Presentation - ECV2022-313
Background: Infants have sophisticated social capacities from birth that lay foundations for highly evocative emotional communication in their first year of life. These capacities, however, are often underestimated and undervalued in home and educational contexts. This can leave babies ‘lost in translation’ through misinterpretation during a developmental period when adults speak for children more than any other. This presentation introduces an innovative concept of infants’ ‘emotional capital practices’, that can help reconcile problematic concepts of infants’ ‘voice’ and participation rights, with the observable practices they engage in.
Aim: To document infants’ sophisticated emotional capital practices in early childhood education (ECE) contexts, and critically reflect with educators about their responses to them.
Method: The project used a participatory, practice-based approach. Sixteen infants aged between 6 and 14 months old and three permanent educators participated in the project. Video and photographic data were gathered over eight weeks by ‘participant observer’ research. Iterative analysis was undertaken with educators using a participatory method called the Practice Architectures Map to code the babies’ practices. Fifty years of developmental literature about infant social and emotional development was then used to analyse the practices.
Results: Infants engage in emotional capital practices as part of what is called ‘a negotiated expression of emotion’ which is actually social. Emotional capital practices were thus incorporated cognitive, social and emotional learning, and focused on both positive and negative emotional expressions and purposeful recreation of everyday actions and interactions. These seemed to be partly temperament and personality bound, that is, some children engaged in these practices more than others.
Conclusions: Infants displayed and responded to the sophisticated playful pretend behaviours inherent in emotional capital practices, so it follows they might engage in these when they are thoughtfully planned and included in ECE programs.
Implications for children and families: A focus on your cognitive, social and emotional capabilities through intentional play-based learning opportunities can enhance ECE for you and not only optimise future outcomes, but create rich, social infant and toddler cultures in your present lived experiences.
Implications for practitioners: You can promote emotional regulation and awareness of feelings by starting with the everyday natural and negotiated expressions emotional capital practices represent, and purposely elicit infants’ cognitive, social, and emotional engagement. You can do this by responding to and initiating these expressions through shared attention, using meaningful everyday experiences to pretend with infants and developing emotional literacy with them.
Funding: The Jean Denton Memorial Scholarship
Key words: infant development, infants’ voices, professionals’ voices, innovations, wellbeing, communication, early literacy, education, qualitative methods, theory
This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: