Identity and Socialization of Children in the Daycare Environment


Bethany R. Schell


This paper takes a look at how children construct personal and group identity as well as how they socialize with other children and adults outside of their family, the world around them, and the day care environment. The purpose of the paper was to see how children construct gender roles, the concepts of power, and how they reconstruct family structure as a form of a coping method to deal with a sense of abandonment and separation from their families.


      The purpose of my research was to find how children identify and socialize themselves with in the daycare environment. Children learn self and group identity and social skills with the help of exposure to the daycare environment. However, for many children being introduced to daycare can be a traumatic experience. Many children suffer withdrawal and abandonment issues and have problems making friends or being apart of a group. Several of the children that attend the Mountain Area Child and Family Center, where I conducted the majority of my research still have great difficulties saying goodbye to their parent(s) during morning drop off despite the length of time they have been attending daycare.

      Ella is one of the toddlers I observed with this condition. She is small for her age, with short dirty blonde hair, her mouth permanently agape, and a semi-permanent look of stern loneliness on her face. Ella has been coming to MACFC on Tuesdays and Thursdays regularly since its doors opened late last year (2000). Ella’s mother does the morning drop off routine that was established that first day she brought Ella to MACFC. Ella’s morning ritual begins by clinging to her mother’s side, being carried by her mother while she socializes with the workers, or following closely behind her mother as she says good morning to the other children. When the time comes for her mother to leave for work Ella begins to cry and call for her mother. As her mother backs out of the front door saying, “I love you, and “See you later today”, Ella’s cries become uncontrollable. The teachers/workers in the toddler room attempt to soothe Ella by holding her or reading her stories. She has a picture of her family that she carries around with her whenever she becomes lonely or sad. When Ella’s crying fails to cease she is placed in a special corner, designated the “cozy corner,” that is supplied with toys and pillows to lie on. When Ella is placed in the cozy corner she becomes even more frustrated to the point of shaking. This take on the “time out” theory varies from the original because Ella is not isolated from contact with the other children or the teachers. Ella is instructed to take deep calming breaths and to think about the activities of the day. It takes Ella about twenty minutes to fully calm down, and by that point many of the other children have arrived. Periodically Ella will begin to cry, seek out her picture, and/or the workers, or her cousin Joy who also attends MACFC to soothe her. Many of the other children go through this behavior in the morning, but not to the extent to which Ella exhibits.

      My interest in seeing how children develop social skills, learn to adapt to the environment outside their homes, and socialize with people outside their family groups developed from watching children like Ella go through the experience of separation and the feelings of isolation in populated places. My research was mainly conducted at the Mountain Area Child and Family Center; it provides an alternate style to daycare and was created by faculty and staff of the Education Department at Warren Wilson College.

      My original intention was to research the structure of families that have children with Muscular Dystrophy. I was looking for differences in family structure between families with children who had a physical disability and families that do not. However as I got deeper into the research I found that it had become impossible to conduct. The resources and literature were not substantial enough to support my theories. I still wanted to look at how children socialize themselves with their families and their communities at large. It so happened that my class entitled The Family was scheduled to observe a daycare center built and run by the college that I attend (Warren Wilson College). The class met early in the morning at the center and we were given a full tour of the small facility. In this initial observation I noticed the children’s reactions to departing from their parents and how they interacted with the other children, workers, and the classroom. With my initial research in mind, I decided to look at the way children are socialized and socialize themselves and their families within the fluctuating daycare environment.

      I began to frequent the Mountain Area Child and Family Center three times a week at alternate times during the day: morning shift, naptime, and end of the day pick up. I mainly observed the toddler room (ages one to three) that has a fluctuating number of children daily. There is no commitment to bring the child into the center and often some of the children only come on alternating days. This fluctuation greatly affects the dynamics of the room and the interactions of the children. I observed that the children have grown attachments to one another and often depend on one another for support. These early social networks help to build socialization skills as the children move into the school systems.

      During my visits to the center I also contributed to building the Family Center, a conference type room, which has been established to help parents and children adjust to the daycare environment. The center is stocked with pamphlets, toys, and other reading material that gives information on the adjustment, types of care, and classes for improving child rearing and even education classes for the parents. In working with building this room, I created a short survey that asked the parents what types of services would they prefer the Mountain Area Child and Family Center (MACFC) provide. I discovered that the majority of parent responses requested classes on alternative ways of parenting and child rearing. Many of the parents commented on classes to teach specific coping methods for both parents and their children for the adjustment to the daycare environment. The entirety of MACFC is dedicated to making its environment suitable for the children and parents.


History of Daycare: The Emergence of Daycare Programs

      In the past daycare has been provided by family and social networks. Women have been the main providers of that care and subsequently the formation of the domestic sphere came from that role.  American middle class families used social networking and family ties as important resources as women entered the work force. As mothers worked, care was provided by those unable to work, such as the elderly, or by those not of age to work (i.e. siblings or cousins). As women consistently entered the work force, the demand for help outside the family structure became greater. Several issues concerning the family surrounded the entrance of women into the work force. One of the issues was affordable daycare and the other was the issue of the mother entering the work force itself. This affected family structure and child care in a way that it helped to institute daycare programs. Class and race are two issues that heavily influenced the emergence of women in the work force and subsequently affected the emergence of daycare. Lillian Rubin in her 1995 research stated:

…But when a mother goes to work it’s big news. Newspapers publish article after article about the numbers of married women with young children in the labor force; social scientists study the situation; politicians wring their hands in alarm and worry about the impact on the family. Yet poor women have always held paid jobs outside the home…Class plays its part. In 1972 it was poor and working-class families who needed a working wife to pay the bills (Rubin, 1995:69).


