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First Part: Conflict in early childhood psychic development
Just a little bit of theory Psychic development in the child Interpersonal conflict in the school settings Preventive education and the adequate handling of interpersonal conflicts
1. Just a little bit of theory....

“The only thing that a child knows is how to live his childhood. To know it is up to the adult”. H. Wallon

In many occasions, I have heard this phrase in the mouth of teachers who attend training workshops, motivated by the legitimate interest of taking advantage of the time they have learning about topics connected to classroom practic

e. Surely this has to do with the frustration generated from having studied several years of a career, where theory had the maximum curricular weight and practice remained relegated to a minimum expression. This has happened to all of us all the time. We finish our college studies, collect our title and it is in our educational work where we become aware that practice is much richer and more complex that what we learned in books. And even more, that many of the contents we studied do not help us answer the innumerable questions that our practice generates.

The problem of "encyclopaedism" in educational programs is not privative of a single level of education. On the contrary, it is present throughout all our training from School to University. In the field of Education, the have been numerous attempts to palliate the problems of performance through modifications in the General Laws of Education, but in no case has there been a rigorous reframing around the methodology of teaching and the suitable and rational selection of contents that link the student with the reality in which he lives. This is how vicious circles take form, and they are difficult to break because these educators are the ones in charge, in turn, of forming the new generations.

In our case, as teachers, we have the possibility of gaining access to an important supply of courses or training workshops, programmed by various public or private organisms and it is in that space where educators express their yearnings to solve the mentioned deficiencies and show the need to work aspects related to their daily practice. Leaving aside the position of some educators that just hopes to find recipes or prescription procedures to apply in their classroom, what most teachers are not willing to accept, is “more of the same thing” that is to say, theoretical approaches dissociated from the reality they face day to day. Then, which should be the sense and the purpose of theory in our training as teachers? To answer this question I would like to tell an anecdote that can be more illustrative than my own statements. It is a historic episode occurred in 1609. Thomas Hariot and Galileo were working in a meticulous observation of the moon. They set out to make some drawings and images from their respective laboratories, using the same material and similar lenses. Once the work was concluded, it happened that both had different images. Galileo's work illustrated the moon with depressions, mountains and rough surfaces, which went against the scientific conception of the time, when it was thought that the moon was smooth, exactly spherical and without any cavity. When Thomas Hariot saw Galileo's drawings, he modified his adding the details that he had not drawn.

The thing to emphasize is that Galileo took a critical position against the scientific conceptions of the period, and added to his knowledge on drawing, it had allowed him to interpret the shadows projected by the bodies on different surfaces and also to consider elements of perspective and chiaroscuro. Galileo, unlike Hariot, had knowledge that allowed him to discover a truth that was hidden under the moon brightness. This shows us the difference between watching and observing. A glance only requires vision, while observation requires knowledge and critical capacity.

However as our object of study is the child, the fundamental task of every teacher, particularly in early childhood education is to remain alert to his multiple demonstrations, to be able to explore and observe beyond what is evident, since the human beings, like the moon, hide rough surfaces, folds and cavities that are not visible at first sight, and that we are not able to discover with just a simple look. But to be able to do this is not enough to just be willing to do it. As we have just verified in Galileo's anecdote, it is necessary to have some previous knowledge that allows us to turn a glance into an examination and a critical attitude before the absolute truths and certainties that give us security.

Psychic development in the child

"The hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can leave them deformed into thousand strange ways. The injured heart of a child shrinks in such way that it remains forever hard and rough as a peach core. Or, on the contrary, it is a heart that ulcerates and swells until it becomes a painful load within the body and any friction presses and wounds it." “The ballad of the sad café ". Carson Mc Culler.

Sigmund Freud said that adults do not understand children because we have forgotten our own childhood. This phrase that at first sight can to be very simple allows us to make a set of reflections around what is a child and what it means to understand him. Many times we have heard the expression, “this is a children’s thing” to lessen importance of situations that worry, disturb or agitate them, as if the feeling that accompanies their display as if it did not have the intensity and the emotional meaning that it has for us, adults.

Freud was right; we have forgotten the avatars and difficulties that we meet on the road towards maturity. We can not even recognize ourselves in that child that we were once and in the emotional disorders that accompanied our slow and painful transition towards adulthood. Of all that, only the anecdotal things remain, what is commented in our near surroundings and perhaps some experiences that persist in our conscious memory. Nevertheless, we are heirs of our infancy, and everything that we are has been kneaded in our first years of relations with the more significant others, from the very moment of our birth.

However, is not easy to bear in mind the unfolding of our own history, to be able to coin a sense of past, present and future in a continuous line. On the contrary, we usually talk about childhood as a completely differentiated phase, separated from what we are today. This generates a separation that causes us to be unaware of the children we work with although many times they are the ones who make us take contact with our feelings and emotions, in spite of not being aware of it.
It would be good to ask ourselves, why we forget it. Perhaps the answer is, as Borges used to say, because memory is permeable to forgetfulness, particularly when it is about events that have caused us pain and suffering. 

Human development in these ages has special characteristics mainly because of the number of changes that follow as an indispensable condition to achieve adaptation to reality. It is certain that these changes, in favorable conditions generate progress and achievements, but it is also true that they are produced through a slow, troubled, and painful process , that tints with anxiety the child’s life. This is precisely the dominant emotional phenomenon in these years, because as H. Wallon states, the development of a human being is not given in a linear way, as if it was a matter of adding up conquests that operate according to an evolutionary law of permanent progress, but, on the contrary, it is the imbalance and the conflict, the characteristic that identifies the nature of this process.

We see it presented in the scope of genetic epistemology. Piaget explains that the development of intelligence occurs based on a shifting between balance and imbalance, allowing for the adaptation to the environment and progressive adaptation to the object of knowledge. And from the psychoanalytical theory, Freud speaks of the essentially troubled nature of development in the construction of the young psyche.

These three theoretical systems, -although there are substantial differences among them that will not be dealt with in this text- conceive conflict as the motor and driving force of development, which allows for a practical and theoretical approach to the subject from a constructive perspective, since as long as there are favorable conditions for suitably overcoming them, conflicts promote development through a dialectical game of assimilations, accommodations, balance and imbalances, ruptures and configurations, that generate and impel permanent changes and restructurings that allow one to reach more harmonic evolutionary stages between one’s own desires and the demands of reality.

If we want to help them, we should know them

To know one another is a difficult task, moreover we can never totally know the soul of the human being, not even our own one. Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese poet said it this way:

How is another person inside? / Who is the one that will know how to dream it? / The soul of the others is a universe/ with which there is no possible communication / with no true understanding. We know nothing about the soul / but of ours. / For the others are just glances and gestures, / there are words, with the supposition of some resemblance deep down”.

The souls of children are glances, gestures and scarce words, which is their language, their way of saying and making us feel their existence. However, for the adults it is often hard to get the enormous dimension they have. When we are children we live in our own universe, populated by images, fantasies, feelings and emotions that surround us, that dwell among us in silence, a universe full of words, looks and gestures given to us by others and that turn us into people, humanize us and cause us to stop being just creatures and become persons. But during the first years we feel the impotence of not being able to say what is happening to us, not even to ourselves, therefore we turn to fantasy that allows us, without us noticing, to fight our fears, anxieties, ambivalences, frustrations, and infantile guilt. It is not easy to be aware of this underground world that populates the soul of the children because, as Freud used to day, we have forgotten most of these experiences although they laid the foundation on which we have been built.

It is frequent to fall in the deceit to believe that the apparently indifferent conduct that a child shows in a painful situation, like the death of a beloved, or the arrival a new sibling, or any situation of separation or loss, is a childish way of living the events. A strong initial impact is diluted later in his play activities and is mixed with enjoyment and fun, turning into an innocent forgetfulness and lack of affectivity.

When we are small we have a very singular way of living and processing pain, to hide it inside, deep inside, and to offer an unworried and indifferent face to the world that watches us and does not stir up because “children are like that”; even the strongest sufferings are soon dispelled in their “unworried and childish spirit”. This is the perception that most adults have of childhood, as an idyllic phase, where the child lives happily, as long as he has available the suitable conditions for his development. But as educators, we know that that it is not true, although some times we cannot escape from the influence exerted on us by that idea.

The daily coexistence with children reveals their private universe, so full, so unique, so private, so unique and so full of sensations, affections, emotions and diverse answers, it tells us of another reality, much more complex in its inside, that is only revealed after a thorough observation and a reflexive and committed attitude compromised with the task of educating, in the amplest sense of the word. 

To educate we need in the first place, to know how the child is to be able to know what are his needs, both physical and psychological, and this implies the will and decision to get training in the practice, that is the one that presents the questions and in the theory that actually allows us to open new doors towards new knowledge. 
We began this chapter specifying the difficulty of know the others and of knowing ourselves. Now we will try to explain how the newborn becomes a person, a human being, to gradually conquer his own identity and a relatively autonomous life.

What is the I and how is it shaped?

When we talked about the “person” we were talking about an identity, a name that designates it, a set of features, beliefs, and values that identify it, we were talking about a personality, an I that implies an affirmation of self in front of the others, a history, a memory, a project of life. 

But this identity, as we know, is shaped by means of a slow process of construction that operates in the scope of affective relations from the very moment of birth, and even before, because when we are born, we are already overwhelmed with the desires of our parents, their yearnings, and the idea of the child they want us to be, which is going to influence in our way of thinking, being and feeling.

Following the ideas of H. Wallon, we can say that personal development is a construction that operates at the expense of another, "the other is the one that constitutes us", says this author, talking about the process in which the infant begins a journey towards individualization, towards one’s own recognition detached from the other, towards a feeling of "being in himself ", to be an I as far as he can recognize the existence of a Not I represented in the beginning by the mother figure or a maternal substitute.

The baby is born with a set of impulses and basic needs that must be satisfied. The initial crying is a reflection, a crying of need. The baby cries because he wants to calm the anxiety that hunger produces on him, but the next crying will become a demand: the baby cries to get food, which already implies his entry into the psychological or symbolic field, because the crying has become a symbol, with which he calls his mother. How does this happen? Let’s see it in a simple way. When the mother goes to feed the baby, it is she who gives the meaning of demand to that first cry. From then on, when the baby cries he is demanding food, next to other needs that transcend the biological. The baby is nourished by his mother’s words that accompany the act of feeding and the emotional and corporal contact. She soothes him by saying “I am coming , soon I will be with you, wait a little bit etc."; in short, she calms him with words that are the symbols with which she is going to communicate from now on and that she can not do without anymore. Thus, the child enters into the field of words and this entry differentiates him from the rest of the living species, and it is this what is going to foster the passage from the biological to the human, the social, and to culture.

Thus, we enter language. From now on, between the child and food there is going to be a field of symbols of extraordinary importance, since a child can be momentarily satisfied with symbols, with words, whereas if we only give him food, and no symbols, he can suffer from analytical depression, that is what Spitz mentions when he makes a reference to children that despite being well taken care of in hospitals in their biological needs, they died from the lack of care and affective contact. 
On the other hand this is important for the child’s development, because it is going to allow the experience of a certain initial differentiation between what is a “need”, (hunger) and a “demand” in the symbolic level, since the request that the child makes goes beyond sheer food: his requests for love, tenderness and a complete set of actions that he has for the mother and that the mother is going to have for him. We could say the mother has translated the need into a field of symbols that represent that need and that from now they will be linked to each other by those symbols. It will be her words, what she tells him, right from the start, what will allow the child to acquire an identity and to develop.

In this sense we can say that the I is the son of ignorance, because the way in which we understand and think, comes from outside, from the words of others, from language, that is exterior and that precedes the human being. All the structure with which we think and that Piaget and Wallon describe as cognitive structure, with which we know and recognize ourselves in our own identity, comes, in fact, from the outside, because it is given by the language, the mother, the father, the others, the culture and everything outside the child. Therefore, we say that the I is the psychic instance more referred to the other because it is in that I where language, ideas, habits, norms, values and the elements we use to adapt to the world are found, being also the place linked to learning. This is a paradox, because this I that serves us to know is, at the same time, as a structure, a place of ignorance. It is an I that knows, but that “does not know” itself.

From another angle this I of identity, is a corporal I that is also built from the affective relation with the mother or maternal replacement. As we know the baby at birth lives an undifferentiated experience between the mother’s body and of his own body. Rather, we would say that the mother’s body, her breast, is lived by the baby as an extension of his own body that is felt in a fragmented way, without a conscience of totality, of unity.

The conscience of a corporal I separated from the other implies a process that gradually occurs within that relation where the mother is going to give him meaning as an other, as a unit separated from her. The child is going to recognize his body as something that belongs to him as the mother reveals this through interaction and affective interchange from which a potential sensory wealth is going to arise with its possibilities for socialization. As far as the mother sees him as a complete body, says Spitz, the baby can feel as a complete body, in an affective, existential level, at first to then give way to a corporal I at a rational level. When the mother loves the child and loves his body, the child will also love himself and will be able to see himself reflected in the mirror and recognize himself as a complete body because he is seeing that body that his mother loves. This way the mother’s body operates as the baby’s experience organizer helping him to leave that state of initial indifferentiation and to build his own body image separated from her body and of the others.

Piaget and Wallon state that a poor corporal experience in these early days of a child’s life would give way to an impoverishment of the subsequent representative thought because the thought is enriched, is fed by the development of images and symbols built from the interrelation with the other and with the physical surroundings. When the child has the opportunity to express himself freely through the spontaneous play of his body in a loving interrelation his experience is lived on a pleasure core that becomes the source of new and enriching experiences. 

Retaking our initial approach where we pointed out the nature of I as an instance that is in contact with reality with knowledge, with learning, with action, at the same time it lacks knowledge on himself, it is important to point out that the psychic structure has other components represented by unconscious levels that the I does not control. Elements of assessment, norms, prohibitions, archetypes, etc., that Freud called the Super I and that operate in a determining way in the construction of the identity and autonomy of the child in these early stages as well as in his future development. This we will deal with further on.

The process of recognition and replacement: foundation of psychic development.

