Developmental Confusions

It is both fun and enlightening to watch babies. Observing a group of four mother/baby pairs recently it was striking to see the similarities and individual differences in babies under one year of age. Most noticeable were the differences in personality that emerged despite relatively minor difference in skill levels.

Mothers, babies and teacher were all on the floor and the babies were free to move around if they wished. One baby in particular seemed very alert to everything around her and was especially drawn to the baby opposite her. With a delighted look on her face she crawled over to the other baby and reached out to her. As an experienced observer it was clear to me that she would next go for the other baby’s face. The mothers, however, took this as a social expression and were delighted. Inevitably, the end result was the need to untangle the baby’s hand from the other one’s face.

Babies appear to be genetically programmed to respond to faces. In numerous research experiments babies have been shown pictures of a face-like circle with two eyes. These pictures elicit specific responses showing interest that other pictures don’t. The theory is that this is a species response intended to enhance human connections, especially to mother or caregiver. In the observation described, it was clearly the baby’s face that attracted the other baby. It was an object of interest, not necessarily another person to play with.

I thought of this when talking to the mother of a sixteen-month-old girl who was concerned about her child’s social behavior. Although the little girl was well related in another group, she behaved differently in Gymboree. The mother reported an incident of the child isolating herself with a ball and when another younger child tried to take it she covered it protectively, turning away to prevent that from happening.

The mother saw this event as her child being unable to share and wanted to know what she should do about it. She, herself, had grown up in another culture having had a strict upbringing with her parents emphasizing the importance of behaving properly. In the Gymboree group she was aware of the parents scolding their children if they didn’t share and she wondered if that was what she should be doing with her child.

Parents are often particularly concerned about children’s social behavior. If they seem aggressive, or withdrawn, or generally not socially adept, parents tend to see this as a problem area. Perhaps because such behavior is visible to others, the fear is it may seem a sign of poor upbringing, reflecting on the parents themselves. Also, social behavior is viewed as an indicator of success, an ability to function easily in a variety of settings.

Social behavior in children develops as part of the development of other skills. For parents and educators, the challenge is to set expectations in accordance with a child’s developmental level. In the examples cited, adult expectations were unrealistic in terms of the capabilities of the children involved. For the baby described, the baby she approached was an interesting object to explore, which expressed the interest at that developmental level of the need and wish to explore the environment.

For the sixteen-month-old, just beginning to approach aspects of separation such as recognizing others with feelings and needs perhaps different from ones own, the concept of sharing was not yet one she was capable of understanding.

Parents play a big role in introducing children to the requirements of social living. But that introduction requires education that recognizes developmental abilities and limitations at different stages.

Self-Control

We’ve been reading a lot about out of control behavior in the last several weeks. Perhaps there are distinctions in the levels of unacceptable behavior that have been reported but they are alike in falling outside the bounds of what is socially – in some instances legally – acceptable.

There is a Talmudic saying that no one is the owner of his instincts. I think that means our instincts operate independently of our will. But a civilized society requires that we learn to control those instincts.

This idea is meaningful for us as parents. Childhood is a time when instincts and impulses are expressed in behavior. Children go after the things they find pleasurable and strike out when denied what they want. They act in accordance with their desires and without much awareness of the effect of their behavior on someone else.

Do we ever really lose the impulse to demand or just take what we want? We probably never “own” those impulses. At best we have learned to control the behavior those impulses give rise to, and then have pushed the wishes themselves far down inside in order to fortify our control over our behavior. So there are strong reactions to others – especially those in the public eye – who don’t have, or don’t use those controls over their own behavior.

The same thing often happens in response to our children’s as yet unsocialized and uncivilized behavior. During infancy we are accepting of babies’ need to function in accordance with their instincts even when providing this care interferes with our own wishes and needs. But when babies turn into children, we think about “setting limits” on what now seems like infantile behavior.

It is appropriate for children to learn about controlling their impulses, and for us to teach them to do so. The question is how to do that. Often this process involves our own self-control as much as it does our child’s. Children have the capacity to bring us down to their level. We find ourselves screaming or even hitting in response to their behavior. A child’s lack of control can make us feel out of control ourselves.

The uncivilized behavior of our children peels back our own layers of civilization. So we get worried about their behavior – and our own – which can lead to a great feeling of urgency about getting everyone’s behavior under control. When that happens it is easy to stop teaching and look for ways to make children stop doing what they are doing.

