University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Young Children's Representations of Emotions and Attachment in their Spontaneous Patterns of Behaviour: An Exploration of a Researcher's Understanding.

Arnold, C. (2007) Young Children's Representations of Emotions and Attachment in their Spontaneous Patterns of Behaviour: An Exploration of a Researcher's Understanding. PhD thesis, Coventry University; Collaborating Establishment: Pen Green Centre for Under-Fives and Their Families, Corby, Northants.


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Over the last thirty years in the UK and a small number of other countries, workers and researchers have developed a robust theory of cognitive development by studying young children’s patterns of behaviour (known as ‘schemas’) (Athey, 1990; Matthews, 2003; Pan, 2004). The research has shown that young children across cultures, are intrinsically motivated to explore patterns through their actions, symbolic behaviour, functional dependencies and thought.

By working closely with parents and workers and drawing on their intimate knowledge of each child and their family context, I have extended this theory to include the children’s explorations of emotional issues, such as attachment and separation.

During the study, I made video observations of eight children, aged two, three and four years, over one to two years, engaging in spontaneous play in the nursery. I viewed the filmed sequences alongside their parents and workers to gain their insights into each child’s motivations and interests.

I then revisited the filmed sequences over time and used journaling, as a technique, to record my responses and reflections. I constructed a case study about each child using schema theory and attachment theory as theoretical frameworks for analysing the data. I also constructed a case study about my own growing awareness of my responses to emotions.

I identified some basic psychological needs in the data about each child, that seemed to link with the cluster of schemas each child explored. There seemed to be a gender bias. The boys studied seemed more focussed on ‘doing’ and expressed this by using a cluster of predominant schemas such as ‘trajectory’ and ‘connecting’. The girls studied seemed more focussed on ‘having’ and ‘relating’ and expressed these needs by exploring a cluster of schemas, including ‘transporting’, ‘containing’ and ‘enveloping’. Children seemed to use these repeated patterns in four ways; to gain comfort; to give form to experiences or feelings; to explore or work through painful experiences or feelings, and; to come to understand abstract concepts.

I articulated my understanding of Piaget’s concept of ‘reflective abstraction’ by applying it to data gathered and to the literature. I proposed extending this concept to include ‘reflective expansion’. The child takes actions forward onto a higher plane within the cognitive domain, when developmentally ready (reflective abstraction), and simultaneously draws on earlier actions to make links in the affective domain when faced with complex abstract concepts beyond their current level of development (reflective expansion).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: young children, under fives, emotions, emotional behaviour, schemas, cognitive development, behaviour patterns, early years, play
Subjects: L Education > LC Special aspects of education
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
Depositing User: Deborah Offen
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2008 11:51
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2021 09:25

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