Identifications imply a very complex process since they have a dynamic and conflicting character. To identify oneself with somebody means to take on characteristics from the other, internalize and turn them into something of one’s own. It does not mean to make a copy but it is part of a process in which the subject loses an important emotional and significant object and takes on the attributes of the loved one avoiding in this way their partial loss. It is clear that when we talk about the loss we are not talking of the real loss of the one we love but of a symbolic loss which means that the other stops fulfilling the emotional function that he initially had. An example that clarifies this concept is the nature of the relation that the baby originally has with his mother. As we know, in the beginning of life the child has a total relation with the mother that is going to represent for both an absolute value. 

The baby is going to overwhelm the mother’s life and the child is going to feel that he is everything for her. Seeing it from the mother’s side, the relation with her baby is a mirror relation that gives her a very pleasant sensation of total unity, since biologically the baby is a part of her and in her fantasy, because she was a daughter and had that same sensation with her own mother. Nevertheless, there comes a time when the son is going to notice, and it is desirable that this happens, that he does not hold a total affective place in his mother’s life, but that it is relative one, because there is the father, who cuts off that entire relation so to say, because part of the mother’s affection is deposited on other objects of love, that makes relative the absolute role that the son dreamed of having in her mother’s life. Regarding the father it is not only the concrete person, but what represents as an element that is out of the dual relation between mother and son: the mother’s affective world to where she belongs, her work, her likings, her friends, other children, etc., that aim at the outside of that relation.

The experience of this loss represents a painful moment but very important in the child’s life, because it will give rise to a complex process of replacement that is going to represent the search in a future of what he lost in the past. This would be a sign of psychic development because, somehow, the history of the human beings from this perspective is the history of all the objects lost throughout our life. The loss in a psychological sense is a sum because it allows the subject to take some features from the lost object that are in a certain way, the contents of the learning. For example the child does not only learn the knowledge of the educator but the features of that carrier of education which represents part of the identification process. The other meaningful ones represent identifying roles with which the I gets comfortable taking on certain features and thus causing the biggest processes of learning and development.

This way of conceptualizing the process of creating the identity, we can articulate it with the Psychology concepts of Walloon and Piaget that are more familiar to us, educators. From these theoretical systems we understand that the child takes hold of the object of knowledge by assimilation that is to say, by incorporating the features of the object producing a movement that generates a conflict and an internal alteration of the cognitive structures, (accommodation) and an adjustment or balance between what comes from outside and what he has been able to incorporate and adapt to his own structures. Thus it builds the psyche, that I linked to knowledge that acts in contact with reality and gives account of learning, language, and culture.

The different ways of relating with others shape in the child different interpretations of the reality that represent a set of beliefs and values that are going to be assumed by the I and from which he will obtain identification. But as we already mentioned before, this identification is not a copy but in the creation of I there is a level of autonomy. For example, the mother who is a fundamental affective object is going to generate the child’s identity through words, what the mother tells him about "what is" and "how it is". But a time is going to come in which the son is going to detach himself from that maternal speech, because what the mother tells him, for example: "you are the most beautiful thing in the world", "you are my life", "I adore you more than anybody else", is going to hold a difference between what she says and the way in which she acts with her child. At the same time, the child is going to perceive a difference between what he thinks and feels what he lives and what it is said of him. It is indeed that difference that is going to generate autonomy. Between the mother and the child there is going to be a discordance and is in that space where the development of the unconscious begins.

From another angle, the child always comes to fulfill the fantasies of the parents. But this is not always the case because there is always going to be discordance between what the child is and what the parents wish him to be. If this was not so, if the child fulfilled all the mother’s expectations, there would be serious problems of development because he would not have a space to grow.

The mother, through words, through everything she tells him generates the child’s identity, determining the way in which he sees himself, his I, that is to say, who he is for himself. But there is a field that is not integrated that is not expressed in that I nor in what the mother has said that it is going to generate the child’s unconscious structures. In that place of the psyche is going to rule an opposition to the I, to this I who is ruled by the principle of reality, according to Freud, and that it is going to be in permanent conflict with that other part that it is ruled by the principle of pleasure, that is going to be expressed through fantasy and the field of human’s being desire. This instance is related to what Freud designates as the It that represents the pulse aspect of the psychic structure and that is present from the birth.

The It is under the control of the principle of pleasure that seeks the immediate fulfillment of desires, of sex and aggression drives, without attending to the laws of logic or of causality; it does not know the contradictions and it has no notion of time or space. Just the opposite occurs with the principle of reality that rules the I that is handled with a conscious logic, with language, and takes into account reality and its logical laws of functioning. 

As we can notice these instances of the psyche are troubled. A part struggles for the fulfillment of the child’s desires to annul the distance with the mother that was established at the moment the child noticed that he is not everything for her and that he occupies a relative place in the maternal relation. But on the other hand there is a part of that I called Super I that rules over the I because he has a series of values, norms and prohibitions that generate in the I a determined orientation. Therefore the decisions that generate the identity of that I, do not conform a complete I, making its nature essentially troubled, because a part of him feels and thinks in one way and the other part does it in a different way. The Super I would represent the action. This way when a person thinks and does something, the other regulatory part assesses its meaning. The Super I represents the parent’s norms, their normative aspects with which the I has identified himself, but that generate conflict between the two instances of the psyche. 

Taking into account all of the above, we see that the I is not a monolithic instance as is considered by other theoretical systems, but in its genesis and development there are going to arise and integrate other zones that have different functions and are going to enter in conflict with this part of the conscious I. On the other hand, the structure of the conscience leaves behind a series of decisions that become unconscious. For example the development of that I as we have seen, derives from another one, even from those elements that are not incorporated to that identity, but that remain in the unconscious one, either by ignorance or repression. For that reason we have said that the I is, somehow, the son of ignorance.

It is not necessary to resort to theory to verify, in our own daily experience, that our psychic life is not transparent for us nor for others, and that we have internal conflicts that are not easy to solve because we do not know the causes that motivate them. Nobody can ignore that in our behavior there are unconscious motivations. As teachers we often feel the need to be able to go beyond the obvious, to try to understand the causes of the behavior of our children, to be able to respond to the innumerable questions that generate on us their way of acting, their fears, afflictions, aggressiveness, timidity, specially in the cases in which all this discomfort prevents an adequate development.

Though it is true, our function as teachers it is not to reveal the unconscious of the child. It is important to be able to handle certain knowledge related to the shaping psyche so as not to fall in simplifications that reduce the possibility of orientating our actions in the correct direction. Above all one must try to avoid actions that far from helping complicate the resolution of conflicts. 

What gives structure to the I and that other instance of the I that in psychoanalysis is called Super- I, is given by an set of unconscious contents and by the relation with the parents that is basically problematic. We have already seen that at birth the infant and the mother have a relation where each one represents everything for the other. It is a moment that the baby lives with the satisfaction of being important for his mother, as an ideal situation in which he feels loved and attached to her in an unconditional way. This basic feeling is the one that remains registered in the unconscious for life, what every human being would like to perpetuate. But very soon he is going to realize that it cannot be because he is going to discover that the absolute value that he felt he was for his mother and the unconditional love that he thought he’d have for ever is not going to be so: he is going to be loved but also questioned, that is to say, the mother’s affection is going to start being conditional, depending on what he does, or he does not do. Further on, he is going to discover that there are other people who the mother also loves, the father, other siblings, friends, etc., for which this initial absolute value it is going to be remodeled, allowing future psyche movements to determine his personal development.

In this process the more important parental figure is the father that the child sees as an element of interposition between him and the love for his mother, the figure that causes this split, that makes relative his role in that initial symbiotic relation and imposes prohibitions. This paternal function is precisely what allows the creation of the Super-I through a slow, painful, and complex process because it represents the separation and the ending of the mother’s symbiotic relation. The child incorporates and internalizes the ideals, the norms and the prohibitions, through an idealization and identification process with the father figure, that is going to allow him to think that he can not “be” the father but he can become “like” his father and to have everything that he possesses when will becomes an adult. He is going to pass from an ideal I that occupied an absolute place in the maternal relation to an I with ideals, an idealized I, because when the father emerges all the value that the child had, feeling that he was everything for his mother is going to be placed on the father with whom he is going to identify and appropriate, internalizing his idealizations to try to occupy in the future the place he lost. The norms, values and paternal ideals are what will make up that other regulatory instance that is called Super –I . 
The father’s function in this sense is essential, because if a child was limited by the father - in the case of an absent or repressive father, - he would always be linked to the mother, and he would grow only on the loss of that emotional object. However to not to comply with the paternal function does not mean to be a bad father, in the traditional sense of the term but in the sense of not fulfilling the function of cutting, of separating the symbiotic relation with the mother. For example, when he does not play a role, there is no meaning in the relation to pass it on to the son so that he will perceive it that he is not everything for his mother.

It is important to point out that when we say “father”, we are not only referring to the real figure, but to the “paternal function”. For example, a widowed mother can transmit the paternal function to her son, as long as she recognizes in herself the importance of the man for the woman. Just like when we speak of the mother, we are referring to the person that fulfills the “maternal function”, that is to say, that supplies to the son the field of culture, of society, of the outside.

This differentiation between the person and the function that it exerts is important in child development, because for the son to be able to be a father, he has to understand that his father was not born as a father, but some time before he was a son and some time later he will be a grandfather. That is to say, he is complying with a function. Otherwise, he cannot grow because to develop, he has to know that his dad received the father function from his own father, and he is going to pass it on to him as he will have to do later on. This has a fundamental importance in the child’s development since it will lead him to a dynamics that allows him to wish what his father has: an object of love, to develop his own sexuality, to engender children, going from an absolute place to a social and family structure, to relations that will crack that total fullness. This is what determines the child’s development, because it allows a separation between the present I and the future I with its own ideals that generate the tension of the desire to be, to live, to be transformed to be able to accomplish those ideals, as Maud Mannoni says “to grow in his own name”.

Conflict as the motor of development

To comply with these statutes of the development of the psyche is not an easy task. Quite the contrary, it requires a lot of time and a sustained effort for many years perhaps all life, because all this that is built in the first years of our existence, later has a singular evolution in each subject, depending on the multiple elaborations that each one can carry out based on his future life experiences. However, in our case we will give special attention to these first years of life, when the nuclear elements of identity are built.

In the first place, the brief review that we have carried out of some concepts that sustain the development of the child’s psyche, without pretending to settle a theme as complex as this, prevents us in principle, from assuming a simplified attitude towards the conflicts that the children display in these early years. In the second place we can realize that the development is not linear, but on the contrary, it is conformed by contradictory dialectic and ambivalent movements that generate conflicts in the inner psyche and constitute the sign of growth in the human being, as we have the adequate conditions to solve them. This is so that if there were no conflicts development would not be possible. Genetic Psychology tells us so, from the theory of intelligence of Piaget and the theory of personality stated by Wallon, both demonstrated that conflict is an inherent part of the development of the structures of knowledge.

In the field of affectivity, as we have seen, psychology accounts for the creation of the psyche from a theoretical system that points out its troubled and enormously complex nature, that explains the genesis of a psychic structure as a slow process, full of contradictions between the different instances that make it up, whose integration occurs in a slow process until it achieves the conquest of a strong I that allows the child to achieve an adaptive balance between his impulses and the demands that his social life imposes upon him. 

The child’s life in these years is populated by an internal world full of contradictory, complex and ambivalent feelings that produce a great load of anxiety caused by the difficult process of acquisitions and conquests that allow him to go from a state of absolute dependence of the adults to a relative independence. In this passage there is a confused world of contradictions in which, on one hand, he tends towards immediate satisfaction and on the other he feels limited by external prohibitions, at first and then by his own caution and the reproof that the other part of his I exerts upon him when the norms and moral values have been internalized. 

Psychoanalysis, as we have already seen, symbolizes these aspects of internal experience with the terms of It, I and Super I, conscious and unconscious as a form of ordering and understanding the mental processes. Which does not mean a real division of our mind but different aspects of it that have different functions whose development and integration are signs of the construction and development of the psychic structure.

Two dimensions of the conflict

From this theoretical system there are two dimensions in the concept of conflict:
A) Internal, intra-psychic or intra-subjective dimension. 
B) External, interpersonal dimension.

The Internal dimension is linked to the subjective process of development that, as we have already pointed out is a contradictory, ambivalent and controversial process. Therefore, when we speak of child conflicts it should be clear to us this differentiation, among other things, to be able to determine which conflicts are a natural part of the process of development, and their difference with symptoms that is to say, pathologies that deserve another operating and theoretical treatment. Differentiating these categories is of great use for educators, to be able to determine what types of conflicts we can handle through an educational intervention, and which deserve professional psychological or psychiatric attention, and that exceed our role and possibilities.

When we speak of external or interpersonal conflicts, we refer to all the conflictive reactions caused by situation of collision of interests or motivations between two or more children, between a child and the group or between the child and the adult. As we know, at these ages there are frequent troubled reactions and they deserve a pedagogical intervention. 

The nature of the human being defies simple analyses and skilful divisions. Therefore, we cannot draw a dividing line between external and internal conflicts, since the characteristics of child development, their own contradictions and ambivalent feelings, their incapacity to discern and conceptualize, predispose the children to behavioral demonstrations that require the guidance from the educator. But let’s go step by step.

Intra- subjective conflict

For the child to develop his intelligence and thinking from the construction of sensory motor schemes to operational thinking, the educator should stimulate the creation and the passage from a cognitive conflict to another of greater complexity because, otherwise, the child would not be able to develop his thinking. Knowledge and learning are not acquired based on a process of progressive and gradual accumulation as many would consider it but by increasingly complex experiences caused by the conflict that takes place between the child’s own structures of knowledge and the new knowledge that he must incorporate from the outside. The development of intelligence and learning depends on the overcoming of those conflicts. Therefore, we cannot consider conflict as a harmful element that must be eliminated, but quite the contrary.