One familiar way of doing that is to express in the strongest way our disapproval of behavior we think children should control. We tend to label such behavior “bad.” But children don’t distinguish between their behavior and themselves. If their behavior is “bad”, that means they are “bad” and so are their feelings and impulses. Controlling the behavior can get mixed up with not feeling the feelings.

An important part of developing self-control is being able to tell the difference between feelings and behavior. Having certain feelings doesn’t mean we are going to act on them. Truly being in control means being aware of our feelings yet being confident that we won’t act on them.

Children need help and time to develop those controls. That time involves our not expecting more of them than they are capable of. Help means providing the control they don’t as yet have. When a baby is crawling toward a light socket, we don’t depend on words to help her stop. We’re there to stop her. In the same way, it doesn’t help a child to keep telling him not to hit his sister, or not to take his little brother’s toys. We have to provide the intervention that will help him actually control those impulses when they are getting the better of him.

Feeling an impulse and not acting on it is what gives one the experience of self-control. Our children may never “own” their instincts, but hopefully we can help as they begin to master them.

Holidays – Again!

It’s that time of year – Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, one holiday tumbling right after another. It is an exciting time for children but often a time of stress for parents who have the responsibility of making it all happen. It can take us by surprise that joyous holidays we anticipate with pleasure may also bring with them conflicting emotions.

Each holiday brings with it particular memories for different people. Each family has its own traditions and ways of observing holidays. Individuals grow up in different families where one holiday may have been given more significant observance than another. As parents, we all have memories of what these holidays were like – how they were observed when we were children.

We may not realize the degree to which the holiday itself becomes identified with the particular way it was observed in our own families when we were growing up. We also may not realize that our memories are formed by the experience of our childhood selves seen through the eyes of the children we were and are colored accordingly. As a result, celebrations may feel disappointing when the holidays these days seem not to live up to those childhood memories.

Memories of when we were children are also of a time when we were taken care of and provided for by our own parents. Holidays meant vacation from school and presents rather than the added responsibility and work they mean for us now as parents ourselves. We are expected to be grown-ups, while perhaps still wanting the remembered pleasures of childhood. A sense of loss may come from the wish, or hope that we will be recreating everything as it was in the best sense, and the discovery that our fantasy is not – cannot – be realized.

Celebrations with extended family can also bring with them another aspect of childhood memories and experiences. Individuals may slip back into old family roles with old rivalries or resentments that we thought had been left behind. When holidays involve a visit to grandparents and a return to childhood homes, it is easy for brothers and sisters to fall into childhood patterns of sibling rivalry. On the other hand, multi-generational celebrations may include new additions to the family through marriages and births, creating new relationships that can be free of repeating old history.

When a couple unites to create a new family, each brings memories and life experiences that shape their expectations about the meaning of holidays and how they are to be observed. It can be challenging to include or combine aspects of observance that are significant to each partner. The same may be true of decisions about which members of extended families are to be included. Interfaith couples have their own set of challenges in agreeing on which religious observances are to be included in observing particular holidays.

We each bring stories with us from our childhood which we carry forward as parents and inform the experiences we wish to provide for our children. But as a new generation of parents, we need to create our own new stories, combining older values with new realities in a way that works for each individual family. Holidays tend to pull us back to old stories that can be pleasurable to revisit if we don’t get lost in the retelling.

Whether the holidays bring a combining of faiths, of generations, of sibling, or of our childhood memories with our adult selves, being aware of our competing emotions may help us find the joys of the holiday in our own special observances.

Happy Holidays to All!

Ghosts

We all have ghosts from the past – things we experienced when we were children, which sometimes pop up to haunt us when we become parents. Those ghosts may have to do with relationships we had with our own parents, or things about ourselves that may have caused us difficulty. Without realizing it, those old ghosts can influence the way we see our own children and the way we interact with them.

Often these ghosts turn up when something in a child’s behavior or development concerns us. Many times, when a child is especially active, or rebellious, or otherwise difficult to handle, a mother will say, “My mother says I was just like that. Now I understand what she went through”. Or “My mother-in-law says my husband was the same way – and he still is!”

We’re used to those comparisons made about physical traits: he has his father’s eyes, she has her mother’s hair. Children usually grow up hearing them. But seeing a child’s behavior or personality traits through the lens of the parents’ childhood can interfere with our ability to know who our child really is himself or herself.

