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Supporting children's development
Supporting children's development

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1 The importance of the early years

You are going to start by exploring relationships in the early years through the lens of a case study family. The account pinpoints a number of possible factors impacting on the children’s relationships. Make a mental note of these factors as you read the case study, but note that you may have other views due to your different interests, prior knowledge and experiences.

Case study: Forming early relationships

Described image
Figure 1 Forming early relationships

Tomos (4) and Mali (9 months) live with their parents, Siân and Dafydd, a young married couple in their twenties, and their grandmother, Ceri. Ceri is Dafydd’s mother. Siân and Dafydd have known each other since they were at school together and married when Siân found out she was expecting Tomos. Although Ceri tries hard not to interfere with how Siân and Dafydd bring up their family there are inevitable tensions with the three adults sharing a house and Tomos, at four, is beginning to play his parents and grandparent off against each other.

Siân has decided to go back to work full time now that Tomos is moving on from preschool into mainstream schooling. Mali has been a very clingy baby and Siân is worried about how she will cope with being away from ‘Mummy’ and going into day care.

Tomos was a very easy baby – very placid and quiet. As a toddler he often seemed to be in his own world and did not interact with other children. Tomos’s parents put his behaviour down to having a reserved personality, and were secretly very pleased with their well-behaved little boy. During a routine health check Tomos was diagnosed as having a hearing impairment and over the past year has undergone various medical tests. He now sees a speech and language therapist on a regular basis.

Mali has been a more difficult and demanding baby, suffering from colic until she was 4 months old. Siân had difficulty bonding with her and wonders if there will be any long-term effects on her relationship with her daughter, or on Mali’s social and emotional development.

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Figure 2 Tomos and Mali’s early relationships

As a baby, Tomos was happy to lie quietly in his cot, or amuse himself as he got older, and did not seem to want lots of attention. As a result, Siân was able to work part-time. Between them, Siân, Ceri and Dafydd were able to care for Tomos without him going into day care until he started preschool at the age of 3. Juggling work and family time, however, meant that taking Tomos out to meet other babies and toddlers was not easy. When Siân and Dafydd went to a parents’ meeting with the preschool to discuss his transition to school, they were not surprised to hear that he has no special friend, and that he is quite happy playing on his own.

As Tomos has a hearing impairment he was referred to a speech and language therapist. This was a great shock to his parents and they found it hard to adjust. However, they were determined to do all they could to help him. They spend a lot of time carrying out exercises and activities suggested by the professionals they see. Tomos does not always want to do these, and Siân and Dafydd sometimes resort to cajoling and bribing him to do what they want. Tomos gets upset and, on occasions, Ceri steps in and lets Tomos have what he wants without doing what he has been asked to do. This has caused some friction between the adults in the house for a time.

When Mali was born a few months after Tomos’s diagnosis, Siân, particularly, found it very difficult to cope with the differing demands of the two children. Mali has been the total opposite to Tomos as a baby. She suffered from colic and cried a lot, and woke frequently in the early months. Dafydd worked a lot of night shifts so that he could be about during the day to take Tomos to preschool and give Siân a break, but this left them both tired and exhausted. Although Ceri had tried to keep in the background when Tomos was a baby to allow Siân and Dafydd the freedom to develop their own parenting skills, she has become much more involved with baby Mali.

From a very tiny baby Mali hated being put down and would scream or cry unless she was being cuddled or sleeping. Her clingy behaviour was very wearing on the family. Ceri, who did a lot of the early caring, spent many hours cradling Mali in an attempt to calm her, while Siân was busy with Tomos. Mali now has a very close bond with her ‘Nain’. She loves to cuddle up to Ceri for a story and will often choose to go to her when she is hurt. On a recent occasion, when she fell over playing in the garden, even though Siân was nearer to her, Mali chose to go to her grandmother for comfort rather than her mum. Siân found this small incident upsetting and it has made her realise that she needs to spend more time with Mali and work to build up their relationship.

Mali’s relationship with Siân appears to be less secure than her relationship with Ceri. While she seems happy enough to be with Siân there are little hints that she feels more sure of her relationship with Ceri, such as settling more easily for Ceri when she is upset. Siân is grateful to Ceri for helping with Mali, but has begun to worry that she takes second place to Nain in her daughter’s eyes. Tomos found it hard to adjust to sharing his parents with Mali when she was first born but he loves his little sister now, and likes to play with her, although he can get annoyed with her, too – particularly when Mali tries to grab his favourite dinosaur model!

Activity 1

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Reread the case study and make a note of:

  1. What factors may have impacted on both Tomos and Mali’s relationships with their parents and grandmother?
  2. What possible reasons are there for why Mali may not have formed a close relationship with her mother?
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The account highlights some possible factors that may affect the children’s relationships. Below are some of the factors you may have identified, but you may have noted different ones. Your answers may reflect your different experiences, interests and prior knowledge.

  1. Tomos's diagnosis of a hearing impairment came while Siân was expecting Mali. Siân had to spend a lot of time taking Tomos to appointments and carrying out activities with him to help him with his language development. This naturally will have impacted on Tomos's relationship with his parents and grandmother as everyone coped with the demands an early intervention approach placed on the family.

  2. Tomos's behaviour and subsequent diagnosis, and the busy lives of his parents, may have affected how easy he found it to form relationships with other children, although he appears to be forming a healthy sibling relationship with his sister.

  3. Mali has a very close, secure, relationship with her Nain as she did a lot of the early caring while Siân was busy with Tomos. Siân found it difficult to bond with Mali when she was born, possibly because her focus was on Tomos but also because Mali was a ‘difficult’ baby. There is a hint that Mali may not be sure that her mother loves her and may have a less secure relationship with her, evidenced by Mali going to her Nain when she was hurt.