Something similar happens in the field of psychic development. The creation of the psychic structure shares the same order, the same regulation. Ever since the human being is born he must confront conflicting, intra subjective situations implicit in the process of creating his internal reality and linked to the demands imposed by reality, the others, specially parents and the adult world, embodied in culture, the moral norms of behavior with which he will have to deal with in the future

This learning is not given by simple imitation because if we explained it that way we would not be able to understand the reason why the child is going to adhere to norms and prohibitions that by no means are gratifying to him, but on the contrary, limit his natural need to obtain immediate satisfaction to his desires and needs. As we have previously seen, those norms, that moral regulation is incorporated by a process of loss and replacement of the emotional object through idealizations and identifications with the parental beings that have a great meaning for the child (parents, teachers, brothers...). In order not to partially lose the object, he takes the features and the norms of the other as a way of retaining it, of making it his own. This is what we saw in synthetic terms regarding the creation of identity and the child’s process of autonomy.

All this dynamics has as purpose the individualization, since at first we constitute a peculiar unit with the other that causes an enormous pleasure manifested in the fantasy of unity, of totality, of absolute value, that remains relegated in the unconscious. There is where we find contradictions and ambivalence to which we are subject in this process of building identity and autonomy. This cannot be given without attending to the confrontation between our desire of unit, of the whole and the demand of autonomy claimed by our own development. In this process we face conflicts that are always painful to overcome but if we don’t adequate do so, they would generate an stagnation of growth.

In sum, we can indicate the most significant problems than distress a child at these ages: frustration from weaning, dependence and impotence in front of the adult, aggressive impulses caused by dentition, destructive impulses derived from the new possibilities allowed to him by the ability to walk, the control of his sphincters, the ambivalent feelings of love and hatred, the feeling of guilt, the feeling of exclusion from the paternal relation, the acceptance of his place in the family structure, the anguish of losing loved objects, the rivalry and fraternal jealousy, the acceptance of norms and statutes of moral behavior, the adaptation to school reality and the feeling of abandonment, etc., to name the most important. All these problems are expressed in the conflictive behaviors that educators know so well and that represent the more important and heaviest burden of our educational action, as the child’s good performance in the field of cognitive learning completely depends on his relative emotional stability. The way to handle these conflicts is decisive in a double sense: the preventive one and the formative although both aspects constitute an interdependent unit. 

When we speak of prevention we do not do it in the traditional sense that would suppose the elimination of the conflict. It is about an action that would allow the child to resolve it adequately to be able to gain access to another, more advanced, level of confrontation, of an action that allows him to solve the existing contradiction between his desires and the need to satisfy them and the demands and limits created by reality represented by that instance of the I that symbolizes the norms and values, (Super I) that in a first moment would came from outside and have been assumed during his development. In this slow process a group of meanings that the child does not know because he does not know exactly how they have been formed as they have been given to him by the others begin to remain in the unconscious. Also because the mechanisms of defense of the own I have eliminated from the conscience contents that were rejected by the Super I that represents the ideals, aspirations, moral prohibitions, etc., and exercises self-censorship. In basic terms it could be said that it is a confrontation between the principle of pleasure and the principle of reality. This means from the conception that we have been using that the adequate evolution of the child is characterized by the diminishing of the principle of pleasure (that seeks in a direct way the discharge of impulses and the fulfillment of desires) and the increasing adaptation to reality that will allow him to build a strong I capable of controlling his own behavior according to the demands imposed by social and cultural life.

What should be our contribution to obtain this purpose from the field of education? The first thing to determine is the difference existing between normal conflicts of development and the symptoms, as both phenomena have their own characteristics and they require specific intervention. In the later cases the teachers should not act as therapists, and it is important to know how to perceive them to be able to take the decision to derive the cases to specialized professionals.

Development conflicts and their symptoms

Many approaches used by teachers when looking for guidance to handle these aspects of development in a conscious and responsible way. However, before we look at them we need to clearly differentiate what is a development conflict and what is a symptom. From our perspective a symptom is a symbol but as opposed to a drawing or a word that are also symbols, this is problematic, because it expresses a content repressed by the child – or the adult – that cannot be dealt with in a direct way. Conscience rejects that content of desire and expresses it through a symbol that the person is unaware of. For example, the child that wets his bed, has a phobia to animals, resists eating solid food, masturbates compulsively, etc., does not know why this is happening to him. In addition, the teacher or the psychologist does not know it because it is only the visible part of a structure that it is not seen and is what is producing it. A graphic example that clarifies this concept is the resemblance with an iceberg in which we can only see the upper part, the one that is above the sea level but the other part that is hidden is invisible to the eyes of the observer. The tip of the iceberg would represent the conduct, the obvious thing while the invisible part represents that other part of the structure of which behavior is part but that is not seen. The theoretical systems that work with the modification of behavior respond to the visible part trying to get rid of the symptom but without doing alterations in the submerged area that is connected to the behavior.

An example can help clarify this. A boy who wants to sleep with his mom and does it only when dad is away (a situation that it is very common) begins to shape a fear to the father that he cannot overcome, therefore he represses it and he transfers it toward other objects for example, animals or darkness, etc., or passes from one object to another, becoming more complex until the awareness of the origin of the symptom is lost. He makes different combinations to develop a web of representations until a symbol is formed that expresses contents that he does not know but that lead to the original conflict that arose between what is repressed and what represses it: that is the symptom. 

Let us take the same symptom (the desire to sleep with the mother or with the parents and the prohibition to do so) and let us see the difference between the symptom and the conflict of development. In the case of the symptom, there was a displacement of the fear to the father towards other objects (because the fear to the father is rejected) and that fear remained stagnant, paralyzed in the fear to the animal or to another concrete object. But there is a possibility that the child can turn that desire into a permanent yearning that he is not going to be able to satisfy with his mother but he is going to be able to do it with a doll, or a teddy bear, or any other emotional object in such a way that the desire circulates towards other objects and the fundamental object is substituted by other objects up to the moment in the future when he will be able to satisfy his desire with his couple. As we can see it is not a matter of eliminating the desire but to try to satisfy in another way, not through a symptom.

Educators should give the child the conditions to articulate his desires and yearnings between the different instances of the psyche, between the conscious and unconscious elements in such a way that those conflicts and their solution will encourage the development of a mature personality. This implies, in the first term, to observe the child with the instruments that we have (the knowledge on child development) so that this observation can guide our actions and we should always be aware that all the troubled behaviors of the children have a meaning and they comply a function. A meaning, because they are manifestations of something that is happening inside them and that the children do not know and their function is to promote development. 

Perhaps the most powerful feeling of pain for human beings is the experience of abandonment; this fantasy strongly presses the hearts of children in these ages, and the one that causes a set of demonstrations that configure their anguishes. We previously said that development is directly related to the experience of loss not in real terms but referred to the function played by objects of affection. This will last all life because it can happen that an adult encloses himself in a symbiotic relation to relive or to update his desire to be everything for the other person. In this case, there is no personal development because the couple is self sufficient and personal growth is lived as a danger, as personal development becomes a threat of loss of the other. As there are not lacks, something missing, the psychic movements that tend to cover those lacks are cancelled, or what is the same, to substitute that lack with new contents that they develop the person. In this sense, we can say that the human, or what is the same, to substitute that lack with new context to develop the person. In this sense, we can say that the human being is the sum of all the objects symbolically lost during his life. The loss is not bad, above all when it allows the child boy to take some characteristics of the beloved object as a way of to heal that loss. Thus the contents of the learning are acquired, which is part of the process of identification. It is clear that this process is complex and painful, and the task of the educators, in general terms, is to facilitate the conditions so that the boy can carry it out in an environment of stability, security, affection and confidence. 

Creating the conditions so that the child can solve his intra psyche conflicts adequately means in the first place to be aware that each one possesses a private way of processing his experiences, a singular way to form to metabolize the contents of his internal world, that does not allow in any case to apply homogeneous procedures that would be adequate and efficient for at all instances. It is important to emphasize this that seems obvious because we all know that there are theoretical approaches that present more or less standard solutions for similar behavior demonstrations, because their objective is to eliminate the symptoms through mechanisms based on positive or negative reinforcements or even applying punishment. Subjectivity is conceived as a problem, something that we must make disappear to avoid that demonstration.

From a psychodynamic point of view, subjectivity is the base from which we set out to make another thing grow. The need for the child to clarify his affectivity rises in such a way that he can work out and elaborate his conflict. This supposes to be able to perform internal movements that allow carrying out replacements, identifications and displacements that are a sign of psychic development. In these ages as we know, the verbal expression of the child is scarce, insufficient to carry out an elaboration based on conceptualization and language but he has a privileged means of expression: play.

Play as the natural setting for conflict elaboration

Independently of the theoretical perspective that each one may have, it can be confirmed that play is what sustains child development. For example from Genetic psychology the outline and structures detailed by Piaget and Wallon in theoretical abstract terms, we are able “to see” them personified through play activities, that is to say, play would be the concrete version of what has been theoretically expressed. From the psychodynamic point of view, this is also the same: all the structures that allude to unconscious fantasies, to identification, to identity, are organized through play or more exactly taking Winnicott´s expression of “play”. This use of the infinitive represents the idea of an open activity, of a child opening to the world where there is a constant exchange between structures that are developing and the possibilities that reality gives him. We could say that play is the way that the child has to think, to judge and to feel.

Due to the importance of this topic, we are going to study it more in depth further on, but at this time, we consider that it would be useful to state some aspects related to the playful activity of children as a creative element of new structures that encourage elaborating conflicts and overcoming them.

The first thing we should point out is that play is not something that the child does but, rather, the way he lives, his “habitat”, as from the way he plays we can know aspects linked to his emotional health. Everything that happens inside the child’s mind is determining his way of playing: it is his secret language, the path that connects him with his conscious and unconscious world that is hard for him to express with words and that in most cases he has motivations that he does not know. Children have feelings that can only be recognize through playful fantasies that they represent in reality, by means of which they solve problems that have remained pending in the past and current worries. Therefore, it is important that educators learn how to go on that road and share that language to be able to go along with them and to facilitate the task of solving the development conflicts through play, establishing a bridge between his fantastic universe and reality.

The play in childhood

To attain a satisfactory quality of life it is necessary that we integrate our inner and outer world in a suitable way: that is the challenge of human development in this early stage. When we are very young those worlds remain for a time separated and reality often is presented as rough and unsatisfactory. For that reason we make use of fantasy to try to increase our capacity to confront reality.

Play has an initial nature, that is to say, it constitutes the base of development from the point of view of experience because the child is organizing himself through it. What conceptually is known as a system of presence and absence has its origin in apparently very simple games but that constitute the base of functions of symbolic organization and they promote the process of discovery of other beings and of his own I. For example, when the baby or a small child plays manipulating food and becomes dirty with it, he organizes himself as a body being mixing with it and at the same time differentiating from what comes from the outside. In a game of peek a boo that the child often plays with the mother and adults he discovers himself by being perceived by the others and discovers the others at the same time; this allows him to organize himself in relation to the other and the other in relation with him, something that encourages the formation of his individuality. On the other hand, it provides him with the necessary security because, although his mother and he don’t see each other for a moment, the emotional contact is not lost as there is always a reunion. This prepares him to be able to assume the mother’s absence for longer periods of time and prevents the child from feeling excessive anxiety before temporary separations from her, being able to experience through play that is not necessary for her to be present all the time to have the certainty that the contact is not lost.

Another fundamental function of play further on is “to clarify affectivity”. In fantasy in the unconscious, there are no rules and neither contradiction nor rational logic, or limitations of any kind; but when the child represents his fantasies by means of a playful activity he tests the limits that reality imposes upon him. For example, aggressive impulses and the desires to satisfy them allow the child when he plays to realize the consequences of his conduct. If a child has desires to attack his brother and he fantasizes with striking and destroying him, when this fantasy is done in the symbolic game destroying his doll, he will soon be able “to see” what happens when he is left to answer his need to satisfy his aggressive impulses and to know what his desire is all about. This would not be possible if the desire had been kept in the background of pure fantasy that would cause an accumulation of emotional tension that probably would have its expression in aggressive behaviors toward his brother, another child or towards himself, by the guilt that his own desire inflicts upon him.

Another example will clarify the role of play in learning control. If, as often happens, a child builds constructions and knocks them down not only does he have the opportunity to express his aggressive impulses. We have to keep in mind that while the child builds a structure he has to consider, despite his imaginative desires, the limitations that reality imposes upon him because if he does not respect the laws of gravity, etc. he would not be able to obtain his purpose. When he has built his construction and he decides to destroy it what he tries to reaffirm is his control in an environment that has puts up resistance to him. But when he knocks down the construction he realizes that he can only exercise that absolute control in a chaotic situation and he will learn through this type of activities to harmonize the demands of his internal reality with those present in the outside reality.

The hide and seek game fulfils a function of reassurance. The success of the activity depends on his capability to reach a “safe” place by his own means a “base” that symbolizes the house, the home. This unconsciously means for the child the possibility to go into the world (avoiding the dangers posed by his “chasers”), and to be able to return later to a safe place. 

Due to his age and limitations in the way of thinking the child does not consciously ask himself about the problems that affect him nor does he choose the games in a premeditated way to try to solve some conflict but clinical and theoretical studies of children offer us information and evidence on the meaning of the play activity of children as the creator of new structures and as a setting to solve conflicts. This is why, from the psychodynamic point of view, childhood therapy is carried out through play.

There are certain characteristics that we should keep in mind regarding children’s games especially on the way they operate. There are complex emotional situations that deeply impress the child and that he is not able to understand at one time this is why many times he divides his activity in more manageable fragments representing only some aspect of the situation as if it was the only significant episode. At least, this is what adults often think. For example, if a child has suffered a commotion because he saw a car accident, possibly he will play representing some aspect of what he has experienced but that does not mean that there would be other elements from the same situation that he would need to develop in due time. Another characteristic that is always present is the repetition of the same game, especially when it is a matter of solitary play. Leaving aside cases where children play in a compulsive way with a single object in which case it is not a game but an obsessive repetition of some well known thing, all children show a tendency to repeat repeatedly an activity with the same concentration and initial enthusiasm. We frequently see how children that are in the age to control sphincters delight themselves insistently filling and emptying some container with sand, rice, blocks or small toys. 