Seeing certain things in our child that we identify with ourselves at times makes us feel proud. On the other hand, if it is something we don’t like about ourselves – or our mate – it can lead us to misread its significance for the child, and to respond in negative ways.

Sometimes we want our children to make up for things that were missing or that we regret about our own childhood. A parent insisting on a child practice the piano or another instrument, stemming from regrets about what one didn’t do as a child are a familiar source of conflict.

Relationships with other family members can also play a role. A mother talked about her daughter who was demanding of her attention. The mom identified her with her own sister who was very demanding, got all of their mother’s attention, and had many difficulties later on. She did not want this to happen to her daughter and responded harshly to the child’s behavior.

Actually, this was a middle child who was very sensitive and had some real difficulties with separation, intensified by what she experienced as her mother’s rejecting behavior. This mother came to realize that she was responding to her child as if she were her sister, and that she was trying to correct what she thought were her own mother’s failures. Once becoming aware of this, she was able to appreciate that her daughter had some real needs which she could respond to in more appropriate ways.

When parents to be are expecting a child, part of pregnancy is imagining what that expected child will be like. A connection is made with that imagined child. When the real baby arrives, part of the challenge for parents is dealing with the difference between the real and the imagined child. And that challenge recurs at various times as a child grows and develops.

Our imagined children are always perfect. Our real children never are. The “ghosts” may make their appearance when we react to what we see as our children’s “imperfections”. Our own upbringing plays a big role in how we raise our children but in thinking about our own lives, it helps to recognize that our children are entitled to their own. You are not your mother or father and your child is not you. Her life will be different from yours.

Ghosts are often invisible. Bringing them into view is what makes it possible to sweep them away.

The New/Old Way

The more things change the more they are the same. Or are they? There are many references to the Millennials in various aspects of social behavior but how are young couples faring with regard to child care and shared household responsibilities? What is happening at home with changes brought by women in the workplace?

One thing new is the reliance on the internet for information about child development and advice about child rearing supposedly based on that information. Grandmother is no longer the source of valued guidance – and often geographically removed as well. A generation raised on Google turns to Google as well as various websites and social media as the voices of authority.

Perhaps the idea that it takes a village has been reenacted in a new way through internet exchanges and the widespread dissemination of new research leading to new prescriptions for child-rearing. The result is a homogeneity of ideas about the “right” way to handle various aspects of development. A second result is confusion and anxiety because of the changing prescriptions for the “right” way growing out of whatever appears to be the latest research or “expert” opinion.

Parents are invested in finding the “right” way, more so than in past times. One reason may be because of the large numbers of mothers in the workplace, out of the home and reliant upon fathers and “nannies”, baby sitters, or daycare for child care. Parents worry about children being deprived in some way by a mother’s absence leading to an explosion of various kinds of group experiences for very young children.

There are mixed results for the goal of fathers sharing child-care and household responsibilities. Younger fathers are more amenable to the idea of shared responsibilities but the practice may vary from the goal. It is obvious that fathers are more involved with their children much to everyone’s benefit. One sees more fathers in the park, often running while even young children keep up on their scooters. They can also be seen running while pushing a baby carriage. Many new ideas about how to parent.

Sharing in doing the dishes or washing the floor may be another matter. The ideal has been 50/50 – rarely realized. What sometimes happens is a compromise enabling each partner to do what feels like a fair share. On the other hand, many women report that they still carry the full load of children and household while working full time out of the home.

Some fathers feel excluded in various ways because of mothers’ behavior. Women may not realize that despite the changes in their lives they still have an investment in being primary in child care and some household chores. Fathers have expressed the feeling of having been told by their wives that they were not doing things the right way – meaning mothers’ way. Fathers do things differently, which is to the child’s benefit.

While women to a great extent have freed themselves from an ordained role of the past, emotionally and culturally they are invested in caring for their children. Motherhood has been politicized to the extent that anything seeming to point to a child’s need for a mother’s care, particularly in the first years of life is taken – and often is intended – to keep women at home and out of the workplace.

Women who value their work opportunities feel threatened and guilty by attempts based on research to point to mothers’ absence as the cause of various problems in children. But the fact is that children need nurturing care, especially in the first years of life. It is the politicization of the issue that has prevented a serious attempt to mandate on the national level adequate paid maternity leave and quality day care.

That many women no longer devote full time to child care is new. Their feelings about this and the attitude of others is old.

Flight or Fight?

A young man told me the reason he and his mother clash is that they both need to be right. I said it is hard to have a discussion if you can’t listen to the other person and he replied that he listens but continues to try to prove that he is right. Family arguments between siblings, between children and parents, and between parents are a familiar source of concern. Parents intervene in children’s fights and in the face of strong disagreements between themselves are quick to say that they don’t argue in front of the children.

In recent times a great deal has been written about the question of resilience in children. The prevalence of serious anxiety in high school and college students has become a matter of concern to educators as is the seeming dependence of young people on their parents. The cell phone has been deemed the new umbilical cord and the term “helicopter parents” embodies an indictment of parents as the cause.

Also indicted is the widespread concern on college campuses about attempts to prohibit controversial speakers as well as the demand for trigger warnings, meaning students should be alerted ahead of time to course material that might be offensive or threatening to them in some way.

In the wake of such concerns has come a flood of prescriptions about how to make children toughen up. Criticism has been leveled at the softening of competition in order to make everyone a winner. The importance of allowing children to fail has been stressed, as well as a problem with too much praise, such as “good job,” whether deserved or not.

Now Adam Grant , a psychology professor at the Wharton School, advances the idea that family arguments are a good thing, that children should be allowed to fight and that parents should not keep their disagreements behind closed doors. His view is that never being exposed to disagreements not only limits children’s creativity but causes them to shy away from the threat of conflict. Witnessing arguments and participating in them helps grow a thicker skin – the ability to lose the battle without losing resolve.

Adam suggests that the skill is to have a good argument that doesn’t get personal and that children need to learn the value of thoughtful disagreement. The problem is that most family conflicts are extremely personal and rarely lead to thoughtful disagreement. Disagreements that turn argumentative are usually not about public policy at either the school or national level.

Parental disagreements are often about handling matters relating to the children themselves while arguments between siblings are rarely about what they seem to be. The issue is not he took my toy, rather it is he took my special place with mom or dad. The desired adjudication is to be declared the favored one. Thoughtful disagreement is not likely.

Disagreements between parents and children have to do with children “not listening,” meaning they don’t do what the parents want them to do. As children grow and assert their will, the issue becomes who is or will be boss. They disagree about bedtime, homework time, and various kinds of behavior. Children are fighting to have a voice. The arguments are very personal.

This doesn’t mean that disagreements or arguments are harmful as long as they are not hurtful or abusive. Children can learn to live with conflict – something they will have to confront throughout life. Perhaps the real point is not thoughtful disagreement but rather an ability to listen. As in other areas of development, parents have a role to play. Children need to feel that they are heard, which doesn’t have to mean doing what they want. Children learn to listen themselves by first being heard.

You can hear a lot when you listen

The “Right” Way

Remember the movie “Babies,” a film showing babies and parents in many different cultures? Striking, are the similarities in human development yet differences in cultural child-rearing patterns. There is a universality to children’s behavior at different stages responded to differently in various cultures.

One scene in a tribal culture, shows a mother caring for three children while nursing one of them. A younger one climbs up on her and she places him on her other breast. The third also struggles for her attention and she incorporates him on her lap while nursing the other two. Most impressive is the mother’s calm during all of this. She is unperturbed – no sense of anxiety or agitation.

A group of young doctors, themselves parents of children of similar ages, responded in awe to the mother’s behavior. One, a mother of twins, told of feeling she would lose her mind when trying to nurse them both. A father, spoke of reading a dozen books to find the best way to deal with babies’ sleep. They all agreed they were acting on the belief that there was a right way to do everything and to an involvement with research studies that might point the way.

Another cultural difference that emerges from the film is that parents seem unperturbed by some of children’s exploratory behavior. This is apparent in children’s interaction with animals, as well as their crawling around on muddy ground picking up things that seem interesting. Not wearing clothing also creates a non-issue for toilet training, which seems not to be a matter of concern for these young children or their parents.

The film seemed to point up a more relaxed attitude about parenting than exists in our culture and one can speculate about what some of the reasons might be. The belief that there is a right way to handle various issues in child-rearing may be related to our belief in science generally, more specifically to the focus on child development. This focus was given impetus by the changes from an agricultural to an industrial society which brought about changes in family life. Fathers went out to work and mothers became responsible for child-care.

These days many mothers are once again employed out of the home raising new concerns about both child care and child development. Concern has intensified about whether children’s needs are being met appropriately as has the search for additional input in light of mother’s absence from daily care. It is as if everything from sleeping, feeding, toilet training, proper stimulation as well as everything else will determine a child’s future if not handled in the “right” way.

