their primary caregivers. 

No region can, therefor, boast having adequate facilities for the public health of its people until such a time as structural inequality intrinsic to market economics is replaced by a greater level of access equality, likely the result of a global shift towards open access cybernetic resource economics.

Until that day, the dream of public health, lasting piece, world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued, but never attained.

Whereas in America, children on the autism spectrum are guaranteed free public education up until young adulthood, Ireland provides free primary school for children on the Autism spectrum, alongside an array of varied programs and services to help integrate children on the Autism spectrum into the mainstream education system. 

Some such initiatives include;

  • AIM (Access and Inclusion Module) – a child-centered module made up of seven levels of supports, moving from the more general and universal (promoting an inclusive environment) to the more targeted and individual-specific (mentoring, specialised equipments, therapeutic supports).
  • Autism units in mainstream primary and secondary schools – typically no more than 6 pupils to a class for children on the autism spectrum led by one teacher and two “special needs assistants”.
  • “Special Educational Needs Organizers” – A support system designed to assist parents as they enrol their primary and/or post-primary children in mainstream education or navigate tutoring them at home. A locally-based SENO will be available to discuss any concerns parents may have, offer expertise, give presentations to groups of parents and advocacy groups. A SENO will also interact with parents, schools and the HSE in providing resources to support families of children on the autism spectrum.

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do.”

– Doris Lessing 

Activities which are developmentally appropriate for a child on the autism spectrum vary greatly depending on the child and their specific needs. A nonverbal child may respond very well to a session of building with legos, and a child with a very active imagination may get a lot out of a story-telling based activity. “You’ve met one person with autism and you’ve met one person with autism.” With most children, it is generally safe to assume that developmentally appropriate activities are those which gently prompt the child in question to transcend their limitations and explore their boundaries in a safe, secure and compassionate environment.

For example, a sensory collage could be a great way of inviting some children to explore their boundaries with different fabrics and textures in a controlled way. Various strips of different material are made available – in appropriately separate containers, so that children can choose which material to interact with and when. In this way, the child has control over which new texture is experienced. Using these different materials to make a collage has the benefit of practising fine motor function while also teaching the child that overcoming our limitations with controlled intention is a viable option for accessing ones creative power.

Shore, S. Interview with Dr. Stephen Shore: Autism Advocate & on the Spectrum. 23 March, 2020. https://ibcces.org/blog/2018/03/23/12748/

Communications, Office Of. What Are the Treatments For Autism? 31 January, 2017.

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments

Official Website for AIM – Access and Iclusion Module. https://aim.gov.ie/for-parents/

Official Website for the ‘National Council for Special Education.’  https://ncse.ie/special-classes

Official Website for the ‘National Council for Special Education’. On SENOs https://ncse.ie/seno-support-service
FAQ Section of the Irish Society for Autism; https://autism.ie/information/faq/education/

Systems of Attachment – The Conscientious Data Flow Between Practitioners, Caregivers and Children (text)

American mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.”

Throughout this report I will refer to the relationship between the child, practitioners, caregivers and space as a cybernetic system. Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems— in this case, we can say that the system of attachment is the subsystem underscoring communities. Cybernetics looks at the structures, constraints, and possibilities of these regulatory systems. 

This is a straightforward way to synthesize what goes on within the child-practitioners- caregivers-setting dynamic and so doing to identify the various key components, with the aim of optimising this system so that the child experiences the highest quality of care possible.

The three main components of this system are the parents or legal guardians, the child of course and the ECCE practitioner. And the relationship between the child and practitioner, as well as the relationship between the legal guardians and practitioner, occurs primarily within the setting, so we can view the setting as the fourth major important component to this system.

In order for optimum functionality to be facilitated within any given system, clear and efficient communicative pathways must be established. This is true whether we are talking about neurons firing signals at each other within the brain or clearly mapped territory along the runways of an airport, and it is true for the early years setting as well.

Fortuitously, there is a wide variety of communicative platforms at our disposal within the modern day and age, so many different ways to relay information from phone text, to phonecall, a social media feed, or a letter. And even within the tried and tested vehicle of face to face communication, there exist a multitude of techniques we may employ to guide our intended information to and from functioning components of the system in question.

What will make the data we are trying to convey have the desired impact on the component in question will be the sum of two important factors – choosing the appropriate methods of communication, and the effectiveness with which we execute the selected methods of communication.

For example, when the parent or legal guardian is communicating their child’s needs, we will select both relational listening, informational listening and critical listening – empathizing with them in order to form a rapport, picking up on the facts relaid so as to best meet their child’s needs and assessing for ourselves the integrity and validity of the information being relaid.

The optimal functionality of the system must be at the forefront of our minds, providing us with a clear trajectory along which to orient ourselves and our choices with dynamic versatility. 

Siolta highlights the intentional processing of information, and emphasizes the importance of ensuring data is collected and stored correctly, safely, accurately and accessibly. Ensuring that the regularly gathered information is up-to-date is another vital component of preserving the operational integrity of the attachment system. The connection between home and setting is more secure when parents have access to correct, safe, accurate information about their children, instead of having to rely on the subjective memory of a practitioner.

That is the very simple framework in which a great deal of our experiences as ECCE practitioners will happen – an example of one such experience could be the following, 

One notices the child doesn’t have a spare change of clothes after an accident, so (after attending to the child) one records the time of the accident in their log book and then one places that log book back where it belongs after recording the information. And naturally one updates the book when a change of clothes has been provided. 

Just as the curriculum is mediated to meet the needs of individual children, how one communicates must also be tailored.​ – Moyles, 2006.

Communication must be versatile and flexible, and our communication with the children in our care begins the moment they set foot in the setting we have cultivated. Natural light, bright colors, defined areas of interest and cultural as well as familial representation are among factors which signal that this is an inclusive and inviting place.

Siolta emphasises how communication is about more than language – if anything, the words we use finetune a connection founded in eye contact, facial expression, a dynamic selection of listening skills and tone. And on an even more foundational level, empathy, sympathy, kindness, sensitivity and responsiveness.

“Communication is embedded in the child’s social development and is the basis for her relationships with parents, siblings, peers, significant adults, extended family and all the other social relationships she will experience.” – Moyles, 2006.

Through cultivating a sound personal and professional style of interaction, as well as ensuring that the setting, in addition to communicating a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, also provides plenty of accessibly opportunities for the children therein to experiment with different ways of expressing themselves, ECCE practitioners can strive to achieve the following;

  • To hold an accepting space for the child as they now are, which supports the emergence of confidence and self esteem,
  • To support each child in their process of communicating with their environments through varying and appropriate means

Holding an accepting space for the children in our care instills them with the emotional sense of security which is needed to develop a strong sense of self worth, and cultivating a variety of communications skills – from verbal, to gestural, technical, musical, to artistic, etc. – empowers the child on their journey beyond our care, into actively and enthusiastically involving themselves in functionally positive networks of attachment.

The success of the attachment system is measured by the children’s emerging ability to successfully transcend it, and to interact in a mutually beneficial manner within larger systems (the community).

In this way, the attachment system of early years childcare is a subsystem which regulates the social dynamics of communities – which in turn affects and connects most aspects of the communities in question. Contributing to the optimal function of this attachment system is a fundamental avenue for the preservation and support of public health.

Wiener, N. (1948). Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Phillips, Holly. Types of Modern Communication. https://www.resourcetechniques.co.uk/news/web-design/types-of-modern-communication-100244 18 December, 2018.

Types of Listening https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/listening-types.html

Siolta, Research Digest on Communication http://siolta.ie/media/pdfs/Research%20Djgest%20-%20Communication.pdf
Siolta, Childminding http://siolta.ie/childminding_standard12.php

Systems of Attachment – the Conscientious Data Flow Between Practitioners, Caregivers and Children

The optimal functionality of the system must be at the forefront of our minds, providing us with a clear trajectory along which to orient ourselves and our choices with dynamic versatility.

Just as the curriculum is mediated to meet the needs of individual children, how one communicates must also be tailored.​ – Moyles, 2006.

 “Communication is embedded in the child’s social development and is the basis for her relationships with parents, siblings, peers, significant adults, extended family and all the other social relationships she will experience.” Siolta, 2017.

The Impact of the Economy on the Setting

Economy is the foundation of culture: the way in which a society organises the management of its resources underpins the emergent features of that society. When we remember that the Greek origin of the word “economy” or “oikonomía” literally means “management of the household,” it follows naturally that an economy created with the primary purpose of managing resources efficiently would be best suited to give rise to a sound culture.

