The core of care:
Essential Ingredients for the Development of Children
Home and Away from Home
Henry W. Maier, University of Washington, Seattle
In: Child Care Quarterly 8(3), Fall 1979
Adaptation of the first Abelour Lecture at the University of Strathcycle,
Glasgow, Scotland, October 27, 1977 and published in 1978 by the Abelour Trust,
Sterling, Scotland, Great Britain.
The illustrations are from the Dutch magazine Jeugd en
Samenleving that published a translation
in August 1983.
Recent research findings in child development are applied to pertinent issues
in child care. Child care is presented as the provision of physical comfort
together with the experience of dependability and predictability. This composite
optimally enables the child to experience a very personal care and with it, the
feeling that he or she is special. Seven ingredients are outlined, and presented
with illustrative child caring activities, as the Core of Care.
In the following pages I shall bring together some recent studies about child
development with a number of critical issues in child care. I shall try to
interweave these two spheres of learning, child development and child care.
Usually child development and child care interests are pursued as separate
concerns in disconnected research and teaching in departments far apart from
each other in our universities and in our field of practice, and more often than
not by persons unknown to each other. In actuality, a solid background knowledge
in child development offers basic directions for the care of children. In turn,
the everyday care activities provide rich data for the study of child
In order for you, the reader, to become personally immersed in the ideas to
be presented, pause and think of an incident where you experienced nurturing
care. This would be a moment in your life when you had the sense of being the
one, and only one, who counted at that particular moment.
In reviewing such recollections of experiences of personal care, the
following components become apparent:
a sense of physical comfort;
a certainty that whatever care was experienced would continue or be
repeated beyond that instance of care and
most likely an involvement with a familiar and close caring person.
In short, at that moment there was a sense of special ness a sense of being
worthwhile, being fussed over and taken care off. These are our "whispered
moments of glory, our Camelots".*
* A line from the song on the
life and dreams of King Arthur - "Camelot".
These personal experiences of being nurtured reflect then some of the core
components of care. Although these components appear to be very simple, they are
more subtle and complicated when we try to implement them in the everyday care
of children and adolescents at home and away from home. These basic care
considerations apply in our work with children at all ages, regardless of
whether care is rendered in their own family or a foster home, in day-care,
temporary shelter, group, or residential.are.programs.
In would like to consider seven components of care. Each component is based
upon a compilation of long established child care wisdom. The most recent
findings in child development research shed light on the meaning these
discoveries have for child care. I tried to scan our knowledge of child
development as if to search for the "proper chemistry of care". Each
component is presented separately as a facet of care, but must always be viewed
and utilized in combination with the other six components. In totality, these
seven components constitute the core of care.
Component 1: Bodily Comfort
Bodily comfort as well as physical orientation, is basic to personal care.
This first component entails the kind of activities which we almost take for
granted. These actions are nevertheless, vital caring events. Consider the
caring act of straightening out a child's bed sheets in order that the child can
sleep in greater comfort, or sitting down on the floor with a child in order to
afford him or her a more relaxed bodily posture and more convenient eye levels.
One might say, as a child's bodily comforts are met, so does he or she feel
actually treated with care. Throughout life a sense of well being and care is
experienced when one's body is secure and free of somatic stress. With a sense
of physical well-being a person becomes more receptive and is, in fact, eager
for experiences beyond the immediate bodily demands. Physical sustenance and
comfort are basic for life and constitute one important measure of care.
In line with Component 1, physical comfort is strengthened by the involvement
of another person. It is this personal involvement, the investment of personal
energy which converts physical care into "caring care". The infant has
to be cradled into physical comfort. Newcomers to home, office, or a social
gathering need someone's personal presence in order to find a sense of physical
welcome and well-being. The same holds true in our everyday public life. For
example, the bus conductor's friendly overtures can render the automatically
opened door an easy and gratifying entry. In our child care practice, it occurs
to me what when I want to convey a "welcome" to an individual, my
words or smile might be less important than the energy I invest in the bodily
welcome I provide by means of a nod, touch, and comfortable physical
arrangements for the newcomers. Conversely, the negation of welcome, we know, is
readily accomplished by denial or restraining of "bodily rights".