The mother of an eleven-month-old baby expressed her feeling that she was making decisions that would affect the outcome of her child’s life. She thought she had found the perfect solution in a work situation that made possible numerous visits home in the course of the day. She was “popping in” often for ten minutes at a time but was perplexed and worried because the baby would be upset and cry each time she left. Believing that her intermittent presence was ideal it had not occurred to her that this pattern of frequent separations might be too difficult for an eleven-month-old.

The belief that there is a right way to do everything to insure a child’s best development, based on supposedly scientific research, has shifted the focus from the child to a method. In many of the cultures portrayed in the film, there seems to be a culturally accepted way of dealing with various aspects of development which provides reassurance to parents. In our own culture, definitions of the “right way” are perpetually shifting, promoting uncertainty and confusion.

Uncertainty about outcome is part of parenting, and will not be cured by a method.

No?

The mother of a four-year-old boy spoke of difficulties they were having with his behavior – his “not listening” and being disruptive at times in his daycare group. She mentioned that the teacher seems to have found a solution involving stickers on a chart for “good” behavior. With a certain number of stickers, a child can be excused from nap. Her son hates nap and is trying hard to collect the required stickers.

In speaking of his behavior at home it sounded as though the parents were relying on the word “no” without much success. It also seemed that the boys unfolding self-assertion expressed provocatively, was causing difficulty with the parents who in turn were trying hard to maintain their own authority.

A different example along these lines turned up in a preschool group I was observing. It was a group for children and parents who were sitting in a circle on the floor with a pile of building material available for the children. A little boy was building a tall tower which took some skill balancing the individual pieces. A little girl next to him was watching and then at an unexpected moment reached over and knocked the tower down.  The boy was startled and the girl covered her mouth with a sound and look conveying worry that seemed to say, “oh! I did a bad thing.” There was no response from the adults and the boy began building his tower again. This episode was repeated twice more with the same outcome until the third time the boy built the tower using his mother’s legs as protection.

During this entire sequence the girl’s mother smiled but said and did nothing. After the first time, it was clear that the girl was being provocative, intentionally knocking down the boy’s construction. There were other sequences of behavior that confirmed the girl’s need to be provocative. In all of the times noted, the mother’s reacted by smiling as though either she found her daughter’s behavior amusing, or more likely found it embarrassing and was unsure of what to do about it.

Parents often question how to deal with children’s provocative or other unacceptable behavior. This usually becomes a question about limits – when and how they should be set. Confusion about this often leads to the extremes demonstrated in the two examples above. The word “no” becomes operative followed by threats of punishment, which turn out to be useless. Or, at the other extreme, parents feel helpless and give up trying to do anything.

In discussing limits, the point is made that there need to be consequences for unacceptable behavior – usually the reason given for the need for punishment. But in fact, there are consequences for such behavior in the form of parental disapproval, anger and rejection by others. Yet these consequences seem to serve insufficiently as deterrence for the behavior.

As with most aspects of children’s behavior, knowing how to respond effectively depends on understanding the meaning of their behavior. Children are trying to accomplish something in unproductive ways and need help in finding constructive solutions. Setting limits should mean providing the help they need in finding those solutions rather than simply punishing the behavior.

We can tell children directly when we know something is too hard for them, such as when they are having difficulty controlling their behavior, and that we will help them.  For the little girl that might have meant moving with her to another spot or actively intervening to prevent her from repeating the behavior. For the boy, it might mean examining what he is rebelling against – perhaps parents looking at their own approach as well as his behavior.

For children – as well as for adults – providing help is more useful than criticism.

Mine!

A mother spoke of her concern about her daughter’s interactions with a visiting playmate. The play broke down because her child was upset each time the visitor wanted to play with something of hers. “No, mine,” her child protested when one of her toys was used by the other child. Mom was upset about what she saw as a problem with sharing and wondered how to handle such situations.

This question often comes up in pre-school groups when two children may get into an altercation over both wanting the same block or toy. Sometimes one child will take another’s toy and the teacher misses the victim’s protest. Later on, that child may express his anger by getting back at the aggressor, perhaps with a push that can seem unprovoked if one has not seen the earlier incident.

I remember observing in a group where the children were playing with an assortment of cars, trucks and animal figures. One little boy sitting at the edge of the group, would look around to make sure no one was watching and then take one of the objects from the pile and quickly put it on the floor behind him. He didn’t actually play with them – just seemed intent on collecting and saving them for himself.

