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The school assisted in selecting a Billy (not real name) as the child I would observe. Billy is four years old the younger of two sons of middle-class parents. Both Parents are of Turkish origin. Billy can speak both English and Turkish. His elder brother attends the same school. They both live locally with their Mother and Father..
This is his first year in the School. From what I could gather Billy was a normal healthy boy. All the observation took place in the school. Each session lasted for an hour and involved passive observation.
Attachment can be defined as an emotional relationship that involves the exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure. John Bowlby describe this concept as "â€¦lasting psychological connectedness between human beings" that impacts behavior "from the cradle to the grave." (Bowlby, 1969, p. 194). Research has shown that relationship patterns established in childhood have a significant impact on later in life.
From the onset of my observations Billy showed clear signs of a strong secured attachment to his mother. There were clear signs of Separation Distress; for instance when his mother leaves he usually becomes quiet and withdrawn and is only excited again when it is time to go home, because his mother is coming to get him. He is clearly not enjoying school because it separates' him from his mum.
The central theme of attachment theory is that mothers / primary caregivers who are available and responsive to their infant's needs establish a sense of security. In other words they provide a secure and dependable base for the child to explore the world. When the child feels threatened or afraid, he or she can return to the caregiver for comfort and soothing (Safe haven). The child strives to stay near the caregiver, to keep safe (Proximity Maintenance). When separated from the caregiver, the child will become upset and distressed (Separation Distress).
When his mother is in the room Billy is always close to her, holding her hand and following her. Whenever contact with his mum is broken he will constantly look out for her and would quickly rejoin her if possible. This is type of behavior is not unusual in young children starting school for the first time. What is interesting is that Billy is taking so long to adapt. Perhaps because Billy as the younger of two children he is used to getting a lot of attention from his mum and therefore had built a stronger than normal attachment to his mum.
If the relationship between the mother and child is not handled correctly poor or suboptimal attachment may occur. Two forms of poor attachment are described in literature. They are
- Ambivalent attachment; where the child shows no preference between a stranger and the primary care giver.
- Avoidance is a situation where the child actively avoids the primary care giver. In extreme cases the child will become distress when left alone with the primary care giver.
In practice it is well worth investigating cases of poor attachment as they maybe symptomatic of abuse or neglect.
Problems can occur later in life as a result of poor attachment. Researchers like Hazen and Shaver (1987) have shown that people with differing attachment styles hold different beliefs about relationships among adults. Securely attached adults tend to believe that romantic love is enduring. Ambivalently attached adults tend to fall in love often, while people with avoidant attachment styles see love as rare and temporary.
While infant attachment styles are not identical to adult romantic-attachment styles, research has shown that early attachment style have a significant impact on adult attachment styles. Understanding childhood attachment style is important in practice as it can help understand past behavior and predict future patterns of behavior.
Another area of practice where attachment theory is proving useful is in the understanding of criminal or antisocial behaviour. Our sense of connection to others and our bond to society has a powerful and even explanatory influence on the development and exercise of antisocial and criminal behaviour. Poor early attachment experiences can serve as a historical risk factor in the developmental pathway along which dysfunctional and antisocial behaviour may later develop. Attachment analysis is therefore useful in identifying children at risk of developing antisocial behaviour with a view to providing them with the right support from an early stage.
In conclusion a healthy and secure early childhood attachment to a primary care giver usually the mother is important for a child. It gives the child a secure base from which to explore the world. It also has long lasting impact on the child's ability to connect with others and the larger society. This has implications on how one sees adult attachment and relationships. Research has also shown that poor early attachments can be a starting point on the pathway to antisocial behaviour in the later life. Billy clearly has a secured attachment to his mother. But the level of attachment appears to bit strong; as a result he is showing signs of severe separation distress.
Transitional Object Theory
During the first session I observed that Billy was more relaxed when his mother brought his Teddy (a stuffed Dog) for him; armed with the Teddy Billy happily joins his classmates for the first time. Even when he is asked to keep the Teddy in his locker which he did, he kept peeping into the locker from time to time to maintain contact. The Teddy Dog is what experts call a "Transitional Object".