The theme of sphincter control that so many times is presented to us, parents and educators, as a difficult problem to undertake constitutes an important worry for the child because it is the first object that comes out of his body. He feels a lot of curiosity and at the same time it produces anguish in him to know if what he is losing is valuable. On the other hand, the anxiety of parents and adults regarding everything that surrounds this fact (when he does it, where, etc.) and the power they exert in relation to the child as to the moment when he should begin to control it, or the strict prohibition to explores his excrements produce in him an important conflict between the desire to feel as an owner and to rule his own body and the paternal authority that imposes norms and prohibitions. The child feels placed in a role of passiveness, forced to do what his parents tell him. This internal reality is the one that the child devises with games as the one mentioned, trying to compensate on one hand the situation of feeling pushed to do what their parents tell him, and on the other, trying to control the anxiety he feels and the fantasy of losing his excrements. This game of filling and emptying a container shows him that nothing is lost for ever, and to play with water and sand allows him to substitute satisfactorily the exploration and manipulation of his excrements. 

The repetition of a determined game has the value of allowing the child to dominate difficult experiences and to calm his anguish. So that if a child insists on the same activity for some time, it is probable that it is not easy for him to solve some conflict that causes him anguish. In this sense, educators should be alert of the family and personal situation of each child to monitor his emotional process through their play activity, and to determine the convenience of our intervention in a specific moment.

Teacher’s interventions in children’s play

The moment and the way of intervening in the child play activity is a theme that resists the application of fixed rules and generalizations. Each child establishes his singular way to solve his internal conflicts even without knowing that he is doing it. They choose to play in reality their fantasies without being aware that they are trying to solve their anguish or the frustrations caused by a reality that is hostile to them. The most important thing that educators should keep in mind is that activity that may seem disturbing, has a sense and some internal laws that should be respected because as long as the child has freely chosen what he wants to play, that activity possesses a bond with a set of desires and impulses that represent him and it is exactly this link that turns the activity in a generator of new learning.

Many times our pedagogical vocation prompts us to intervene with questions, explanations or suggestions that in our understanding help the child in the achievement of specific acquisitions, promote the development or the passage into another type of game, to limit the repetition, when in reality the best thing would be to leave the child to solve in “his own way” the development of the activity and to decide the time he is going to remain in it. This does not mean that the teacher should never intervene. What one must try to avoid is to interfere in the process that the child is carrying out “to improve it”, asking questions, stating our approval or showing an excessive interest to discover the content of his fantasies because in this way we are eliminating the possibility for the child to clarify them by himself.

There are cases in which the intervention of the teacher is of fundamental importance to make the child’s process evolve. For example, when we perceive that he is stagnating in an activity that far from allowing him a development and an opening towards new things, keeps him in a dynamics of compulsive repetition with a single object, or he plays in a much-reduced area. In those cases knowing the cause of his difficulty to link to something new that can be related to a type of symbiotic relation with the mother, the teacher can intervene first trying to share the game with the child and also to stimulate little by little, by incorporating other elements, an opening towards a more open field. Similarly, the child that takes refuge in pure fantasy without keeping in mind the reality that we see, needs the teacher as the bridge between his fantasy world and reality, stimulating the desire to manipulate objects with which he can link in a creative way, without pressures that could reinforce his shyness. In these cases, the use of mediating elements such as balls or ropes is of great help because they increase the relation with the teacher and they prepare the road for closeness and an exchange that increases with time.

There are innumerable situations that are presented daily in the school environment and that deserve the intervention of the educator. It is understood for intervention not only the active incorporation to the activity of the child, but also as an attitude of presence through looks, gestures or some adequate observations. It is a matter of avoiding radical actions: either being fully incorporated in the game and transforming it, or remaining out of it totally. Finally, we can indicate that the construction process of the psyche has its concrete expression in play because it is what the internal movement of the child psychological processes represents, and represents him as a person. Everything that allows play to flow and generate learning (and we are not only referring to the cognitive learning, but fundamentally to the emotional contents) is constructive for the child in itself and implies promoting and increasing his development. 

Interpersonal conflict in the school settings

What is an interpersonal conflict?

In general, terms, we can define conflict as a fact that occurs between two or more people than act to obtain objectives or goals that turn out to be incompatible. Life in relation is a generator of conflicts because the human nature is essentially troubled and complex. Therefore, we should not consider interpersonal conflict as something bad in itself, but as something natural, consubstantial to relations, as part of life where the quality of communication operates as a regulating element.

Nevertheless, there is a way to conceive conflict as something negative, as if it was a harmful, strange element that one must make disappear in favor of establishing ideal, harmonic interpersonal relations, as a condition to create a harmonic life and peaceful coexistence. This produces a feeling of fear and rejection towards conflict that impedes to adopt a constructive and realistic position that turns conflict into an opportunity to change and acquire new learning.

Genetic Psychology shows that the ontogenetic development of human being is built on a process of reciprocal relations between the subject and the physical and human environment, marked by difficulties whose overcoming generates new learning acquisitions and an adjustment to the social environment. The teacher, and specially the early childhood educator has the responsibility of being aware of the inevitable intra-subjective and interpersonal conflicts that come up in the course of the development of the children, taking into account their evolutionary level, to provide them with suitable conditions that allow them to overcome them successfully. The attainment of this purpose depends fundamentally on the availability to establish a communication style that allows for sensible listening and a systematic and conscious observation of their manifestations. Perhaps it would be helpful to make a brief digression to clarify what we are talking about, when we speak of communication, understanding that this process is the base of all educational and social activity.

Two theoretical approaches on the communication process

We are used to considering communication as a process by means of which someone sends an elaborated message to a receiver who decodes it using a common code. The content of the message has an objective and explicit value, because the word serves in this case just to name the reality, to label it. On the other hand, reality is conceived as a given, something natural to which man is related to in an immediate way because he lives in it.

Genetic Psychology maintains a very different position. This approach maintains that the human being is not related to the real thing in a direct or immediate way, by the single fact of being in the world. The baby for example, does not understand the knowledge of space, conservation, or object, in a direct way as they imply, as we know, very complex constructions. Reality is the product of a human creation, in which symbolic elements of order between the subject and the means take part from which man receives and organizes reality. The relation with reality is intermediated by a child's creation: the child organizes the space, the time, the objects and the culture, from the sensations, perceptions and configurations of the cognitive type (structures of knowledge) and of ideological type that cause each person to see the same fact from "his own reality".

Here the points of view of Genetic Psychology and Psychoanalytic Theory converge. For Psychoanalysis natural reality, the reality that is considered as a given does not exist. Only "psychic reality" exists and it is also formed by structures that account for the real thing. Reality is something that human being creates through illustrations that constitute the base of psychic character, where the real thing is mixed with fantasy and unconscious elements. What we want to emphasize regarding communication and language is that man is related to the physical and human surroundings from an internal reality, from a "psychic reality”, he communicates through a set of meanings, ideas and personal concepts, and many times they do not match with the outer objective reality. Our structure of language and thought helps us to receive reality in a certain way and to organize the content of the language used by others according to our field of meanings. On the other hand, taking into account the nature of the psyche, we can say that in this psychic reality there are conscious elements that are actually expressed in the practice and contained unconscious elements that are not going to be expressed and that compose that set of meanings that also comprise the psychic reality. The communicative process, if we take into account what has been said, is not such a simple process as we used to see it from the theory of communication. When a person tries to communicate some content to another one, the explicit thing, the evident could be compared with the visible part of an "iceberg" that we previously made reference to, that is placed on another part that is hidden and that would represent part of the psychic structure that the Psychoanalysis refers to.

From these concepts we cannot derive elements of practical or methodological order for the pedagogical action but they have the value of giving a general orientation that prevents us from falling into simplifications, and it helps us to notice the complexity of the human phenomenon. As educators we are not in conditions and it is not our competence either, to go deep into the analysis of the unconscious elements that take part in the communicative relation, but to know that other contents exist beyond the declared ones in the expressions of the children and in our own ones, and sets us up in another way towards the transcendental task of mediation and communication that we must assume as educators.

Relational conflicts in early childhood

Regarding childhood conflicts, the important thing is to try to intervene to avoid aggressive or violent conducts. Resentment, hatred or jealousy, are inherent feelings to human condition the same way as love, consideration, generosity or kindness. That is, the educator's action becomes essential to help form, through a suitable intervention, as much in the prevention scope as in the solution, human beings that are able to reflect and assume a critical attitude towards our own behavior, being able to use conflict to generate changes that encourage their personal development. A person gets to be assertive in the field of social relations if he has been trained for it from the early years of his life. There are many diverse factors that influence in the shaping of the personality, but the work that is carried out by education in the early years has an extraordinary importance.

Educating to live together: a project for the Centre

The first thing that we must take into consideration when we talk about conflicts in the school is that we are approaching a complex problem, not only for its nature, but because the school institution is part of the social relations that go beyond the school. Society, family and school are live systems that are in permanent communicative interaction and what happens in one of them inevitably has repercussions in the others. The school community constitutes at the same time an ample system in which we can identify several levels of interaction: supervisor-directors, director-teachers, teachers with each other, teacher-students, students with each other, in a relational and communicative crossing with a circular dynamics.

The will and determination of an educator or the educators of the center is not enough to face the challenges that the task of educating for coexistence entails. It is necessary that there is an educational project for the center, around which common yearnings and objectives are conjugated on the base of shared criteria and values. In a few words, an educative set of goals that stimulates, impels and orients educational action.

When this does not happen, we encounter the difficulties characteristic of a dysfunctional relational system that prevent good communication between the different components of the system and a lack of coherence and continuity in the educative action. It is also certain that a school can have an educative set of goals according to innovating pedagogic values, without this leading towards a coherent practice that corresponds with the enunciated principles. One thing is the words and another one the "spirit of the words". With this we want to indicate that often from so much hearing and reading the well-meant intentions and objectives present in the Early Childhood Education programs, words become empty of content; it also happens often that while using the same words we are talking about different concepts. Let us think about the unanimous agreement generated by objectives such as "development of creative capacity ", "autonomy", "critical spirit", "intelligence", "mutual respect", etc., when the real practice operates in the opposite sense to the attainment of those purposes.

There is no single way to conceive creativity, criteria, autonomy or intelligence. Piaget complained of the feeble interpretation that some times was made of his formulations, although in the language of his followers an enthusiastic acceptance of his principles was reflected. The same happens with postulates of New School or the Modern School represented by that extraordinary pedagogue that was Celestine Freinet, to whom pedagogy owes, along with others thinkers, an essential transformation in the way to conceive education, learning and the relation between teacher and students. Much has been written and model experiences have been made in the education field and education throughout the last century. These have brought about the concretion of innovating educational projects that we can see at present time, but are still exceptional cases. In many cases, educational practice responds to old and, in many cases outdated, pedagogical criteria. Until not long ago the 0-3 years it was considered again as “assistance" an expression of a backwards movement in the field of pedagogical ideas that obviously demonstrates that there is a need for a long time to go by so that obsolete concepts are definitely abandoned. The production of ideas in the field of education does not always have a parallel pedagogical practice, and perhaps one of the causes would be the power of the institutions to resist changes and transformations.

There are, at present time, schools where the classrooms including those of Infantile Education, are designed with fixed tables and chairs in rows to prevent mobility and to foster "discipline". Silence and order are valued as a manifestation of good teacher expertise, because noise and disorder are signs of an uncontrolled class. This reality expresses an extreme backward position in pedagogical thinking but without getting to this extreme, there are mixed situations that maintain bad remains of philosophical tradition that considered the body and the mind separately, the affective and the cognitive and that in the pedagogical level have had a deep influence.

In our educational system, beyond the written pronouncements in the curriculum, education is directed towards the intellect, assumed as an independent entity from the body and feelings. Although rationally we know that the human being is not divided, these ancestral ideas remain as an assumption on which the curricular program is based. The body and the movement have their time and specific space during recess and in the physical education class. Intelligence, the privileged object of the educational task occupies the centre of all the activity and monopolizes the greater interest from the planning point of view. Emotional education lacks pedagogical status to such a point that in many centers the children whose parents have chosen the option of an “alternative” activity take this class as an alternative to religion. In Early Childhood Education, one hour per week is dedicated to it and it is implemented according to criteria of each teacher as far as the content of the activity.

When we gathered information in the schools, the teachers told us that they did not have any specific planning for that subject and frequently occupied it for academic reinforcement tasks, mainly in the second cycle where the insistence that the children entering primary school knowing how to read and write, constitutes one of the most important purposes at this stage. The situation does not vary too much in primary schools. We know teachers that with a great dose of intuition and generosity help the children "to speak out” to talk about the problems that afflict them, and to try to orient them in the reflection and awareness of the emotional and interaction problems that they face in their daily life in the school and social setting. The emotional education of our children is not a relevant worry within our educational system or, at least, it is not comparable to the interest that exists in relation to intellectual formation. Luckily, this situation is being reviewed now.

Walloon tells us about the inter-relation between body and emotions in his theory of emotions and closer in time R. Damasio, mentioned by Sastre and Marimon in his book “Conflict resolution and emotional learning" (2004), emphasizes that emotions and thoughts and their content of have a corporal repercussion since their action does not operate just in the brain but is transmitted to different organs through the nervous system. On the other hand, these physical states affect their operation and effectiveness. In his own words: "feelings have the last word when it refers to the way in which the rest of the brain and cognition take care of their affairs". These theoretical considerations are easy to state if we turn to our own personal experience, and what we can observe from the experience with the children that we work with. Nevertheless, the force of tradition, which slips into people's mind, “stealthily" suffocates the forcefulness of the evidences and common sense. Proof of this is the little importance assigned to emotional education in school programs. There is no plan that takes into consideration the emotional development of children as a fundamental aspect. The contents and objectives of academic subjects are programmed in detail and civic formation is left to improvisation as if it was thought that children and young people should obtain by themselves an education that allows them to approach one of the most important aspects of their life, as is to reconcile their personal life with their social experience.

The systematic attention that children receive in the emotional development area is directed towards the ones that show behavioral problems, or some disturbance that prevents them from having a good academic development, in which cases they are separated from the rest of their classmates to receive specialized attention. This in some cases causes a new outbreak of the problem or as a lesser evil, its relapse. It is necessary to conceive another way to order the needs that education must take care of from the first years of schooling. We need to become aware that to attend the children's emotional development implies to work with the complete school group handling the relational conflicts at the same time as the bases for the development of their personality are created.