However what we have at the moment is a false economy – a system of resource management with the primary objective of shifting resource access through the separation of debt and capital. Our current global economic module measures its value in digital abstraction – GDP, “market value” and the like. This profound dysfunction at the fundament of our economic practice is the spawning point for various types of distortion across various sectors of civilisation. 

“The purpose of a system is what it does. There is after all, no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.” – Stafford Beer

In the absence of cybernated resource governance, it falls to the members of a given community to ensure the system keeps ticking along. Because our economic module is market-based, instead of resource-based, we have a situation in which families have to adjust themselves to fit society, instead of the other way around. Instead of communities built around family values, optimised towards facilitating relationships of attachment and cooperation, we have communities optimised towards competition, as we compete to sell our labour in return for resource access.

The trajectory of a debt-based economy leads any civilisation developing along it to a logical conclusion of increased dysfunction and environmental destabilization.

So this is the social climate in which families struggle to stay connected. This is the cultural climate for which caregivers attempt to prepare children. This is the society from which caregivers attempt to bolster children against. This is the system into which caregivers attempt to integrate children.

The setting I work in is not a private creche, it is a publicly funded creche. Because childcare is not the most lucrative venture when framed in the moving of wealth from the lower class to upper class context, governments and financial institutions are often reluctant to allocate large amounts of financial support to settings unless they are private institutions. This instantly colors a large degree of the organisation of the setting as the Childcare Setting Owner now has to make several sacrifices in order to spread a too-small budget over various necessary expenses.

I observed the creche to be under staffed, with many ECCE practitioners working full hours without the required ‘reflecting time’ necessary to maintain a positive and refreshed mental state being allocated to them. This had a knock-on effect on the quality of care they were empowered to deliver to the children. I overheard one exhausted practitioner saying to another, “working here is like a contraceptive,” – the implication being that working at the setting had put her off having her own children. Even the more good spirited practitioners – and there were many of them – often complained of exhaustion, financial frustration and demonstrated a mild degree of exasperation near constantly.

While the sanitary standards of the setting were kept acceptably high, it is not simply the direct effects of the current global false economy upon the setting we have to bear in mind here, but the effects such an economy has on the family unit and consequently the children coming to creche.

The correlation between access inequality and social problems has been found to be as follows: the greater the access inequality in a particular region, the more and the more severe social problems in that region will be.

The children attending the creche range from different backgrounds and levels of privilege, and would carry in their emotional backpack the stress and anxiety from their home and community life. I observed the children who exhibited more withdrawn or aggressive behaviour were the ones who were in the setting from 6am to 7pm every day, due to having parents with full-time jobs. Twice, a little boy came in with bad bumps first on his head, then on his arm. When I followed this up with his parent, I was informed the child had been in an altercation in the playground. “Kids will be kids,” was the accompanying remark.

What never ceases to strike me as remarkable is the ability for acceptance we have as humans and caregivers, for the systemic mistreatment of our children. This is not, as the Stoic philosophers would advocate, out of the wisdom of accepting that which is not under our control in order to better command that which is. Our present socioeconomic condition, while arguably an inevitable consequence of the neolithic revolution, is not unchangeable, nor is it beyond our capacity to instigate necessary change. This acceptance stems from a learned hopelessness and helplessness, no doubt seeded in our own childhood, which intensifies as systemic violence is consistently reinforced across our own development.

“Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying!” – The Joker, Dark Knight.

The cycle continues.

As the issue lays at the foundation of our culture, a suitable strategy to address its symptoms must strike at their root.

I therefore propose, in the interest of public health, a global shift from market economics to natural resource economics – in which the circulation of resources is based on the supply, demand and allocation of those resources (instead of on generating financial profit).

Cybernating such an economic system would greatly reduce the need for mandatory labour, while facilitating communities to thrive in a state of access abundance. Proper waste disposal and recycling loops incorporated into this cybernated, natural resource economy would decrease unnecessary waste and consequential pollution, resulting in a healthier environment.

And all this lays the foundation for a cooperative culture which supports healthy attachments while rewarding empathy to flourish, empowering the family unit and childcare institutions in the wholehearted pursuit of nurturing the optimal development of children.