Consider the studies of penal settings or concentration camps where extended
periods of standing, sitting, and sleeping in uncomfortable, or crowded
conditions quickly give the residents the understanding they are unwelcome,
worthless and isolated (Freedman, 1975; Helmreich, 1967; Radloff and Helmreich,
We have established then that concern for physical comfort is a prelude for
care. This concern is further conveyed in the way we deal with the individual's
personal space in their presence as well in their absence (Bakker, 1973).
In our everyday lives, household pets have their private spaces which are
duly respected. Do our children and adolescents also have the chance to establish
territory which is genuinely their own? In their rooms for daily activities, and
in their spaces for their belongings, for personal rest, retreat, and sleep,
this is especially true. Such private space has to be theirs "tax
free". In other words, this private space is theirs regardless of whether
their behavior has been acceptable or not. Their personal (private) corner, bed,
or other "mine only" place is undisputedly theirs as part of their
inalienable rights within the child care arena. Youngsters need to find this
evidence of the right to exist in difficult as well as in good moments. I am
reminded of instances when one child feels hurt that another has taken his
favored seat although other chairs are available and which appear to the casual
onlooker to be equally desirable. Studies of animal and human uses of space
clearly suggest to us that invasion of private space is felt as sharply as a
direct assault to the body (Bakker, 1973; Freedman, 1975). Robert Frost said it
well in his poem: "Good fences make good neighbors". This assertion
might also apply to children. They too want their territory known and respected.
Parenthetically, it is also significant that when children move from one
setting to another, from home to a residential setting or vice versa, that is,
from a familiar territory to a strange one, children require assistance in order
to make the unfamiliar familiar. Transitional objects - a much-loved blanket,
cushion, stuffed beast, toy, photo, or trinket - serve as a linkage transforming
a strange place into amore familiar surrounding (Winnicott, 1965).
It is inherent in the contemporary scene that each child care worker or other
helping persons serves also as a transition worker - as a person facilitating
client's transitions from one life situation to another. Clients need assistance
with entering, coping, and moving forward into their new situations. It follows
then that we need to guard against stripping individuals of their transitional
objects as they enter a hospital, correctional institution, day care center, or
other residential settings: continuous contacts with a previously supportive
person are not only a helping bridge, but are essential for the child as
Component 2: Differentiations
Individual differences inherently produce different interactions. A number of
recent challenging longitudinal studies suggest that from birth children are
quite different in temperament. These differences bring about distinctly varying
patterns of interactions with as well as by their char takers (Escalona, 1968;
Thomas, Chess and Birch, 1968; Thomas and Chess, 1977). Such findings suggest
that efforts to establish standardized expectations of behavior and
"consistent" handling within a group children is questionable. I
submit here that it is essential for caring persons to differentiate in the way
they respond to various children, even those with similar behaviors. To be
"consistent" is not necessarily a virtuous position. On the contrary,
it is neither an acceptable nor a desirable quality. To align our responses in
terms of the individual child is far more effective and natural and in no way a
If children do vary in temperament, then they logically secure for themselves
different life from their care givers (Brazelton, 1977; Lewis, 1974). More precisely,
children and caring adults discover each other as units of care and establish
their mutual mode of interaction. Most important, children's daily interactions
are more likely to vary on the basis of their differences in personal history,
sex, and social class (Thomas and Chess, 1977).
There are some children who seem to absorb rapidly what is going on around
them. They appear as if they were living radars. Although they strike us as
rather "inactive", they are in fact very active
"stimulus-scanners". They can deal with input over an extended time
while maintaining spatial distance from the events at hand. Thus they relate
most efficiently when they can interact with a predominantly visual situation.
In contrast we observe that other children require continuous physical contact
and bodily experience in order to feel involved. These children tend to have
manifold experiences within a short time. For them one interaction leads to
another. They are the "stimulus-bound" children - as if they were in
perpetual motion. Let us discuss the letter ones first, the more bodily active
youngsters. These "go-go" children are apt to enter immediately into
whatever is happening within their reach. Almost any stimuli becomes for then a
"call for action". Their own activities bring them continuously to new
and novel experiences.
When these "go-go" children were observed with their caregivers
1968; Thomas, Chess and Birch, 1968; Schaffer and Emerson, 1964) a unique
process was observed. Spontaneously, caregivers tended to channel as well as to
limit their input. For example, while reading a story, the caregiver might read
with attention-stimulation, while at the same time holding her arm around the
child to reduce his/her bodily activities.