As we said in the beginning, the school is a system of relations that is part of other systems that include it, (society, family, etc.). It operates as a testing ground of the set of conceptions, social ideas and predominant values at any given time. In addition, the school community constitutes in itself a system of relations that reproduces the effective guidelines in the social and family system. To be able to stimulate continuous reflection, to produce proposals for change and to work jointly in the concretion of those proposals is the great challenge faced by the Early Childhood Education Center as an institution. The determination of teachers will not be enough, if they do not feel supported by a group that endorses and stimulates their work.

For education for coexistence to be responsibly carried out it must be part of a coherent educational project of the center, which means to harmonize a style of pedagogical practice with the values that we wanted to transmit. The objectives stated for a civic formation cannot be in conflict with a pedagogical practice that in its didactic aspects and methodological promotes opposite behaviors to the values in which it is expected to educate. An authoritarian, repressive education style and a transmissible manner of education, will limit the possibility to generate responsible attitudes, autonomy, tolerance, self-criticism and respect towards the positions of others. Equally, the type of relation and communication that is establishes between adults in the school space constitutes a live example that operates with far more forcefulness than the moralizing sermons that completely lack any pedagogical effectiveness.

Preventive education and the adequate handling of interpersonal conflicts

The early childhood center, building space to live together

To learn to coexist in solidarity and in a cooperative way should be one of the main educational objectives of the Early Childhood Education Center . It is not an easy task as we are working with human beings in a stage of their life of extraordinary complexity, as we have already remarked. In this task, the school is committed as an institution in charge of designing an educational proposal that goes beyond words, that generates an atmosphere of complicity and collective enthusiasm to assume among all, in a cooperative way, one of the greatest challenges: to educate to build good people.

The example of pleasant teamwork within the school constitutes one of the most powerful methods to transmit the importance of cooperation, the team work and solidarity. The human environment in which children live their experiences within the school must constitute a live example of the behaviors that adults want to stimulate. The way in which adults (not only educators, but all the members of the school community) interrelate, share, dissent, cooperate and resolve their differences, is perceived by the children in a direct way, perhaps much more than what we usually realize and with an impact that fully surpasses the force of words. From these behaviors the child learns values, attitudes, and general guidelines that he incorporates as models to imitate, as the creation of his identity is based in the incorporation of characteristics and conducts that he observes in others, especially in the more significant ones from the emotional point of view. This model constitutes the base of his social experience.

Really, the school as an institution has a clear responsibility in the achievement of the purposes linked to education for coexistence: the demand to reflect responsibly on the attitudes assumed by the adults, among them the way to solve their difficulties and to work in common, with the purpose to create a human environment that offers the children an atmosphere of security and stability. To be aware of the way they operate as a team constitutes the most effective method, because the guidelines of socialization of the children depend largely on the socialized work of the adults.

Emotional education

"If in an early childhood education center we could accompany the children in the beginning of the process of knowing themselves and the others, in recognizing, caring and respecting the differences, other ways of being, ways of life, of understanding the world we would already have done enough. But we must be aware that things take their time and that in these early stages everything is simply a "beginning", as for the young child reality only takes place by being in his own center. Also he bypassed that fundamental place that it is not other that his own identity, there would be no place later on to consider hardly anything as good, not even values as important as freedom, equality, happiness, justice, respect or knowledge "

With these words begins Carmen Navarrese Diez to talk about the sense of the education in her book "The floor below" and I wanted to quote her here because she expresses with simplicity and clarity the importance of the affective education in these ages and the role that pedagogy must assume in the training of the minds and hearts of the children so they can become good men and women in the future.

I have often heard teachers of Infantile Education say that when they stop to reflect on what they demand from children in terms of emotional and cognitive maturity they notice that it is too much for what the children are able to give of themselves. Sometimes, although we clearly know their limitations we insist on achieving in a short time the fulfillment of norms, rules of social behavior, habits of cooperation, and solidarity, autonomous and tolerant behaviors. This happens, in part, because of the anxiety of the adults that prevents us from respecting their rate of development, and for the fear of not being able to fulfill the demands imposed on us by the curriculum and program. Perhaps a change of point of view would make us analyze the problem from another perspective. Instead of trying to teach civic values through very well reasoned artificial and moral lessons to the children, we could go along with them in their process of learning everything they need to know to relate to themselves and to others. To learn to see oneself as an "other" with his own identity, to control his aggressive impulses, to feel and to be able to know what one feels, to understand what others feel, to have confidence in himself and in others, to express his emotions, to accept frustrations, to control the anxiety that the unknown creates on him, to accept mistakes, to defend himself, to bear separations and to undertake new searches, to mend the losses, to make a positive assessment of oneself, in short, for all that Francoise Dolto calls "the difficulty of living" in his book by the same name.

As we said at the beginning, conflicts are inherent to the development of the human being, and they never end throughout all the life cycle. However, in the early childhood stage we find condensed in a few years the full registry of feelings and emotions that are going to be with us during all our life and that originate subjective and interpersonal conflicts that we should learn to manage to achieve a good quality of life.

Helping to approach conflicts from a positive perspective is, indeed, the essence of our work as educators. For this, it is necessary to be ready to accompany children in their daily life in school, to observe their expressions and to develop the necessary capacity to intervene correctly and appropriately, as there are no infallible formulas nor methods, as there are not in general for education and learning. The only reliable thing is to maintain an attitude of constant exploration and availability to accompany the child in his long road, offering him opportunities to express himself freely in an atmosphere of security and confidence. A time and space where he feels listened to respected and understood, although we can not always discover the invisible causes that generate his tensions and anguishes.

The school environment, the activity of constant interrelation constitute a great part of the child's social universe where his difficulties are evident. And it is in this relational world where the educator finds his field of work, the opportunity to educate in the amplest sense of the term, taking into account the emotional tones implicit in each act of the child.

When one works based on an educational project that promotes the involvement of the children in the decisions about the subjects that are going to be dealt with and the children are orientated in the process of looking for information and they are provided with all the necessary materials to manipulate, see, smell, touch, to experiment and to be mistaken, in an atmosphere of affection and security, of interest and desire to learn, without the hindrances of a rigid program, with flexibility and in a clear and stable normative frame. The degree of interaction between the children and with the educator provides the necessary conditions to carry out an interesting work. In the spontaneity of the gesture, movement, annoyance, fights, love, the struggle to reaffirm oneself, to know and to have, there must be a look from the teacher must be, his understanding and intuition to find the way to act and to turn each experience, each difficulty, in an opportunity to make the child advance towards behaviors that adapt more and more to the demands imposed by life in relation.

An example of emotional education 

Carmen Navarrese Diez, tells in the previously mentioned book an anecdote that we wanted to share with you.

In a classroom of 5 year old children the parents of a girl told the teacher that another girl had told their daughter that she was ugly because she had a beauty spot on the forehead. On the following day the teacher commented the fact in class saying that it must be a mistake as in that school there were no ugly people, nor foolish or bad... that beauty spots are not ugly and that all the people had them in some part of the body. After some comments from the children trying to excuse the schoolmate who had already been identified by the affected girl, the teacher proposed that they should look among themselves for the beauty spots they had and that they should do the same with their relatives when they went home. A note was sent to the parents that said literally:

“ 1 Today in class we have been talking about beauty spots, some children have showed theirs, others told us where they had them, others did not know...

2 The idea is "to vindicate beauty spots in the body” to verify that they have a round form (like a Full Moon) and anyway, "to wear them with pleasure” and without devaluations.

3 For it, I request from you that tonight you do a bit of homework with your children:

To look for a beauty spot in the father, the mother, in them, the dog...

Tell them what they serve for, briefly

To make a drawing of the beauty spot that they liked most and have the children bring it to class tomorrow.

Thank you very much”.

On the following day, the drawings made by the children were shown and different activities were done, from looking in the dictionary for the difference between freckle and spot, to singing the song of "Cielito Lindo" (that talks about a lady with a beauty spot near her mouth). Soon they shared all the observations that had come out on the subject:

•  They help us to be handsome.

•  They help to differentiate people, because nobody has them in the same place.

•  They are as finger prints, as it said in my book!

•  Sure, because we are not the same, even twins, as it said in Paco´s book

•  My grandmother says that when I will find out what beauty spots are for, I must tell her because she does not know.

•  And if someone is dead and all “torn up” because he had "crash” car, he can be recognized by a beauty spot.

•  My father says that they do not serve any purpose

•  My "grandma" says the same thing.

•  My mother says that Moorish women paint them on to see themselves pretty.

•  Freckles are lighter than spots, my mother has them.

•  I have a spot that is the same as my mother's.

•  I was born with a beauty spot on the finger and my brother also, as we are twins.

•  I have a constellation of beauty spots on the arm that look like a constellation of stars.

•  My father tells me that this beauty spot is for him to kiss me

•  Are there red spots? It is because my daddy has many.

•  Red and colored ones will be party beauty spots! exclaims Mar cheerfully.

The educator and the children: a singular relation 

As educators, we know that the task of educating in all the school levels constitutes one of the most difficult tasks. Contrary to what it is usually considered, the work of the early childhood educator has specificity and a determining importance in the development of the human being, given the vital circumstances in of the children of that age group. As we have been mentioning in this stage the child is going to have to solve a series of subjective and interpersonal conflicts that will allow him to successfully build a mature personality, on the base of satisfactory emotional and social relations.

We have just finished looking at the role of the institution as a group in the teaching of adequate guidelines for learning the rules of social coexistence. But, as we all know, many times this situation is not given as planned and educators must assume the responsibility, compensating with their work the lacks and difficulties derived from that lack of commitment.

When the baby or the child leaves the home to join a larger setting, such as the early childhood center, he feels the separation from his mother and his physical universe as he knows it, to face an unknown reality that disconcerts him and provokes his insecurity. The educator becomes then the representative of this primary link and the child is going to ask for support and help in the difficult process of deciphering and learning about the unknown. From that moment on, begins the construction of a link between the baby or the child and the educator, highly significant for his development. A relation that is established within a dynamics of interaction, reciprocal influence and communication.

The interaction is developed on two different planes: between the baby or child and the teacher and among the children. In both cases, the educator acts as a mediator. In the first case, the adult must build a bridge between the internal universe of the child and the outside world. In the second case, he acts as a moderating element of the behaviors between the children. When we mentioned before the communication process, we pointed at the importance of being aware of the non explicit aspects of the messages sent because there are always present even if they remain unseen, unconscious contents that have to do with what is said or done. In the case of the child, these elements are elaborated through fantasy, either verbal, in symbolic play or within the relations with the adult or his peers, by means of specific behaviors. This consideration is very important because it is telling us of a reality in which we will have to intervene, using our capacity for exploration and observation beyond what is evident. In this sense, the educator has to make use of his training regarding the nature of child development to find guidance on the possible causes of the behavior of the child and to his intuition that many times can help him find the right approach for each situation.

Another aspect that is always present in the interactive relation is the reciprocal affective implication of both elements of the process. We often assume that the effects of the intervention of the teacher in an act of communication are one way only: from the educator to the child, not knowing that the effects are reciprocal. This fact is based on an idea deeply rooted in the adult world that considers childhood as a stage closed in itself, with its own characteristics without continuity in the later years. We talk about “childhood” or “the children” as if the adult did not com from there, when in reality, we know that we are all inheritors of our own childhood and our adult personality keeps the same basic features that shaped our development, with the only difference that during our childhood they had a special intensity and influence in the shaping of our personality.

In the educational setting, we can usually establish role relations, as teacher and student and not as persons. The teacher is invested with the features of his role as adult: knowledge, authority and power. The student has his own features: his ignorance on many things and his dependence and submission to the wishes of the adult. The relation, set in these terms, becomes denaturalized, depersonalized and generates an interference in the communication that usually goes unnoticed. The person of the teacher and the child are left out of the relation, that is, out of the subjective universe of both parties, masked by the image represented by the roles.

This sets a symbolic distance that determines beforehand the place of each party and, therefore, the style of communication between them. If we assume communication as a process of interrelation not from the established roles, but from a human, personal dimension, the implication of the teacher has different characteristics.

As when we pointed out the non explicit elements of the messages of the children, the same applies to the teacher. The interpretation of messages is done through an individual field of meanings (ideas, concepts, knowledge) that becomes the prism through which we make sense of what one or the other says or does. Therefore, what the teacher understands of what the child is saying is filtered by his own particular way of thinking and feeling, what we could call his subjectivity. To be aware of this places us at the act of communication with a more genuine perspective because it allows us to also direct the questions towards ourselves, not only towards the situation of the child. The effect of the relation exchange becomes reciprocal and has affective echoes in both parties of the communication. We live this in our personal experience with our students but we don't always give it its due importance at the time of deciding what type of communication we want to establish with the group as a whole and with each individual child. And it is precisely this side of the problem that we want to highlight.

The interactive relation that generates development needs certain conditions to insure for the child a psychological atmosphere of trust, respect, love and security. The educator has to build these conditions because, unlike the relations between the adults, its the educators who set the guidelines that determine the quality of the link. The child is subject to our way of thinking, feeling and acting because he does not yet have the capacity to oppose the influence and will of the teacher, at least consciously, especially if we consider the deep significance that we have for the child as representatives of the parental link. Therefore, the first thing we have to take into account is the determining condition in the interactive process, that gives us a very significant responsibility.

We can not conceive the life of a child except within a relationship from the moment he is born and even before that, because the mother establishes a relationship with the future baby through her own wishes, aspirations and idealizations that are going to give him meaning as a person. In our case, as educators, we also have our own representation of the type of children that we would like to have in our class and the educational guidelines that we would like to apply to fulfill those aspirations. On top of this we develop our task of forming and teaching, within the framework of constant interactions.

Taking into account all of the above, we will deal with some aspects that intervene in the dynamics of communication, considering the needs of the child and what he expects to receive from the educator.