Sources:

Joseph, P. (2017). The New Human Rights Movement. United States of America. Ben Bella Books.

Wilkinson, R. Pickett, K. (2018). The Inner Level. United Kingdom. Penguin Random House UK.

Beer, S. (1959). Cybernetics and Management. United Kingdom. English Universities Press.

Horgan-Jones, J. Childcare workers laid off by employers who still had State subsidies. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/childcare-workers-laid-off-by-employers-who-still-had-state-subsidies-1.4218290. Thursday, April 2nd, 2020.

Nolan, C. (2008). Dark Knight. United States of America. Warner Brothers Pictures.

Brodskaya, A. The Global Redesign Institute – Redesigning the Economy to Facilitate Nonviolence.  https://globaldesigninstitute.wordpress.com/2019/08/30/why-the-total-redesign-of-global-economic-system-is-necessary-and-how-it-is-technically-very-feasible/. August 30th, 2019.

Nonviolence as a Key to Relating with Systems – The Satyagraha of Cybernetics

Everything is a system, larger systems are made up of smaller systems, people are systems, the daycare where I work is a system, and the small children running around are systems as well. And the really wonderful thing about living systems is how much they can reveal themselves to be increasingly complex, and increasingly understandable. A system which initially appears to be a black box system when studied without sufficient methodata, can in fact unfurl like a flower in spring when approached with the appropriate methodata.

Methodata – the combination of data relevant to a particular field of study and the method with which that field of study is interacted with. I made it up, I think.

Satyagraha – the force of truth. Coined by Ghandi.

A nonviolent approach to a system entails obtaining the optimum amount of data regarding that system. That data is then used to inform how best to approach that system in a way which preserves and/or facilitates the optimal functionality of that system.

So for example, let’s say I have a child who appears impenetrable. They are withdrawn, they are not very expressive. They appear to be a black box system – I know stuff is going on in there, but I can’t see it. 

Nonviolent methodata in this instance would entail: observing the child, gathering information from the child’s primary caregivers (what are their special interests and past traumas), studying child psychology (often children who have experienced emotional distance from their primary caregiver will exhibit withdrawn behaviour), and using the information obtained to cultivate an (a) environment and (b) approach which achieves a balanced gentle:stimulating:challenging ratio while interacting with the child (the appropriately balanced ratio will be unique to each child).

Nonviolent methodata is always underscored by the nonviolent trajectory – an arc of intent and behaviour which consistently bends towards preserving and facilitating the optimal functionality of systems.

So, returning to our example, I might learn that the child in question loves Peppa Pig, is afraid of the dark and enjoys playing with legos. From my research into child psychology, I might infer that they have experienced a significant degree of proximal abandonment from a primary caregiver. I would then ensure the space is warmly lit and that legos are accessible, before inviting the child to play with legos together and begin the interaction with a conversation about Peppa Pig. Underscoring this is kindness, a non-insistent invitation to eye contact, humour and a genuine intent to facilitate the child’s optimal development.

And that is so important – at the end of the day, one can philosophise and contemplate about systems all they like. But without the genuine, perspicacious and strong intent to see systems function optimally, the artillery is incomplete. And that genuine, perspicacious and strong intent to facilitate the optimal functionality of systems is satyagraha – the force of truth. That is the underscoring trajectory along which our actions must curve if they are to ultimately succeed.

As the stoics would say, all one can do is aim their arrow straight and true. If the child remains unreceptive, that is not within our control. And few things would be as insulting to the emerging selfhood of a person as to attempt to control their responses. What is within our control is our intention, and to a lesser degree, our behaviour.

We may provide for the children in our care with focused generosity. Being given an appropriately nurturing, complimentary environment including a variety of tools with which to express oneself, and conscientious interaction with informed and perspicacious people who genuinely care, provides children with the optimum foundation from which unfurl like a flower in spring.

Reflective Practice Exemplified for the Consideration of Nonviolent Childcare

I had to switch work placements halfway through my training due to my family moving to another town, an hour’s irregular bus ride away. 

In my time at my first work placement, I recognise that there had been a number of occasions in which I found the responses of certain members of staff to be inappropriate.