Donald Winnicott developed his famous theory of the "transitional object" based on the "Object Relations theory made popular by Melanie Klein. Object Relations theorists believe that we are relationship seeking rather than pleasure seeking as Freud suggested. They place less emphasis on the drives of aggression and sexuality as motivational forces and more emphasis on human relationships as the primary motivational force in life. Like the attachment theory its primary focus is on the relationship between a child and its primary care giver usually the mother.
Often when a mother or primary care giver leaves an infant, they can become. In response children will often ascribe some object with the attributes of their mother and use the object as a source of comfort in the absence of their mother. This item is called a Transition Object.
The use of transition objects tend starts to around 4 to 6 months, when the infant is moving towards the external world, but has not quite separated it from the internal world.
Typically the transition object is something soft, such as blanket or soft toy, which is feels like their mother's warm arms and breast. By cuddling the object, they feel that they are cuddling their mother and thus feel comforted. About 60% of children adopt such objects.
Taking away the object from the child can cause great anxiety as they are now truly without their mother and suffer great feelings of loss and aloneness.
The term "object" is used to mean anything an infant seeks satisfaction from. For the first part of life children draw most satisfaction from their mother and are almost totally dependent on their mothers. As they grow older they move from this dependent state to a state of independence. This is transition can be traumatic and many children will hold o to an object that provide an emotional link to their mother.
According to Winnicotts "these transitional objects comprises of many things like teddies, dummies, blankets or clothesâ€¦", he said that they all have emotional significance for small children and they are usually a source of comfort and security in the absence of the child's mother (Winnicotts, 1991). They serve a soothing function for children. These objects are normal and represent a significant developmental phenomenon in the life of a child, such attachments do not imply maladjustment (Lehmane,1995).
Like with Billy transitional objects can be helpful when a small child has trouble with separation from their mother or primary care giver especially when they start school. The object reminds them of the parents; therefore, it calms them by giving them peace of mind. It is a good idea for the parent to provide the child with an object he/she can take with them to the day care center or baby-sitter's house (Kutner,1991).
Although children benefit from transitional objects, they have been a concern for many parents for quite some time now. The parents view the object clutched in the child's hands as nothing more than a dingy blanket or a tattered doll (Kutner,1991) that don't go with the new night dress or their internal picture of how their children should look. As long as the object does not inhibit the social development of the child, parents need only concern themselves with keeping the item clean and should ignore what it looks like.
The need for transitional object differs from child to child. While some children may never require a transitional object, some jump from one object to another over a period of time yet others cling onto one object for year.
Parents can encourage an attachment to an item that's easy to tote around. They can do this by putting a particular toy or blanket in the baby's crib at bedtime and taking it with them when not at home
According to Kutner, children who are unable to use an object for self-comfort, but instead scream, become very withdrawn, or fall apart emotionally may require professional (Kutner,1991).
In conclusion, transitional objects are a means by which children deal with the transition from dependence to independence. The use of a transitional object is encouraged in situations where the child is suffering from severe separation distress for instance when they start school for the first time. In Billy's case the school has wisely encouraged Billy's mum to bring his transitional object to school to help him adjust to school.
Theory of play
Humans and animals participate in Play as a means to explore and learn about their environment. Play is a behaviour that humans participate in all their lives; to learn and to have pleasure which is one of the basic human needs. Among other things, children develop language skill that is then the basis for literacy skills that are taught at schools.
Billy's reacted positively to activities curtained around play which might indicate that it is something he is used to from home. Another indication that he has been learning through play is the fact that he can speak two languages at the age of 4.
In summary, the major theorists agree that play contributes to children's development. Play allows children to transform reality and develop symbolic representations of the world in order to meet psychological and physical needs. Play is often used by children to overcome anxiety and as a means to connect to more familiar activities.
Billy not only participated in play related activities but he was clearly enjoying himself and looked far more relaxed. His choice of activity was also important. For instance he spent a lot of time in the home corner which I think was his way of connecting to the activities that he is more familiar with. Since he spends a lot of the time we can assume he spends a lot of time watching mum carry out domestic chores. Billy is therefore attracted to the familiar home corner in this new and stressful world.
Appleton's Growth Theories of play portray play as a response to a generalised drive for growth in the child. In this context play serves to facilitate the mastery of skills necessary to the function of adult behaviours. (Appleton 1919). In this context Billy attraction to the home corner is driven by a desire to learn the skills that is necessary to function in the home like his mother.
Billy also seemed very free and comfortable with girls, I wonder why? He enjoyed playing their sort of game and being in their company. He enjoyed games like Hop Scotch, The Clock and Numerated Snakes. Those seem to be his comfort zone. He played with one or two boys every now and again but rarely spoke to them. He sometimes copies what other kids around him do during games and tries them on other kids.
This preference may be connected with the fact that Billy is very attached to his mother and is used to playing with her. He finds it much easier to transfer his desire to play with his mother to playing with the girls in his class. He also show typical feminine attribute of taking turns and withdrawing from any sign of aggression. These are attributes he more probably has picked from his mum.
Play can also be a way to deal with anxiety. In psychoanalysis play often represents not only a desire to fulfill ones internal wishes and tendencies but also an attempt through repetition to cope with overwhelming anxiety-provoking situations. Play can be both defensive as well as adaptive in dealing with anxiety.
Billy appears to be using play in this way, He is playing in a familiar space as a means to deal with the anxiety cause by his new environment.
A Reflective Evaluation of the observation process.
The observation experience was quite engaging. I chose the Running Record Method of gathering information as I was able to write down what I observed immediately. This made it possible for me to note down every detail that could be useful later on. One flaw I discovered with using this method is that one can also miss out an important part of the observation if one is engrossed in writing, however I realised this from the very first session and so did not allow this to distract my observation.
Looking back at the six weeks observation period, I must admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable each time I went for the observation sessions. One reason for this was that I was worried that I may not only be intruding on the child's privacy but also on the class teacher's privacy.
I also recognized the potential impact that I as the observer can have on the situation I am observing. To overcome this I kept out of the way, restricting my movement to only the most essential. This meant Billy could get on with his day and I could observe him behaving naturally. But this was a challenge at times. For instance when he was playing I had to make a choice between moving to a position where I could observe him better and staying out of the way. I choose to stay out of the way.
On another occasion I realised that Billy was very uncomfortable and kept changing position each time he felt I was watching him. I was touched by this. It looked as though he was a bit intimidated by my presence. To help him relax I decided to stop my observation for the day and decided to spend the rest of the session helping out in the class.
As professional we must be aware of how our actions impact on service users and we must be ready to make appropriate changes to ensure our practice is non-oppressive, non-discriminatory and non-judgmental.
Furthermore, I remember coming in on one of those observation days and voluntarily showing the class teacher some of the notes I wrote on my previous visits just to make her more comfortable with my presence and also reduce the tension on my end. I realised that the teacher though having welcomed me heartily at times looked uncomfortable about my presence in the classroom.
Showing her my notes was also my way of promoting the social work values and code of practice which requires social workers to strive to maintain the trust and confidence of individuals, families, carers, groups and communities by communicating in an open, accurate and understandable way.
Having shown her my notes, I asked her if she felt my observations were accurate and if there was any information about Billy that could explain some of the things I observed about him. Her answers were very useful; they helped in enriching my observation and the conclusions I reached about Billy's behavior.
The above is in line with Social Work value D, which requires social workers to value, recognise and respect the diversity, expertise and experience of individuals, families, carers, groups and communities.
This has significant impact on practice. As a practitioner one must always recognise that others professionals or individuals such as carers etc. who form part of the service user / customer's social network may have information that is invaluable in providing the right service for the service user. To harness this information one must learn to share best practice and be ready to work within multi-disciplinary teams.
Overall, I was happy to see the improvement in Billy over the period; from a shy withdrawn boy to a more relaxed child that is gradually fitting in the class network. The intervention measures introduced by the school such as allowing him to bring his transition object to school etc appear to have worked.