The educator: model of communication

The child, especially at this age, learns more from what he observes in the behavior of the others than from the speeches we deliver when we try to teach behavioral patterns or correct his inappropriate habits. The way of communicating that we establish with the children fulfills a very powerful pedagogical function not only because it is a model but because at the same time it determines the type of communication that the children are going to establish with the others. If we ask ourselves what does the child fundamentally needs to develop in this stage of his life, we would have to go from the knowledge of his basic needs, not only physical and biological but, especially, emotional. The life of the child is marked by a series of conflicts and he needs the adult to give him security, trust and much love to help him deal with reality, anxiety, fear, anguish, ambivalent feelings, guilt, tensions and disconcertment. He needs to let go off the hand that protects him to be able to grow in his own right but he also needs to be able to go back when reality overwhelms to find the adult's hand.

If we had to define in one word which is the most important quality that educators should have to satisfy the demands of the child we would undoubtedly say that it is respect. A respectful attitude is the foundation to build a relation that allows for the development of the child and at the same time for our professional and personal growth. To respect the child implies, first, to communicate with him person to person, which requires from us a special disposition to connect from reason, sensibility and emotion. This attitude is what allows us to observe and understand the thoughts, feelings and fantasies that accompany the experiences of the children.

Education for the prevention of conflicts in early childhood education is based on a work geared towards the emotional development of the child and for this we need to help him deal with the subjective conflicts derived from his own existence. We need to have solid theoretical training to be able to detect the problem periods and situations along with a capacity to observe, listen and explore the individual and social behaviors of the children.

Careful and systematic observation is a valuable tool to obtain the information from the subjective universe of the child, his habits, preferences, capacity to represent things, his fantasies expressed in his play, his mode of verbal and non verbal communication, his difficulties in facing the demands imposed upon him by life in society, the indications that he is making a transition towards new behaviors, etc. It allows us to learn and interpret the signals when a child is ready to give up on something, or is about to cry because someone is bothering him or he wants to do something but does not know how or when he is feeling proud with something he has managed to do and wants to share it. Observation must be accompanied by committed and attentive listening. As we know, it is not the same to hear than to listen although in many cases pressed by the excessive demands placed on educators, we barely hear what the children are saying and respond to them with formulas that do not meet their needs. When the child is about to tell something to his teacher he has the need to be received by him, not only in his mind but also in his heart. Active listening implies an intellectual and affective commitment transmitted beyond words.

The child has an extraordinary capacity to feel and receive what the other is feeling, even if he does not show it, he knows how to differentiate between formal listening and what is not so. He knows how to assess the external signs that express sincere willingness to be with them: they perceive if we are capable of giving up what we are doing when they need us, if we try to explain that we can not be with them at that time, if we see them in the eye, if we touch or caress them. Therefore, the first thing we need to try is to develop our capacity to be with the child in such a way that we can make him feel trusted, recognized and appreciated as a person.

When we talked about listening we not only referred to the reception of the oral expression of the child that is especially scarce in his first years of life but also to his body expressions, what he says with the way he looks, his gestures, his movements, his posture and tone. The early childhood educator must know how to start a dialogue with his students in this dimension of communication. Body language is, at times, far more effective than verbal language, even in distance; it is possible to make the child feel our love, recognition, acceptance, security and trust through a smile or a gesture because the child is looking for the face of the educator when he is doing something new that causes anxiety or satisfaction in him. This type of situations are frequently found in the psycho motor development class when the children are testing their motor skills, disguise themselves or hide to later reappear and find the eyes of the teacher.

The educator is the most significant emotional reference that a child has in the school, this why it is very important to work on affective education through the relation established with the group and with each individual child. The key to establish a positive emotional communication is the capacity and disposition to adjust to the expression and affective condition of the child, in psycho motor terms, to be attuned to him, following his initiatives, and confirming his activities, either with sounds, winks, gestures, movements or words. This is not always easy to achieve, because not all the children arise in the educator the same feelings of love and acceptance. In a classroom there are as many personalities as there are children and each one has his own way of being. There are children that have natural charm and befriend the teacher with their shows of affection and there are others who are very restless of very quiet, those who do their tasks with ease and those who need a lot of help, one who wears the teacher out with this constant and intense physical activity or one whose presence is not even felt. Of course, the teacher has a different influence on each child but we can not forget that each one of them wants to be treated especially.

A child who lives the experience of being listened to and tended in his demands for affection feels that he is important and loved and will develop trust in his capacity to generate positive responses from the others. When he verifies that his actions do not modify the behavior of the others he will lose his trust in his capacity to change things which will also change his way of acting, either by isolating himself or by showing aggressive or disruptive behaviors to call for attention. Young children, and not only them, put into play unconscious mechanisms to respond to the lack of understanding from the adults to show their discontent.

Once, in an early childhood center, a three year old child was punished by separating him from his group during recess and making him do the task that the teacher had presented before to the class. He was taken to the teachers' room because instead of coloring the worksheet, he scribbled on it. The child was seating at one end of the table dutifully coloring the new worksheet and the teacher at the other end, watching over him. After a few minutes, the teacher exclaimed to the other colleagues in the room: “It is useless to punish a child like this because in the end, he manages to get what he wants, to be paid attention!”

This real example shows what happens when we lose sight of the sense of our work. The perception of the teacher regarding the causes of the behavior of the child did not lead her to think that it was a perfectly valid demand and that, perhaps, he was trying to tell her, in his own way, that he needed more attention from her. On the contrary, she took his disobedience as a challenge to her authority and activated her own mechanisms establishing a relation of force to solve the conflict.

As we have already said, the child learns from what he sees and what he lives in his relations with the adults. If he does not feel respected or tended in his demands, it will not help him to hear the teacher explaining the importance of listening and respecting others and being considerate and kind in his dealings with his peers.

The teacher as conflict mediator 

The classroom is a space of coexistence and therefore, a place where there are frequent interpersonal conflicts caused by multiple reasons derived from the features of the stage of development of the children. They have to deal with the anxiety and tensions of their inner worlds and with the demands of socialization with the rest of their peers. In both instances, the teacher has to act as a mediator that facilitates the handling of the subjective conflicts of the child and the difficulties that he finds in his interpersonal relations. The attitude taken by the educator is the key to turn those difficulties into situations of change and new learning: this is the sense of the mediation of the educator. To achieve these purposes, we must take into account the following criteria:

•  To offer the child the opportunity to decide freely on the way to solve the conflict, giving him options to choose from and decide how to behave. For example, if during the assembly, the child is constantly interrupting his peers or the teacher, instead of telling him to be quiet, it is best to making him realize that his behavior does not let the activity go on and offer him the choice between staying in the room and participate adequately or leave the class. This way we are giving him the opportunity to decide on his own and assume the responsibility over the consequences of his behavior.

•  Give the child the opportunity to modify his behavior, instead of immediately repressing the children in conflict. For example, if two children are fighting over the use of some material, we can offer other materials or suggest them the possibility of alternating their use of it.

•  To foster the autonomy of the child by giving his the possibility of participating in the solution of his conflicts. For example, if two children are verbally or physically fighting, avoid giving orders to stop the problem. The educator should try to calm them down to talk with them when they are more tranquil. When the children are fighting they are expressing their anger and it is not convenient to talk with them at that time. It is more important for them to feel the teacher's acknowledgement of their feeling without feeling judged. Expressions such as “I understand how you feel”, “I know that you are angry now”, “you got very angry”, put their feelings into words and express them in a non violent way at the same time that the children feel understood and accepted. This is the first step for an adequate intervention in a relation conflict to later handle it in a joint manner. It is convenient to have an area in the classroom that can be called the “corner of words” where we can try to reach agreement and reconciliation. Another option is to hold the meetings in the library because it is a space where everyone goes to learn and where we all have to follow the same rules. The setting of the mediation is very important because it is part of the emotional climate of the process. It is not the same to meet in a quiet and welcoming place, seated at a round table than to talk in the classroom in front of the other students. The physical space, the disposition of the furniture, the position of each part in the space has a special symbolism that affects the dynamics of the process.

In the intervention we must take into account the stages of the process to get the children to understand the causes, reflect over the consequences and get to learn something new from the conflict. Mediation is a procedure that facilitates the agreement between the children to help them arrive at a result that is beneficial for all. In the first place, it reestablishes communication and facilitates the discussion to identify the elements that are operating in the controversy, the possible means of agreement and stimulates the cooperation to reach a solution. The teacher must be prepared to guide a process in which the children will go from aggression to a peaceful solution of their conflicts, managing to establish a good degree of communication and agreement. The attitude of the teacher must be genuine and sincere. By this we mean that this activity has a lot of importance from a pedagogical perspective. It is not about solving the conflict as an end in itself but to assume it as an opportunity to stimulate changes and new learning. If the children perceive the interest of the teacher in dealing with these topics, they will become aware of the importance of relations in their lives.

We also want to insist on the statement that we made regarding the type of contact the teacher must establish with the children. The adult has the experience and pedagogical intention as differentiating elements from the children but both, adults and children have the same dignity as persons and deserve to be listened to and treated with the same respect and consideration. The teacher must be capable of giving up the protection given to him by his role to connect with the children as a human being with another human being. Only this way will the relation become meaningful. To talk to the children from a position of power, distant from their feelings, reasons, points of view and situations will not give anything new to their lives and will be just another lecture, of which the child gets many in his own family. Our objective should not be to teach then how to feel or act but to show them the facts and stimulate their participation in the calm solution of the problem.

The objective to be achieved by mediation requires the following from the educator:

•  To enable the dialogue among children to make them aware of the causes of the conflict.

•  To observe and explore the body language of each child during the meeting: his tone, gestures, tensions, the moment when they feel relieved, etc.

•  To establish a dialogue of gestures with each other through our looks, smiles, gestures of approval or disapproval, etc.

•  To jointly analyze the solutions and become aware of the need to find fair solutions. To stimulate the creation of collective norms and make everyone aware of the advantages of following them.

Important moments in the mediating process

We can not insist enough on the importance of this fundamental premise: we are working with children that need and expect to be treated as persons, this implies making contact with them with respect and understanding of their emotional condition and their life situations.

When we bring together children to work jointly on the solution of a conflict, the first step is to thank them for their presence as a sign of collaboration in the solution of the conflict. The children are not used to being asked for forgiveness or being thanked. When we do this for the first time we can see in their eyes surprise at first and then some satisfaction. Thus, from the first moment we are establishing an appropriate affective climate for collaboration. After we have explained the reason for the meeting, we follow the same steps we would use to mediate in conflicts with older children or with adults. Conflict is always present and it follows the same phases (Sastre-Marimon, 2004).

•  The time when the conflict becomes evident and we can identify it as a problem of relationships.

•  The previous phase that explains the conflict that we have to reconstruct in order to understand it.

•  The moment of proposing solutions.

•  The final situation, when the initial situation is transformed by a change in attitude and the acquisition of a new learning.

The solution of the conflict must respond to the causes that originated it so that we can say that the final agreement really has a solid base. Sastre and Marimon remind us that it is not an easy task to achieve this and that it requires some previous steps:

•  “To differentiate the three phases of the conflict – the causes, the manifestation and the solutions.

•  To reconstruct the history of the problem to find the causes to explain it.

•  To imagine non sexist, non violent, non racist, fair and autonomous solutions to solve the problems of relation.

•  To find different solutions for the same conflict so that if one of them is deemed inadequate, we can apply a second or a third choice.

•  To link the solutions we have imagined with the causes and decide which of all the solutions we have found are the more adequate in terms of their capacity of eliminating or lessening the causes”.

As we can see, it is not an easy task and it no less complex because we are dealing with young children, quite the contrary. We should not forget that the mind of the children of these ages does not allow them to take into account other points of view, different from their own and that they have their own moral criteria. If to this we add the state of tension and anxiety that they feel in their inner world, produced by their inner conflicts, it is not difficult to see that the task requires a great effort from them.

The first point serves as a reference that the teacher should keep in mind to intervene and not allow the meeting to get lost as a consequence of the emotions that come into play. He must work with what the children express but he must guide the exchange to obtain the discussion of the conflict and reach an agreement that benefits everyone by helping them learn something new.

We must always follow the same rules for the meeting to run in the best possible way. We can design them with the assistance of the children and then remind them of the rules when we need them again. Once we have accepted the commitment of doing what we have agreed to do, the teacher should stimulate the children to give their version of the facts. This is an important moment because this way they see that their words have some value. They represent them and what they think and feel. On the other hand, they can realize that there are different ways of seeing the same fact with which we are fostering a process of intellectual and affective decentralization. It is advisable that the teacher intervenes quoting what each child has said, stating the facts and leaving out any emotion. This is to mirror the language of the child by an organized and unaffected statement. This way, he can hear and see himself as an “other” and objectively perceive his words.

Another important aspect is the summary of the sequence of the facts since that information will allow him to determine the objective causes of the conflict. The educator can deduct the subjective motivations from knowing the personal history of each of his students and he can deduct what were the conscious or unconscious reasons that led a child to act in a given way and another to respond the way he did. The teacher can echo the motivations, feelings and emotions felt by the children before and during the conflict and tell them. That is, put into words what has remained unsaid, unrevealed.

In this stage of the intervention there are no prescribed protocols of action and it is the teacher's intuition what must be put into action. What really matters is that the children feel that the teacher is an interpreter of their perceptions, motivations and affections and that they have the opportunity to express the emotional aspect that is always present in their relations and in each act of their lives. Questions such as “what did you feel when...?”, “What do you think he felt?” “What you felt was pretty or ugly?”, can teach the child to put his emotions into words. We should not forget that the more we know how to say what we feel, the more chances we will have to change.

We will have to respect the verbal expressions of the children without trying to complete their statements before they have managed to organize their ideas to express them in their own ways. If the child perceives that we are interested in what he is saying he will learn to trust the others and feel pleased with his social interactions and feel self confident. What can help the child is not the interruptions or clarifications while he is talking but our attitude of respect for his attempts of expression. When the child has finished saying what he wanted to communicate, it is the time for the teacher to address the child and confirm that he has understood his words, for example: “What you thought/felt/did was......” This not only confirms to the child that we have been paying attention it also gives him the opportunity of representing and listening to himself from another place.

It is important to follow this practice after everyone has spoken as a synthesis of the verbal expositions, and evidencing that what happened has a history and some causes and that they are all linked. This way the child begins to learn, little by little, to reason about the problems that come about in interpersonal relations and to take into consideration his emotions linked to those problems, learning that thoughts and emotions are not disassociated.