One time a ECCE practitioner had shouted at a two year old for hitting a fellow two year old. The second time, a different ECCE practitioner had intentionally withheld and instructed me to withhold affection from a child who had misbehaved, as well as excluding him from the activity he had misbehaved during (contrary to their code of behaviour management). The third time, two different ECCE practitioners had looked on inactively while a different two year old in their care cried for 20 minutes, uninterrupted. A fourth time, another ECCE practitioner had insisted a three year old in their care dress in a way which prioritised her presentability over her physical comfort.

Upon review, it is clear how, in my insecurity as the newest and least experienced member of the team, I did not assert myself nor successfully correct the situation at hand. Upon further reflection, I conclude that, whereas the first two times I said nothing to defend my viewpoint (or the correct and adjust the treatment of the children in question), the third time such an incident occured, having reflected on the two prior incidents in the interim, I did actively suggest and encourage the two ECCE practitioners in question aid me in my attempts to distract and comfort the distressed two year old (they refused, insisting that it was useless and that she was “always like that.”) The fourth incident saw me actively yet respectfully defend the right of the three year old to dress in a way which suited her comfort, although ultimately the ECCE practitioner in charge of the room overruled my advocating.

I conclude that assertiveness is a trait I need to work on – although I may have less practical experience in caring for children in a professional capacity, I do have nearly eight years experience caring for my own daughter and her friends, and a defined personal trajectory towards nonviolence and justice. I should not allow myself to become intimidated by the prospect of being looked down on by people who are supposed to be mentoring me.

In my future placements, I plan to assert myself with respectful insistence should the need arise and the wellbeing of the child be in jeopardy, and to appeal to the managers of the establishment if necessary. I have been concerned that doing so may cause problems for the advancement of my career in childcare, and that it would be more prudent to get to a place of relative security before challenging how those already in such a position are conducting themselves.

However, I further foresee that if I get to a position of relative security by prioritising the advancement of my career over the wellbeing of the children I have a duty to protect and care for, the end will not justify the means. Additionally, to paraphrase Julian Assange, 

When we witness an injustice and withhold our measured response, we train our character to be passive in the presence of injustice and thereby risk losing the ability to defend ourselves and others.

Furthermore, I plan to challenge any future insults to the emotional, physical or psychological wellbeing of children which I come across in the workplace in such a way which communicates the utmost respect towards 

  • the discipline of being an ECCE practitioner,
  • all children,
  • the people I work with and 
  • the setting in question,

and any establishment which fails to respond dynamically to tempered and constructive criticism is not one by which I care to be employed.

The importance of effective personal and professional reflection and how it informs our ability to do justice by those we interact with

Like children in Piaget’s model for developing schemas, we process our experiences mindfully by recreating them within ourselves. Each of the four stages of Kolb’s cycle for experiential learning provide a basis for reflections and observations, which, once assimilated into abstract concepts with implications for action, enable actively present participation in the creation of new experiences.

The first stage in Kolb’s cycle is that of the concrete experience, in which the person in question has an experience. The next stage, reflective observation, is born of the first, and through the reviewing or reflecting process within this stage we arrive at conclusions. This third stage is called abstract conceptualisation – in which we draw our conclusions about the experience in question and learn from it. This sets the foundation for Kolb’s fourth stage, active experimentation, in which we make plans based on what we have learned, and try them out.

I often find myself encouraging my daughter to be grateful. When things don’t go her way, I remind her that she is not without a gift – the experience has offered her a lesson. Both our personal and professional experiences of life are composed of occurrences which one encounters and interacts with; this process is at the grid for one’s ongoingly complex relationship with reality.

Engaging in this process with focus affords us a greater degree of agency within this adventure. It’s from the intentional cultivation of conclusions that one sculpts future experiences.

Working with children requires an immense amount of patience and discipline, as well as an acute sense of one’s own personal trajectory when it comes to communication. Once we identify a personal trajectory of nonviolence – compassion, care, patience, discipline – we have a framework of reference with which to scaffold our responses to situations we interact with.

Like any complex tool, this framework needs to be in a continuous process of examination and fine tuning. It is so easy to sleepwalk into poor choices and bad habits, especially in a job which continuously demands such a high degree of emotional involvement.