It is the child's temperament in interacting with his/her environment, as we
learned in the previously cited studies of Escalona, as well as of Thomas and
his associates, which shapes the quality of interaction, while it is the
caregivers' culture which defines the style of interaction.*
*Stimulus (S) and
Response (R) become interchangeable. One person's S is simultaneously the other
person's R, while the other person R becomes also the very same person's S.
caregiver, for instance makes the cultural choice between sponge or tub bath,
cold or warm water, but the nature of interaction within these boundaries is
found jointly. Readers may recall instances from their own contacts with babies
where quickly stimulated infants tend to be offered fewer toys because each
additional toy seems to detract from the previous one. Such children also have a
tendency to keep the caring adult on the scene of the child's actions. They
constantly involve themselves with the caregivers.
In contrast, in each of these studies we note that another large group of
children are active in another style. They are active "scanners".*
called them the "non-cuddlers" in his Glasgow research project
(Schaffer and Emerson, 1964).
They tend to "case out" a situation
and maintain delibrate4 distance from others. Their caregivers in turn provide
them with bodily space or a buffer zone between child and adult. Simultaneously,
the caregiver recognizes the necessity to bring extra stimulation into the
child's activity. In infancy these children's cribs are filled with objects.
During feeding, bathing, and other forms of daily handling, caregivers tend to
introduce distinct stimulations by means of speech, touch, and visual stimuli in
order to evoke a mutual engagement (Escalona, 1968).
In child care settings we witness similar differences and handle them
according to variations in temperament. Some children come dashing to the dinner
table. They reach for the food while inquiring: "What's there to eat?"
The natural adult response the might be to focus on one thing at a time:
"Sit down!" "Sit!" "Sit down!" while
a pair of hands might be actively facilitating this anchoring process. In
contrast, in the instances of the "living radars", we would find such
boys and girls approaching the dinner table by giving it a complete survey
first. Typically they would focus on one item at a time, while still at some
distance from the table. The may call out: "She has my cup!" The
spontaneous adult response then might including offering several alternatives in
order to get the child fully into the scene. "Come sit down".
"Here is another cup just like the other one". "See here, your
soup is served". "Here is a place for you. Sit down!" All these
introductions of added stimuli occur from a distance, while the caregivers'
eyes, words, and perhaps their gestures are brought into play as intervening
From longitudinal research we learn that both the "living radars"
children operating over distance, as well as their more intrusive counterparts,
the "go-go getters", develop satisfactorily. It seems that child and
caregivers tend to educate and find each other, to create, so to speak, the
proper fit. We learn from these studies that practical caring is neither an
activity to be delivered nor one to be developed out of manuals of house rules.
Rather, caring is a reciprocal interactive process of mutual adoption which
requires time and experience - and training for the care of special children.
Training will enable the caring person to discern which children require
immediate body contacts as part of close and intense personal interactions, and
which children can better achieve "closer" personal contact over
distance with a reliance upon eye and marginal body contacts. In short,
"different strokes for different blokes".
What does all this mean for the core of child caring? It suggests that the
care given and received requires and undisturbed extended periods of time
together in order to find a mutual fit. Parenthetically, this does not mean that
parents must stay at home at all times nor that the same child care personnel
should be continuously on their job. We know that children of working parents do
as well as children which the parent at home as so long as the caring parents,
in either situation, feel relatively free and are fully involved with their
children in the times spent together (Robinson et al., 1976). For child care
settings it might imply that it is most important to devise a program which
allows the child caring person full personal involvement when actually with the
Component 3: Rhythmic Interactions
Rhythmicity is a vital feature of all human development. It is a
salient underlying force: the synchronization of child and caring adults. They
must somehow find their joint rhythm. (Brazelton, 1977; Byers, 1972; Condon,
1975; Lewis, 1974; Maier, 1978a; Schaffer, 1977, Pg. 63). Recent research
findings hint a possibility that basic units of rhythmic interactions make up
the "molecules of human behavior" (Byers, 1972, Condon, 1975). These
"molecules of human behavior" require the enmeshment* , the blending of a
individual's internal rhythmic with environmental rhythmic demands. It is this
subtle rhythmic involvement which determines the quality and possibly the
direction of interaction.
descriptive term "enmeshment" I adapted from Schaffer's term
"social enmeshing" [Schaffer, 1977, Pg. 64-66])
Rhythmic experiences, such as rattling a rattle of repeatedly stroking one's
hair or beard, playing patty-cake or the shaking of hands, are all essential
ingredients of the experience of finding indicators of continuity. We note that Rhythmicity
is the hallmark of baby toys* as well as of real "togetherness" in later life events,
such as in group singing and dance, play or sexual activity.