Once this has been done, we can propose to the children that they all give ideas to solve the problem so that it is not repeated again. this is a highly useful moment from the pedagogical point of view because it allows for the use of creativity by the children and for the reaffirmation of the rules on the common wellbeing: the solutions should not divide but unite, they must benefit the two parties in conflict because they were generated through communication between the parties without resorting to confrontation. They have the possibility of reflecting as a team, analyzing options and taking decisions in an autonomous manner. When the child becomes aware that the agreements have been made according to the joint deliberations and the individual and group decisions have been made by themselves, they will not feel that the fulfillment of the obligations is an outside imposition but, rather, a personal exercise of freedom and autonomy.

Children must have the opportunity to learn that the adults also have conflicts and difficulties to solve the problems of our daily lives. We are not invulnerable just because we are adults and we have to make efforts to adequately handle conflict situations. Generally speaking, it is hard for us to show our human side to the children either because we think that it would make them feel insecure or because we think they would not be able to understand us or because we relate to them from our role as teachers which inhibits us from showing our more human side. This last is the most frequent case. We think that our role is to teach the children to behave correctly for which we must offer the idyllic image of being one who knows everything and who has all the answers. This has as a consequence that the children, instead of wanting to learn to solve their conflicts try to hide them because if the adults around them are perfect, they must be perfect too.

When a teacher sincerely expresses his feelings of unhappiness at a given time when it is difficult for him to handle the discipline of a group and shares this with his students, he can only obtain benefits for all if he does it at the adequate time and in a sincere manner, trusting the sensitivity of the children towards the emotional expressions of those they appreciate. In the same manner, when we share an experience in which it was difficult for us to handle a personal relation and we explain what we did to solve the problem, or when we remember the feeling we had when we were children about the attitude of some adult. All of this can help us connect with the children from the adult image, in a more human and closer manner, so that they can feel identified with us and wish to learn to solve their own difficulties.


Punishment must be ruled out as a form of intervention. When we punish the child for an undesirable behavior, we are provoking feelings of shame and guilt that do not contribute to foster behaviors of social cooperation. The child who is punished does not have the possibility of coordinating his points of view with those of the others because there is a short circuit between his behavior and the consequence imposed on him by the adult. For example, if a child is aggressive with another child we can make him see that his behavior affects the sensitivity of his peer and that no one likes to be shouted at. We can show him other ways of saying the same things and how to get what we want using other words or a different tone. If we punish the child sending him out of the class or separating him from the group, the only thing we will achieve is that he feels anger or shame or both and that the next time that he feels tempted to do the same thing he will not do it for fear of the punishment but he will not have learned to consider the point of view of the other children nor to relate his behavior to the consequences it generates

Constance Kamii, in her book “The autonomy of the child” ( Mexico , 1981) talks about the reciprocal sanctions as an answer to the disruptive behaviors of the children. This type of sanction implies minimal coercion and has a logical and natural relation with the act that brought it about. For example, if a child interrupts during story time, we can tell him “if you make noises or interrupt the story, you can not stay here, if you want to stay here, you must not interrupt”, or if the child is breaking the toys, we can tell him: “We will not have any more toys if you break them, so I can not let you use them unless you take care of them. If you do not break them, you can play with them”. This type of sanction besides having a logical relation to the behavior and allowing the child to become aware of the consequences of his actions, offers him alternatives to choose from. On the other hand, the child also learns that his behavior must have a limit marked by the rights of the others.

But the intervention of the teacher does not always have to be active. Many times it is convenient to give the children the opportunity to solve their relation difficulties among themselves, without intervening. This is another form of intervention, that requires an observation of the behavior of the children in the habitual situations of school life so as to know their difficulties and their way of reacting before them, that way we will know when we have to actively intervene and when it is convenient to leave the children to try out their answers until they find the best one to solve their difficulties.

This way of handling conflicts in school is based on the constructivist conception of learning and teaching, which not only encompasses the intellectual dimension but also becomes a theoretical reference that allows us to act from a proposal of participation and construction of the learning by the child, in all aspects of development. It is not about teaching the children specific moral guidelines of behavior that they should apply in any problem situation but, rather, of a systematic practice of reasoning and elaboration that fosters their cognitive and affective development through the exploration of the feelings that go along their thoughts and their actions so that they can assess them to adopt behaviors and attitudes that allow them to satisfactorily solve their interrelation problems without resorting to aggression or violence. To begin with this practice in the early childhood center prepares the children to handle the situations they will face later on, when they are attending elementary and secondary school, where the situations become more difficult to handle.

The physical space: another way of intervening

The design of the school space, especially the classroom, can express more than words the educational concept that guides the pedagogical work. More over, sometimes the verbal statements of pedagogical objectives are contradicted by that other reality that “speaks” clearly of a practice that reflects quite the contrary of what has been said. An educational project that has among its priorities the civic formation of the children must pay special attention to the objectives linked to the development of cooperation, creativity and the gradual achievement of autonomy, of learning values in solidarity, respect and appreciation for themselves and others. The criteria of use of the physical space, the distribution of materials and the groupings invite to specific actions and promote a type of relationships and exchange. The transmission of values, attitudes and behaviors is also done through the organization of the physical and material elements that surround the child.

The child's learning is facilitated not only through the relationships with the adult or with the materials but also through the relationships with the other children. They learn from each other, more than what we could imagine. Therefore, the interactions between them are crucial. A very significant learning generated in the process of reciprocal relationships is decentralization. For example, when a three or four year old child is in contact with another child of the same age, there are usually conflicts of interest, either about the seat next to the teacher, the use of the same toy, or to be the first in the line. In this type of frequent situations, the children are forced to realize that there are “others” and that they have wishes, intentions or interests that they must take into account if they wish to avoid conflicts and remain in the group or act by force and try to have their own wishes prevail. In any case, these conflicting interactions show the child this new reality that he is going to have to face every time and try to solve them on his own or through the intervention of the teacher.

The physical space must contribute to stimulate these interactions, taking into account, for example, the distribution of the children in areas that invite them to interact with each other as well as spaces where they can be on their own or without doing anything specific, to rest, for communication, for quiet talk, a warm integrating space that promotes the communication in a climate of freedom, care and wellbeing. The physical space “talks” and “communicates” in a code that the children perceive indirectly and apparently imperceptibly both for them and the adults, but the effects of that perception are expressed in their way of being, feeling and acting either for good or for bad.

Family and school, a shared action. 

In our educational model it's impossible to conceive the work of the school disconnected from the family where the child receives his earliest education and the most decisive influence in the shaping of his system of beliefs and ethical and moral values. Family and school share a common objective: the education of the children in the amplest sense and the encounter or exchange between both institutions is what allows us to be closer to their true personal situation.

Only in isolated cases do the parents spontaneously approach us, although there are social and cultural factors that influence their way of feeling about the school that determine their relation with it. It is not the same in a school where most of the parents are professionals that value the work done by the school than a less privileged population where parents think of the school as a place where their children are fed and cared for while they are working. Without intending to generalize, that can always lead to mistakes, educators know that the socio economic and cultural status of the families influences on the attitude of collaboration and exchange they maintain with the school.

Oddly enough, the underprivileged families and those that live in a socially economically privileged status have similar attitudes about their scarce participation in school life, even if for different reasons. What is true is that the educator, aware of the importance of having the family support his educational work, is the one who must use all the means within his reach to stimulate the families' interest in taking part in a shared task. It is not enough to provide the child with a warm and stimulating setting in the school if this does not have any projection in the family setting that has more impact in the formative process of the child.

Educators know that parents are the first teachers of the children even if they are not aware of this. There are parents that consider the school as the place where true education is given. This idea comes from many centuries ago and is linked to the function given to the school when it was created, as a space to learn to read and write. The role of the school has been fundamentally linked to the practice of teaching academic subjects or, what is the same, the formation of intellectual thinking. The effects of non formal teaching are relativized and emotional and social education are relegated to a second plane, behind cognitive formation. We have already mentioned this when we talked about the scarce importance given in our educational system to civic education. It is the task of the educator, who should share it with the parents, to revitalize this aspect of education.

The attitude of the teacher towards parents.

The way the teacher places himself in his relation with the parents is determining in the attitude they will take towards the school and in their disposition to collaborate with it. To have clear objectives on what we want to achieve with the collaboration of the parents in the educational tasks will give us the necessary motivation to assume this commitment with determination and enthusiasm.

We know that if we work with the child at school without taking into account what the family can offer, we are working blindly, because we lack the information that the family can give us to know the child better. The attitude we assume in our meetings will lay the foundation for the construction of a relation of respect and mutual trust to be able to work without concerns the situations that require the active and joint collaboration of the family. How do you build this relation? Once more, most of the responsibility is of the educator because we have to propose the guidelines of the relation.

Parents need to be answered on their doubts and questions about their children in a professional manner without leaving aside the human and sensible aspects of communication. They need to have a degree of confidentiality with the teacher to express what really concerns them and they need to feel that the teacher is listening to them with genuine interest. The same way, the teacher must be able to transmit to the parents how important it is to have their support and should be always available to support them when they are worried or anxious and share with them the pleasant situations. He must establish a current of empathy that generates feelings of security and trust that stimulates them to collaborate with the educator in the task of educating their children.

Ways of interacting with parents.

The educator must build through the interrelation with the children and a systematic observation, a fairly adjusted idea of the features of the child and his life situation: the contribution of the parents is fundamental to increase this knowledge, this is why the teacher must work patiently to foster their collaboration and participation in this task. Not all the parents are willing to help and we must use our abilities to convince them of the importance for their children of their participation and joint collaboration with the school.

There are several types of meetings during the school year: sometimes they are spontaneous, others at the request of the parents or the teachers and others as part of a plan prepared by the center or the teachers. We are going to refer to these last ones to offer some orientation that can be of help to hold these meetings in the most efficient manner.

Before the first individual interview the teacher must have the possibility of obtaining some basic information that allows him to understand the reality of the children in his group. These data can be gathered by the Center in the initial contact of the parents with the school, asking them to fill out a Basic Information Sheet and another one on the social and affective characteristics of the children.

Questionnaire to gather basic information.

Date of the first meeting  
Name of the child  
Name of the father  
Name of the mother  
Date of birth of the child  
Were there complications during birth?  
Was the child breastfed?  
If yes, for how long?  
Does the child sleep well at night?  
Have there been any accidents or serious illnesses?  
Has the child been in a hospital?  
For how long?  

Questionnaire on the social and affective behavior of the child

Name and age of the child: 

Do you consider your child as



Very restless

What kind of games does he play when he is alone?

When he is with children of his age, his behavior is predominantly




How does he behave with his father?




Very attached

Please comment on any particular feature of the social and affective behavior of your child that you consider important.

General Information on the family

Age of the mother

Age of the father



Occupation of the mother


Occupation of the father


Do the parents live together?


Who takes care of the child most of the time?


Another member of the family




Daycare program

Indicate if more than one person takes care of the child.

Number of children in the family

What place does the child have in the family?





Age and sex of the siblings

What are your expectations regarding the education of your child at the Early Childhood Education Center ?

Other comments on the situation of the child and the family.

All this information must be reviewed by the teacher before the first individual interview with the parents. Based on their answers, the educator can anticipate the concerns and basic ideas of the parents regarding the education of their children. On the other hand, he can also place the child in his socioeconomic and family context. This is a very general approximation that must be completed and extended in the interviews.

The interview.

Whenever possible, we must hold the interviews both with the father and the mother at the same time, because that way we will be able to observe the relation between the couple and have an idea of the type of family of the child. For example, if the relationship is symmetric between the father and the mother or if one of them dominates the other. If their relation is cordial or aggressive, if they coincide in their ideas about the personality of their child or if each one has a different vision, if they have a similar commitment towards the education of the child or if this task falls on one of the members of the couple, etc.

Also, during the talk, we can observe the system of beliefs and values in the family, especially if they are from a different culture. This is very important because it is necessary that the children find in their school a receptive and tolerant environment regarding their customs and habits that determine their way of being and relating with others. We should not forget that the school should help the children to maintain, strengthen and enrich their relation with their families because this is the most stable reference point for their development. These individual interviews should take place at least twice during the year regardless of any other meetings that are set up as needed.

The interview is especially useful to talk freely about the child, his interests, habits, particular features, tastes, likes and dislikes, his difficulties, if any, in his interpersonal relations. It is also important that the teacher shares with the parents the information he may have from observing the child in the school activities, his social and affective behavior and any other aspect that could be of interest for the parents. This should not be left to chance, rather, the teacher should plan the interview carefully and well in advance so that he can cover the points that he is interested in and for which he may need the parents' collaboration. Therefore, the teacher should reflect on what each child needs and write it down in the agenda of the interview. He should explain to the parents the aspects that are troublesome in the child using simple terms and observe their reactions.

The teacher should observe if the parents deny the problem, if they get scared, or if they understand and are willing to help the teacher or if they believe it has nothing to do with them and relegate all responsibility to the school. With any of these responses, the teacher should assume an understanding attitude, respect their opinions and beliefs and avoid making judgments or opinions that could hurt the parents., On the contrary, the tasks consists of trying to reach minimal agreements that can grow little by little. It is convenient to point out the positive aspects in the interactions between the parents and their children to motivate them. Another important aspect is to write down at the end of the interview all the aspects that were relevant in a record that allows us to keep the most important information. For sample, the following:

Parent Interview Record

•  Date of the interview

•  Name of the participants

•  Agenda of the meeting

•  General impressions on the communication during the meeting

•  Some significant comments from the parents

  • General conclusions and agreements reached

This serves a dual purpose: to keep handy, for the next meeting, all the necessary material to retake the conversation starting from the elements we have already dealt with and making a brief review of them and the agreements reached at that time and propose new points for the second interview. This makes the parents feel the importance given by the teacher to their relation and their collaboration and, on the other hand, it is valuable material to guide the daily observation of our children.

Parent participation in classroom activities.