I have personally been a devotee of nonviolence for over a decade, and it is now very much counter to my learned behaviour to retaliate acts of aggression. Through frequent checking to ensure I am in line with my own personal trajectory of nonviolent communication, I avoid succumbing to my emotions and reacting in ways which impose my emotions on those around me. In this way I endeavour to maintain a calming and nurturing influence.

Sometimes, acts which challenge our composure are not direct affronts to our own selves, and these can often be the easiest ones to overreact to, as we have the justification of righteous defense. 

I experienced two such incidents during my second month of work experience – first as a voyeur, and in the second situation I was directly involved.

The first time, I noticed TC1 and TC2 have an altercation. If memory serves correctly, TC2 had swiped the small model sheep TC1 had been waddling around with. Sheepless and outraged, TC1 sounded a bite sized war cry and attacked her friend, raining down a battery of slaps like tiny butterflies upon his side.

I was surprised to witness another practitioner in the room (not my mentor) reach out, grab her arm, and say in a raised voice, “No! That’s bad! Bad!” TC1’s eyes filled with tears, but she mutely went over to a corner of the room and began looking at books.

Obviously, such a response jeopardizes the practitioner’s bond with the child, while enforcing the notion that TC1 is worthy of kind treatment only when her behaviour complies with the wishes of others. Such a message is counter to a child’s development as an independent and self-assured person. 

Upon further reflection, I considered the long hours the practitioner in question has to work, and how the setting can not afford to furnish her with the daily hours she needs to take time off and reflect (instead she, and most creche workers I have spoken to, find themselves trying to cram periods of reflection in while the children eat their snacks or nap). I arrived at the conclusion that such an outburst was a nearly inevitable consequence of the culmination of fatigue and frustration. 

I further concluded that, should the technical measures put in place to facilitate practitioners’ professional and personal reflection not be upheld, the frustration and burn-out which consequently accrues will almost certainly undermine practitioner’s peace of mind, resulting in a decline of performance. 

It would make sense for ECCE practitioners’ reflecting time to be prioritised going forward. I planned to get a copy of the creche’s behavioural code, which I have since done. However, the futility of raising this issue does not escape me – without adequate funding and/or resource access, corners will inevitably be cut, to the detriment of the quality of care we can provide. 

The second time I experienced a similar incident, I was more directly involved.

I was sitting nearby two small children in the toddler room as they ate their snack. TC1 began to punch TC2 as hard as she could on the shoulder, repeatedly, while TC2 looked increasingly distressed, without saying anything.

TC2 is actually the daughter of a friend of mine, and I spend plenty of time with her on the weekends when her older sister and my daughter get together for playdates. Despite this endearing factor, as well as the simple fact that here was a child in distress, getting mistreated, I felt no animosity towards her small aggressor. 

I put my arm gently around TC2, and began to stroke her arm. As she leaned into me, I reached out and began to stroke TC1’s arm in a similar fashion. The whole way through I was crooning, “No, nice TC2, we need to be gentle with our friends.” As I stroked TC1’s arm, I told her gently, “Nice TC1, we have to be gentle with you, too, you’re a good girl.”

Upon further reflection, I considered how my choice to sooth TC1 was rooted in both 

  • a fundamental trust of her will to be kind and get along with others, and 
  • an understanding that children only act out aggressively when they are tense and in need of reassurance. 

I marvelled at how quickly the atmosphere was diffused into a state of calm, and concluded that showcasing my trust for her, letting her know that I saw her need for comforting, was exactly what was needed to reassure her.

Because the atmosphere in the setting was so greatly uplifted after that interaction, with TC1 and TC2 both hugging and giggling with each other for the remainder of the morning, I plan to suggest to my mentor that we do several team building exercises as a group. Ideas include ‘Compliment Spin the Bottle,” where every child has to say something nice about the child the bottle lands on, as well as working together to bounce balls.

We all have an idea of who we are and of the attributes we possess. As an ECCE practitioner, we may believe ourselves to be authoritative, composed and attuned to the needs of the children in our care. When an event challenges this preconception, it is common to feel the call to reject it, reacting as though we are protecting our identity.

These events can be incredibly teachable moments because, upon reflection, they point to the areas of our selves which we would rather overlook. Shedding light upon these uncomfortable truths in our nature is a pivotal part of self-awareness, as acknowledging our limitations is among the first vital steps to transcending them.

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