Day 1, 21/10/09. First day of observation
I was received warmly by the School's Head Teacher; she asked a year 2 pupil to take me to the Class Teacher in whose class I would be carrying out the observation. The Teacher showed me Billy's picture and also pointed him out to me in the crowd.
I noticed that Billy was sitting away from other kids, backing the class and looking towards the door. The class teacher reassured him that mum will be bringing his Teddy Dog very soon and encouraged him to join the rest of the class. It was only after his mum brought his Teddy Dog that he joined his classmates. He moved to a particular corner of the class swinging his teddy.
After a while his teacher asked him to put his Teddy in his drawer which he did but kept peeping in to maintain contact.
I noticed that he was the only member of the class that to any notice of my presence. He would from time to time turn around and stare at me, probably wondering what I was doing.
Billy was clearly finding it difficult concentrating on the work at hand. However he always obeyed / carried out every instruction he was given. He was eager to participate in physical activities and enjoyed singing also. Billy enjoyed practical work [experiment] he was very observant and followed throughout the experiment. Billy found it a bit difficult sitting in the circle, a bit restless, shakes his legs while in a seating position once in a while.
When Billy is bored he tries to get the attention of the children's sitting beside him. Billy enjoyed playing with the play dough (he chose). He played with the girls, he enjoyed cutting out characters out of the play dough in the home corner. At times he would pretend he is cooking or carrying out other domestic activities. He was very engaged. He was happy taking turns to play with toys, he didn't like confrontational actions and would readily allow other kids to get their way.
He played alone most of the time.
Day 2; 04/11/09
Drop off Time
Billy and Mum waits for Billy to settle in just like every other child.
Billy politely asked to be excused to use the toilet; I did not follow because I didn't want to invade his personal space. His privacy is top priority especially with regards to child protection issues and law.
After using the toilet Billy goes to observe another child who had just arrived. He observes the child and her parent calmly.
Today Billy changed his sitting position. I am not sure why Billy did this; may be he realised the same stranger (me) from last week was in his class again. It is not unlikely that he could have realised that he is being observed or maybe his was just reacting naturally to changes in hos environment.
During class activity, Billy only responded to one activity, he refused to participate in any other activities or do what other children were doing. Why was this? Could it be he was used to having his way's at home? Or could it be that he already has a mind of his own and is not easily influenced. This could be both positive and negative.
Another child spotted Billy fiddling with their learning items and called the teachers attention to it.
Billy seems to be a visual and kinetic learner. Activities involving these two methods kept him focused.
Billy' does not speak much. He can tell how he is feeling mostly from his facial expression which changes from time to time. I guess he internalises his feelings.
The children were paired up to discuss the different shapes they brought from home. He only spoke to his partner when a teaching assistant encouraged him to interact with his partner.
When Billy was asked to questions about a given object, he thought before he gave his opinion. I observed that Billy was more comfortable talking to the Teaching Assistant beside him rather than his class mates, perhaps because she represents a mother figure.
I also came back at playtime. Billy refused to go out for playtime until he was asked by his Teacher. Billy went outside and sat behind the classroom door.
He told his Teacher earlier his tooth hurts. Other kids tried to encourage him to play but he would not join them. Another child came and pulled at is cardigan. I decided to leave when I couldn't catch a glimpse of him.
Day 3; 06/11/09
Billy loves his food; he is very concentrated and was one of the first to finish. He immediately made his way out without interacting with the others.
I happen to at the playground to observe Billy; he was comfortable playing on his own. For a while he disappeared from view.
The difficulty involved in observation during lunch time is that the child moves around at his own will, as his movement cannot be controlled. I can't get a glimpse of him for awhile. I am also trying not to be too obvious because I feel I might be prying too much. I wouldn't't want him to feel he is being watched and not feel free. Other kids also play major role, they want to know what you are doing etc.
Billy seems very free and comfortable with girls, I wonder why? He enjoyed playing their sort of game and being in their company. He enjoyed games like Hop Scotch, The Clock and Numerated Snakes. Those seem to be his comfort zone. He played with one or two boys every now and again but rarely spoke. He sometimes copies what other kids around him do during games and tries them on other kids. I wonder if culture has a role to play in this.