There are educational experiences in the Early Childhood Centers where the parents can actively collaborate in the classroom. We can organize their participation according to the number of children in class so that the parents (the mother or the father, depending on their possibilities) can be in the class for a few hours or in the psycho motor development class or during free play activities so that they can participate in different ways in the daily program. In the general meeting with parents, that we will describe below, we can talk about the importance of knowing the way the children behave socially, outside the family life and assess the word done with the children in the school. It is important to remind them of how much time the children spend in the school in comparison with the time they are at home. It is very important that the children build, through their parents, a bridge between their private world and their public life.

Another important aspect is the assessment that the parents can make about the benefits of education at this age and modify the extended concept that considers the Early Childhood Center as a place where children are simply cared for and entertained while their parents are working.

The experience of participation can and must be commented on during the parent meeting to explain the objectives of Early Childhood Education and the way they are going to be worked on through the activities in the center so that they can share with their own children and the rest of the children in the program. We should not forget that many times parents use inadequate ways to educate their children not because lack of will but because they do not have enough information on how to go about it. It is also beneficial if they can observe the behavior of other children and verify that what worries them of the conduct of their own children is not exclusive of them but that it obeys general characteristics of the emotional, social and cognitive development of that age group. Their participation should always be accompanied by information on what is going to happen in the classroom that day and the way they can participate in the activities.

One of the objectives of this experience is that the parents can observe the intervention of the teacher in situations of interpersonal conflicts between the children or between the children and the teacher so that it serves as an example and learning experience because many times they feel disoriented in difficult circumstances that come up in family and social life.

Another way of cooperating in the education of their children at school is the participation in sessions about topics of general interest linked to their professions. Nothing can be more stimulating for the child than to have his mother or father come to class to explain the interesting aspects of his or her work to the rest of the class. Through this experience they can value the importance of the work done by men and women in society and understand that we are all equally necessary. The teacher can guide the parents in the preparation of their talk and offer the means available in the school for the presentation. This benefits the cognitive learning of the children and is an important emotional boost for them as the children will feel proud to have their parents in class at the same time that they can strengthen the link between the family and the school, their private and public worlds.

We can ask parents that after having participated in this experience they share their impressions in writing with the teacher. For example, to make comments on what they liked more, what they discovered or did not know until then, what aspects of the relation between the teacher and the children has caught their attention and what were they able to discover about their own children, etc. And also, of course, to talk about the negative aspects that they may have observed in the development of the activities. This material can be talked about at the parent meeting to enrich the communication among them and share new ideas to put into practice in the classroom work.

Meeting between teacher, child and parents.

This type of meetings where the children are present are not very frequent in the school. However, they can be very beneficial for everyone. The child is used to be excluded from the meetings between his parents and teachers because they are part of the school organization. But, if we asked the children if they would like to be in one of these meetings, in most of the cases they would be happy to be there.

On the same day of the meeting with the parents, after having talked with them on the points we want to cover, we can invite the child to join the meeting to tell him what we have talked about with his parents. Of course, we will have to use simple words and try to have him comment, if he wants to, about the things he likes in the school. Those things that he dislikes, what amuses him the most, what upsets him, etc. The educator can mention the positive aspects of the child, his way of relating with his friends and more outstanding qualities. He can also show his parents some of the work done by him in class. For the child this means a show of respect and consideration that makes him feel valued. These experiences, next to those aimed at making the child have a positive self image develop a sense of personal value and self esteem that are highly beneficial for the shaping of the child's personality and his way of establishing interpersonal relations.

Other forms of participation.

Parents that, for any reason, can not attend these activities can still participate cooperatively in school specifically in the classroom activities. For example, at the time of arrival, some parents can be there to help the children to take off their coats and help them hang them up. They can also assist at the time of departure, helping the children to put on their coats and making sure that they do not forget anything in the classroom.

Another way of actively collaborating is to participate in the activities programmed by the center or the educator to learn about the culture of the different communities of the country and from other countries, considering that the immigrant school population is larger every day. In this sense, we can organize typical or intercultural parties where the parents share information about their places of origin, their traditional customs, their way of dressing, songs, dances, typical food and offer some traditional candies for the children.

Parents and grandparents can participate in activities organized by the educator to show the children the type of games they played when they were children, the songs and stories that their own parents used to tell them, etc. In the general parent meeting the educator can propose this type of activities and have the parents decide in which of them they want to participate. To make things easier the educator can give the children a note as the following with the information their parents and grandparents can share with them.


What type of toys did you have when you were a child? 

How did you play with them? 

Did your parents make any toys for you?

Did they teach you how to make one? 

What was your favorite toy? 


Do you remember any game that you played with the adults?

Can you teach a game that you liked when you were a child?

What did you play to with other children?

Can you prepare a traditional game to play with the children? 


Did your parents tell you any stories?

Do you remember one that you especially liked?

Could you tell it to the children?

Did you have a favorite story character?

Why was it your favorite?




What songs did your parents and teachers sing for you when you were a child?

Do you remember any lullaby?

Can you sing any song for the children?

Are these songs still used nowadays?


This type of experiences are highly beneficial for the children because they help them shape a sense of the past, the present and the future and a feeling of belonging to their family group and society.

Training workshops for parents.

What parents think of the children, their “theories” on child development or their ideas about how a child should grow up shape their behavior towards them, affecting the way they act, how they relate and care for them. To obtain a general view of the conceptions parents have of their children, their concepts about their potential and how they assume their role in the education of their children, is essential knowledge to know what “emotional and conceptual space we have when we try to establish positive communication with parents. The type of education and information parents have is not homogeneous and this means that in a group we will have different positions and opinions to share with the rest for the group.

It would be interesting to offer the parents the opportunity to express their interests regarding the topics they would like to talk about in the workshops. For this, we can send a simple message home with various proposals that they can select from, or add to, as needed. We offer an example:

Topics to be dealt with in the workshops for parents.

•  Relevant aspects of child development 0-6 years of age

•  Guidelines for psychomotor, affective and intellectual development.

•  Causes of aggressive behaviors in children and how to deal with them.

•  Criteria to decide on the intervention of a specialist in severe behavioral problems.

•  How to help the emotional development of the child

•  How to help the child deal with his fears

•  Child sexuality

•  The construction of identity

•  Sphincter control.

•  How to set adequate limits to the behavior of the child.

•  How do we work in the classroom: activities we do, and how they help to develop the potential of the child.

•  The role of play in the development of affectivity and intelligence

•  How to choose the toys and books according to the age of the children

•  Formative value of literature in the emotional development of the child



These and other topics that the teacher may consider necessary can be offered as proposals for the workshops, including the topics suggested by the parents. The criteria to choose the topic is to try to supplement and sometimes clarify the information or ideas that parents have regarding child development so that we can coordinate a joint effort between the family and the school.

Many times educators get frustrated when they realize that their classroom efforts have no continuity at the home due to the lack of information of the parents and because their system of beliefs and values if not the same as ours. This is why this exchange of information is valuable for the educator. He can then offer basic information to parents to help them know their child better and know the reality that the child is living at home.

The transition stage: collaboration between the educator and the family.

This topic requires special attention from the center and the classroom teacher. The child that joins our school is in contact, maybe for the first time, with a group other than his family. The absolute dependence during his first years and his marked egocentrism test the child in this difficult experience. Since he does not have the required skills to interact competently in social groups, he frequently finds himself in difficulties, he does not follow the rules, gets easily into fights, follows the lead of the strongest child, overreacts when he is reprimanded, tries to take the toys away from the other children or becomes very attached to the teacher, isolating himself from the group. In sum, a number of behaviors typical of inexperience, of his fear of the unknown, his need to find shelter in what he knows and his tension and anxiety are constant.

The first school experience requires a special treatment from the center and the classroom teacher to contain the child and create the necessary conditions so that he can adapt little by little to this new reality. Here we must insist again on the importance of the collaboration of the parents, since they can help the child to begin to slowly separate from them without having the feeling of being left abandoned.

The first thing that we have to take into account is that the physical and emotional setting provide an adaptive setting. The collaboration of the parents must be preceded by a general meeting with them before the first day of school. At this meeting, the educator must point out the importance of the separation of the child from his parents and the disconcert provoked in them by the incorporation into an unknown physical and human setting. He can even advise them to take the children to visit the center while it is open without activities, to show them the classroom, the toys, the furniture, the playgrounds, the patio, the toilets, the dining hall, etc., while he explains the school routine and answers their questions. This will give them something to talk about at home and the child can begin to build a relation between the family as a reliable and trustworthy element and the school which is what he now has to get to know.

A very important aspect is the impact that the separation from the child has on the parents and, especially on the mothers, and when it is the first time. In this sense, the parents also need some guidance to help them be aware that the possibility of a good adaptation of their children to this new situation largely depends on the attitude that they take. The child has been living in a relation that is not very open to the outside world and this has created a very special link of mutual dependence between him and his parents. The feeling of attachment is not only from the child towards his parents but from them, specially the mother, towards the child, as she has dedicated most of her time to the attention and care of the child. The most frequent thing is that she feels that nobody else can care for her child the way she does which is true. But this is why we have to understand and assume that the child needs to begin discovering that he is not “everything” for his mother, that his place in the family is relative because the mother loves the father and his siblings, her work, her friends, etc., also the mother must assume the separation from her son as the only possibility to start on the road towards autonomy, through a process of construction of other relations that will help him to assume himself as an independent person with his own world.

The awareness of the mother on this aspect of her relation with her children will not only depend on objective knowledge of the topic as there will always be unconscious elements that operate on the way of feeling and acting that the child receives and register in his own unconscious. For example, a mother can verbally state her intention of having her child become independent from her, talking with the child and expressing through words a wish that is contradicted with the attitude she assumes in her subjective relation with the child. Surely, what the child receives and internalizes are not her words, but the strength of her wish that is shown in each gesture, in her contained anguish, in her unconscious fears, in her looks, in everything that is expressed through non verbal language.

This development is built on partial losses and it is going to be possible as the child can start to substitute these losses with other affective elements and activities. This development is, in the end, a process of substitutions, shifting and progressive identifications. If this is not understood so, there is the risk that the child gets trapped in the paternal relation and does not want to grow, because growth represents for them child the loss of the object of love that he has felt in the first years of his life. As educators, we have to take this into account to approach the adaptation to school from a global perspective that eases the entry of the child into our center.

The emotional training of the parents plays a very important role, as we have already mentioned, and this topic is fundamental for that training. A bad handling by the parents of this aspect of their paternal relation can lead to very important personality problems in the future life of their children with different symptoms in their interpersonal relations. We should not see the emotional education of parents as one of our responsibilities but we should be aware of the importance of holding meetings with them to cover these aspects of child development and to be able to rely on their collaboration in the tasks that we follow with their children.

A possible way of organization

The most convenient thing is that the children enter our school on different dates to allow the parents or other close relatives to be with them for short periods of time, so that they are not in the school for the full day from the start. They can start in small groups, of 6 or 8 children and their stay can become longer as they begin to feel more comfortable in the center. In a prior meeting with parents we can tell them how they can help in the classroom, with activities such as labeling the objects of the class, place nametags on the coat hooks, share a play period with them, help pick up materials, do monitor duties in the playground, etc. It is also important to include the parents in the daily assembly when the teacher can introduce the new children and their parents to the rest of the class and discuss with the group the activities for the day. They should also be included in the closing assembly so that parents and children can share their impressions and emotions for that day.

The first activity of the children is the welcome. This is a very important moment for them because their initial perception will depend on the way they are received by the teacher. The educator should not feel that he has to immediately empathize with each child or that he must establish an intense affective relation or show an excessive charming attitude trying to establish close links. The best thing is to ask the child his name and allow him to explore the class and provide him with some references that make him feel relaxed.

During the assembly, from the first day, the teacher can pin nametags on the children so that at the end of the day they can take them off and place them on a bulletin board next to their pictures.

This is the ideal time for the teacher to introduce himself in a special way. He can have a special scrapbook to share with the children. We should not forget the importance of establishing communication with the children and their families in a human dimension. In this scrapbook, he can have a photo with his name, the place of birth and his birth date. In the rest of the pages he can have photos of his family, his hobbies, things he likes to eat and some photos when he was a child. There can also be some photos of the last year's class that show the pleasant side of school life. The last page can have a poem or a paragraph expressing why he enjoys school life. This book can be laminated so that it can be handled by the children and that they can take it home to share with their families.

A very positive activity for the first days of school, although it can be done at any time that we think it is appropriate, is to have each child bring something from home (the transitional object that Winnicott talked about) and ask them to share it with the rest of the class during the assembly. They can tell who gave it to them, how, when, what is its name, if they sleep with it, if they feed it, what does it like and dislike, why he loves it, if his siblings have other similar objects, etc.

The general activities of the day must fulfill the function of having the child slowly feel that the place is his own, participating with his ideas and decisions in the group. For example, we can ask the children where to place some materials or what color do they want for their names or what area of the room should we work in. We can use the instances where there are some conflicts of interest to begin building norms of coexistence and cooperation that can be written or drawn to place them in the area where we hold our assembly.

The first days, the toys should be highly visible to stimulate the children to play, explore and enjoy. It is important to prepare a pet, or an elf or some attractive figure that will give an identity to the group, introduce routines, activities and the story telling activities. The group activities are very important especially in the adaptation period because they generate a feeling of belonging that gives the children identity, trust and security. For example, we can play mimic games, mirror games, surprise bags, songs, dances and motor games that foster communication and body contact.

The presence in the classroom of children from other nationalities that can not express themselves or understand Spanish must be dealt with special attention. The most important thing in these cases is to create a welcoming setting where they feel comfortable and accepted despite their limitations because in this case, we are dealing with a dual separation. On one hand, from their culture, which implies different rules, values, customs, food, etc. and on the other, of their language, that goes along with the separation from their mother. This why it is very important to begin well their process of integration, stimulating their participation through family photos that portray their cultural and affective universe and that they can share by showing them to the other children.

The intervention of the teacher is fundamental, helping the child to express himself anyway he can, through mimic, gestures, etc., and orally completing his interventions so that the child perceives that he has been able to communicate. In sum, make the period of adaptation a significant experience for the child, which does not mean avoiding his conflicts and difficulties, which would be impossible, but creating the conditions to handle and solve them conveniently, so that they are able to keep facing, with the teachers mediation, the challenges they will meet during their development.