*for instance, rattles, tops, music boxes with
repetitious tunes, lullabies, or action toys with built-in repetitious rhythmic
Rituals are a social counterpart to psychological
represent a confirmation of sound cultural practice. People experience a full
sense of togetherness in the carrying out of these practices* . In work with
children rituals assume special significance. By this I mean rituals of
significance to the child rather than routines which are neither rituals nor
training but purely for the purpose of achieving temporary order.
the shaking of hands among some people, repeated bowing, or the rhythmic ritual
of kissing on both cheeks in other parts of the world.
What does Rhythmicity actually accomplish? Rhythmic activities seem to secure
for the individual the experience of repetition and continuity of repetition.
The actual experience of lasting repetition fosters a perception of permanency.
Rhythmic action contains the experience of repetition with the promise of
further repetition and hence the opportunity for experiencing predictability
(Maier, 1978b, Ch. 1).
When people get together, they attempt to locate joint rhythms in movements
such as the nodding of assent, or walking, laughing or even crying together.
They create a type of mutual sympathetic rhythm. In this connection, I
hypothesize that in play Rhythmicity is one of the salient features which
renders it a vital life experience. Notice for instance the rhythmic component
in playing ball, table tennis, or playing tag. These playful experiences provide
the possibility for becoming enmeshed in rhythmic encounters.
How is Rhythmicity applicable to the core of caring? I propose it is
essential that children have ample opportunities for both experiencing Rhythmicity
in their own activities and in their interactions with caring adults. When we
observe children engaged in repetitive, that is, rhythmic play such as
"aimlessly" bouncing or tossing of a ball, tapping out some rhythm on
the table, children chasing each other or bantering insults etc., we must
recognize that all these are far from time-wasting activities. Moreover, when
adults while caring for children can become part of the joint rhythm, they have
the possibility of finding themselves momentarily fully "in tune" with
the children. Children and adults share moments of moving ahead together.*
A. West Sr., a social worker in Seattle, Washington, called to my attention the
fact that a different developmental levels children, adolescents, and adults are
more "in tune" with specific relevant musical rhythms. For
adolescents, regardless if it is within the jitterbug, twist, or hard rock era,
the rhythm remains alike for each variation of contemporary music.
Component 4: The Element of Predictability
The capacity is a measure of knowing and an essential ingredient of effective
learning. In other words, to know which things will happen in the immediate
feature lends a sense of order and power. It becomes a major breakthrough for a
youngster to discover that she/he can predict the outcome of her/his action. He
or she can make things happen.*
*Hy Resnick phrased such discovery aptly
"a shift from random to random less behavior"; that is, a move toward
controlled existence in an orderly world).
Child care activities must therefore offer continuous work with children in
such a way that they truly experience and cherish the meaning of their own
activities. It will be significant then for the caring person to mirror his/her
experience of the happening for the effectiveness of the behavior rather than as
a gauge of approval. The caring person might say, in sharing the events of the
child who performs somersaults as a guest arrives, "You got my full
attention all the way with that one. You really did it!"
Actually, we tend to use an approval quite easily with very young children.
With other children, however, we are less prone to do so. With this latter age
group we are apt to shift our involvements away from the doing and learning
directly; we tend to engage ourselves instead in regulating or evaluating. With
older children is is of equal importance to be constantly involved with a boy's
or girl's action and mastery. For instance, the youngster accomplishing a new
task requires recognition for the mastery rather than an evaluation in terms of
"good", "brave", or "industrious". Children
require feedback on their competence acquisition rather than another check off
on adults' list of approved conduct.
Component 5: Dependability
A sense of predictability heralds a sense of dependence (Maier, 1978b). The
sense of prediction assures an individual a sense of certainty. A sense of
certainty gives a person an assured feeling of dependence. As children come to
know and to predict their experiences with others, so will they depend upon
these persons. Moreover, these very experiences become significant encounters in
their own right. To be able depend upon dependence feels good! It assures the
child that she/he is not alone and that she/he can depend or rely upon support.