Session 4; 11/11/09
Billy arrived with his mum, just before the bell, mummy blew kisses and he returned the kisses and waved his mum goodbye. Billy is very observant, that could also mean he's intelligent. He notice's any changes in his environment hence very aware. He has a mind of his own hence takes time before settling down. He sat behind a friend (boy) and at some point he gave the boy a big hug with a smile on his face.
Billy likes rocking himself while sitting, perhaps a way of keeping busy and not getting bored. Billy and I somehow bonded, even though I have not spoken to him. Since I came for the observation, he sometimes meets my gaze and I will simply smile and shift my attention elsewhere. Billy just laid down in class while the teacher was teaching; he giggled and felt comfortable even though the rest of the class was seated a teaching assistant made him sit and sat by him. He appears to be tired and a bit sleepy hence he kept yawning. He is a bit fidgety now, pulling at his socks.
The teaching assistant kept encouraging him to sit in the normal way the rest of the class sat. He seems to be more interested in things hung around the class room, not paying attention to the teacher. Billy seems to enjoy adult company, he kept playing with the assistants hand and enjoyed leaning on her, perhaps this is the way of keeping him focused, calm and awake nevertheless there is lots of yawning still. He has now been engaged with the T.A, who keeps asking questions about what was being taught.
He seems to be answering but at the same time trying to go back to the relaxed position, lying down on the rug. He seems to have forgotten that I am in the environment. I wonder if he has A.D.H.D because he keeps rocking and shaking his head, fiddling with chairs and now lying-down/ leaning on the T.A's lap. He's quite happy to go and chose an activity to do, he is very calculated hence he picked up his coat just in case decides to go out to play.
Billy enjoys working? Doing anything linked to home. He helped the class teachers set up the role play boxes during playtime; he arranged them neatly and nicely. One of the boxes contained kiddies DIY tools, another dressing up gowns/dresses, and another play equipment. His made me wonder if he's trying to repeat what he sees his dad do at home, Billy seems to enjoy every moment of what he was doing.
Session 5; 13/11/09
When I arrived, Billy was watching a DVD for his golden time. He sat right in front of the TV, fiddling with a toy sheep. From the discussion I had with a TA watching DVD in one of his favourite activities. During TV time he concentrates.
I also notice that all the kids had a teddy or soft toy to cuddle. The light was dimmed and the room felt very cosy. This may be why Billy enjoys this time of the day; because it feels like home. The other children sat closely together engrossed in the movie.
I have been observing for over 20minutes today and Billy has not left his spot, even though he is aware that there is a stranger in the environment. When the movie ended I waited to see how Billy prepares for home time as it is almost School over. I am waiting for his to arrive.
Time to go; Billy got his things together. He seems very organised. He is amongst the first to line up to leave the class. Although Billy is active and is moving around he hardly speaks except when absolutely necessary.
Session 6; 20/11/09
For the first time I heard Billy speak out loudly, he wanted to know what was in another boy's box, then he moved to the clothes hanger to put away his coat. A class mate (girl) asked if he could help her remove her jacket, this he did with so much joy though he tugged at the coat till it came off, the way he also removed his own.
I was moved by this; as it showed again the soft and caring nature of Billy. Today Billy seems to be expressing himself throughout my observation, he spoke though quietly to almost every adult in the class asking for some- thing, I will find out later. Its super star assembly, before leaving he quickly dashed to his lunch box searching for something 'OK his water bottle.
Billy is a thinker and seems to plan his program very carefully, while they marched down for the assembly. He seems upset about something; the TA told me he wants his new squeezy ball part of what keeps him still. I was also informed that he has been given a circle mat to sit on as he finds it difficult sitting still, this will keep him stay in the same position during class lessons except if the teacher wants the class to move around.
He sat right at the front rocking forward and background gently. Billy has just been called as the 2nd superstar in his class; he held his certificate proudly in his hand going through the contents as though he understood what was written on it. He is sitting on a bench in front of the whole school facing the crowd.