Learning to share is a big developmental step, an aspect of social behavior that adults react to – perhaps over-react to – because it impacts on others and is therefore judged critically by adults as “not nice.” It is as though this behavior reflects poorly on the parents or other caregivers. With children entering groups at younger and younger ages, the expectation for sharing behavior often precedes the developmental ability for such behavior.

Sharing possessions involves the concept of yours/mine, you/me. In other words, it means awareness that one is a separate individual, not connected to someone else. Babies are not born with that awareness. Psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott is famously quoted for saying “there is no such thing as a baby.” This meant that an infant is connected to a mother/caregiver for survival. The human infant is unable to survive on its own.

As babies grow they increasingly become aware that they and a caregiver are not one and the same. This has been called a period of separation/individuation and is related to increasing independent functioning such as walking and verbal communication. This beginning independence is both exhilarating and scary. You can assert your own will but at the same time separation means to risk the loss of gratification that comes from mother or caregiver.

Possible anxiety about separation gets expressed in a variety of ways, one of which is connection to one’s possessions. Another child taking a toy to play with, evokes a sense of loss, which in a sense has nothing to do with the other child or the toy. Being reprimanded for “not sharing” exacerbates the situation and often provokes a more intense protest and upset.

Some cultures reject the idea of an investment in personal property and discourage the idea of “yours” and “mine.” That is not true of our society which values individualism but nevertheless considers generosity and a willingness to share as desirable traits and labels their absence as “selfishness.”

Awareness of the developmental meaning of a child’s cry of “mine,” gives us some ways of responding to the upset. You can prepare a child ahead of time for the reality that her friend may want to play with her things but also acknowledge that there are some things she may not want to share. Best to put those away in the closet before the other child’s arrival.

In teaching a child the value of sharing it helps to also appreciate the wish not to share – a wish shared by all one time or another.

Questions About Child Care

Observing a pre-school group of two-year-old’s, I saw a wonderful example of separation contagion. This refers to a group with one or two children who are having a particularly hard time separating from parent or care-giver. The crying and upset that ensues sets off a similar response in the other children until almost the entire group is coming apart.

The reason the upset behavior is catching is that many of the children are on the cusp of managing their own separation. Their own feelings about this are close enough to the surface to be triggered by the upset of others. Even when other children don’t break down in tears one can see their anxiety aroused by the behavior of the upset child. At times, another child will even offer comfort to the crying child with whom they feel identified.

The mother of a two year old told me of her own anxiety about enrolling her child in daycare after she had been previously cared for by a nanny. This raised the question of the merits or liabilities of group care vs. individual care for young children – a question of great concern in the years since increasing numbers of mothers of young children have entered the workplace.

This mother expressed her own misgivings despite the fact that her daughter seems to be doing well. The mom is surprised at how well the child seems to be able to accept the routines of the group and the role of the teacher although she worries that it is a long day for her. She seemed surprised to discover that the child can manage as well as she does despite the change this represents for her.

The fact that certain things are hard for a child doesn’t mean they are bad for them. A child’s protests may sound worry alarms for a parent but it is not the protests that are of concern but rather the way they are understood and responded to. In the group referred to, the teachers were able to offer support and comfort to individual children including retrieving the parent of the most upset child.

It is only in recent years that children have been placed in groups from such young ages. A sign in the doorway of a neighborhood building advertised “Pre-school Prep.” The idea seems to be that children have to be prepared to attend pre-school, once considered preparation for grade school. This is in keeping with the fact that once children are in groups, expectations begin to change for their behavior along with an earlier introduction of academics.

Yet children’s development has not changed, and if more children are to be cared for in groups, such groups must address their developmental needs. A large part of our societal resistance to dealing with the problem is the cherished belief that there is no solution that will or can duplicate the family life that existed in an older division of labor. But as in dealing with all the many societal changes that have taken place in modern times, we need to be creative in finding solutions that do not rest on the sacrifice of any one of the parties in basic human relationships.

Children need not only physical care but the attention of caring, interested adults who don’t necessarily have to be their parents. The cultural investment in one-to-one care, typically currently provided by those with the financial means, is not a solution for present day realities. Whether we call it early childhood education or day care, clearly we need to think in terms of some form of group care for children.

Achieving the desired quality of such care will take a major financial commitment which will require overcoming entrenched resistance to government support.