The feeling of dependence creates attachment and having attachments feels good,
too (Brazelton, et al., 1974; Bronfenbrenner, 1977; Maier, 1977). The caregiver
in turn also wants to be depended upon. Dependence feels good and is good for
both of them.
The experience of dependency is the basis for undependability
Dependency then, is natural and desirable - and basic to child care. The
continuous and very personal involvement in the caring process fosters a
dependence to the point that child and adult deeply care for each other. After
all, little people need big people and big people also have the need for others,
both big and small ones. In Brofenbrenner's terms, every child needs at least
one person who is really crazy about him or her (Bronfenbrenner, 1977, Pg. 3).
When a child feels that someone really believes in him (her) the child then
feels good about him/herself and eventually about other people. Curiously
enough, when persons experience secure dependence upon one another, they can in
fact function more independently as they feel assured of mutual attachment
(Maier, 1977). Secure dependence breeds clear independence and ultimately the
freedom for new dependence in new and more complex relationship systems (Maier,
1977)*. Recent studies on attachment experience have
made us aware that a lack of dependent experience creates greater havoc in a
child's development than prolonged dependence itself (Brunner, 1970; Maier,
1977, NICHHD, 1968).
* For a full discussion of the author's formulation of
dependence/independence oscillation see the essay Dependence and Independence
development Throughout the Human's Life Cycle: Implications for the Helping
Professions (Maier, 1977).
Component 6: Personalized Behavioral Training
Social capability rests upon personal attachment. The reader may have noted
that thus far there has been neither a reference to the maintenance of
discipline nor the training in self-management and manners. The reader could
easily wonder whether the writer cares all about children's behavior? (I do! In
fact, I care so much that I want the behavioral training to have the fullest
Children learn most readily those who have vital meaning for them. They turn
to the persons they have experienced ones to be counted on, namely those whom
the children perceive as on their side (Bronfenbrenner, 1970; Kessen, 1975;
Schaffer, 1977, Pg. 100). Children are most likely to follow the persons whose
ways of dealing with life issues are most akin to their own. The persons most
meaningful for their power, as well as the persons closest to the children's own
life situations, have the best chance for influencing the children's behavior.
(In addition to the primary caring persons, very frequently it is the slightly
older siblings and peers or the heroes in stories and TV, a few steps ahead in
their development, who represent the models and idols; and they may be almost of
equal importance to the central caring figures).
Concern with social training has been purposely introduced late in the
sequence of the seven components. It is essential to keep in mind that the most
potent behavioral training goes hand in hand with a sense of reciprocal
closeness and attachment. Effective acquisition of behavioral standards is a consequence
of dependability. When children and caring adults are in a close relationship,
effective child training really starts and the more complicated socialization
efforts can now take place.
It is important to recognize however, that both child and caring adult must
eventually go far beyond their mutual attachment to other spheres of life, where
children will be more and more independent of their care givers within new
spheres of dependencies. (Maier, 1977). In the child care settings, the children
continuous involvement with their lager community and with their own family or
future foster or group home setting is of utmost importance.
The core of care in and away from home has to be experienced in a series of
meaningful activities as children mature. While engaged with their caring
adults, children will periodically dip into emotional dependence upon these
caring persons, and this linkage will be both fundamental and freeing. In other
words, fostering self-management and enriching children's behavioral repertoires
are intimately linked with the formation of close relationship with the care
Stimulating the autonomy of the children
Component 7: Care for the Care Givers
Component 7, care for the care giver as the final ingredient, is fundamental
to the previous six. Care can only be received to the extent that the care
givers are personally prepared and ready to engage in these interactions. It is
inherent that the caretakers be nurtured themselves and experience sustained
caring support in order to transmit this quality of care to others.
Care givers are enriched or limited as agents of care according to the care
they receive. Are their activities in their role as givers supported by their
own personal caregivers, their primary groups, and their wider social
institutions? Are caregivers assured of their own physical comfort and ample
personal privacy in space and time, and are they provided chances for secure
support from others when the care giving becomes rough? Do they have access to
resources for doing what has to be done? In short, is there ample care for the
The essential message can probably best be summarized in the greeting which
nowadays is frequently heard among young adults. On leave-taking, they often
exchange two simple but powerful words: "Take care!" This phrase seems
to encapsulate a theme: true caring largely reflects the mutuality of care
received and care rendered. All of us, adults and children, need this exquisite
blend of affirmation.
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