It was not until World War II that institutional daycare was formulated as an alternative form of childcare. As the men were heading off to Europe and the Pacific to fight in the war, women were replacing them in their jobs. That left many American families turning even more to their extended families, close social networks, or governmental daycare to watch over the safety of their children while they tried to provide an income to sustain their living conditions. This caused many problems within the immediate family structures. The social constructions of gender roles and family identity were shifting because of the entrance of women into the work force. The dominant belief for family structure developed into an ideal model of the way a family should function. The ideal model was retaliated against the temporary entrance of women in the work force. The ideal model took root in the 1950’s and was constructed to place the mother at home as the care provider and the father as the primary economic source. The 1960’s brought about a break from the ideal model with the second wave of the Feminist Movement. Women broke away from the “Ozzie and Harriet” ideals and struck out to redefine gender roles, thus affecting the lives of their families, especially their children.  Coontz says, on the subject of the ideal family:

It is an ahistorical amalgam of structures, values, and behaviors that never coexisted in the same time and place. The notion that traditional families fostered intense intimacy between husbands and wives while creating mothers who were totally available to their children, fro example, is an idea that combines some characteristics of white, middle-class family in the mid-nineteenth century and some of a rival family ideal first articulated in the 1920s (Coontz, 1992:27)


 The entrance of daycare programs as an alternative to interdependence on family for childcare appeared out of the social issues surrounding family changes. The programs that cropped up in the 1940’s to help families whose mothers were now working have carried into the present. However, these programs were flawed and unfortunately became the norm in America. One of the problems with daycare programs in the past has been the lack of service for poorer families, such as African-American families, whose mothers had gone to work. Even when an African-American child was accepted into one of the daycare programs, the price for the daycare was almost too much for the maintenance of the family unit. “Rosie the Riveter” is a film that provides the stories of several women, most being African-American, who struggled to support their families during WWII despite opportunities in the job market because of sexual and racial discrimination. Race, class, and socioeconomic status have always marginalized daycare. These factors contribute to the way the daycare services are run in today’s society.

      It has been a trend in institutionalized daycare that low-income families place their children in a facility that is low quality and affordable for their incomes, or they rely on kin networks for child-care and rearing. In Carol Stack’s book All Our Kin (1974) relays the importance of kin networks and the provision of daycare for working mothers. Stack states in the section of her book entitled Child-Keeping, Gimme a Little Sugar, “Close kin may fully cooperate in child care and domestic activities during times when they do not live together. On the other hand, kin may actively assume parental right in children, insisting on joining a household in order to help in child care” (Stack, 1972:4). Stack conducted her research in the later part of the 1960’s in a small community outside of Chicago (the name of the area was changed in order to protect its residents). The 60’s were a time when again more women were entering the work force, but the jobs that most women, like those living in the Flats, were unstable, low-paying, manual labor jobs. They could barely support themselves on their weekly salary, let alone a child or other family member. This is where child swapping and the concepts of reciprocity come into play, as it was traditionally before the materialization of standardized daycare. Because no regulated governmental daycare was provided through the ADFC program, and because most mothers worked one to two full time jobs, the concept of child swapping as an extended form of daycare emerged. In the Flats a child could be passed around from household to household for several months before returning to live with their mother or father. The division of children, goods, and services among the kin networks and the community at large replace the absence of affordable, dependable, and convenient daycare.

The 1980’s sparked a hot bed of issues concerning childcare and daycare programs. After the Second Wave of the Feminist Movement in the 1970’s, women had become active members of the job market and economy. Although the jobs allotted to women were lower paying jobs, the fact that women had entered the work force drove up the concern for childcare. Many new daycare programs and centers began to spring up in the 80’s, many of them were subsidized childcare programs that had long waiting lists and lacked in quality of daycare.

There may or may not be enough love to go around. But there certainly is not enough child care. One of the most tragic indications of the lack of adequate child care services involves the 1987 death of two boys aged three and four in Florida. They were left alone while their mother was at work. They crawled into a clothes dryer and closed the door. The heat cycle automatically activated. They died in the machine. The child care arrangements their mother had made had fallen through. The boys had been in a waiting list for admission to a publicly subsidized child care program for at least a year and a half (Miller 1990:1)


Due to the lack of affordable and safe daycare many American children were left alone, in the hands of someone who not qualified in the daycare field, or were placed in daycare programs that could potentially cause more harm than good in the future.

The idea of the Latchkey child became a widespread phenomenon in the 1980’s. Many children, both preschool and school aged, were left in the homes to provide their own care. These children lost something valuable they lost the opportunity for early socialization and a place to develop both self and group identity. The largest leaps in child development occur in their preschool years. Children learn to identify themselves and the world around them through observing and interpreting the behaviors of others they come into contact with, and how they react themselves to those situations.

Today childcare is still not unregulated nationwide. The laws for each state vary to such great degrees that it is hard for daycare workers to move positions from state to state. Communities and private homeowners have instituted many daycare centers and programs privately. Without regulations many of these services are inadequate and often dangerous for children. This creates a situation that can stifle social development, confidence, and identity of children. Other facilities, like that of MACFC, are specifically designed to accommodate children’s developmental, emotional, and individual needs.



The Mountain Area Child and Family Center is one of the rarely built “ideal” buildings and is an easily accessible location. MACFC is in between the city of Asheville and the rural area Swannanoa, North Carolina. It was built with the help of raised money from Warren Wilson College, private donations, and government funding. The building is situated on a small hill and is surrounded by woods and it faces a large pasture. The center was built to accommodate Buncombe County residents most of which are low-income families with at risk children. The Family Center section of the center itself was established to educate parents and children and provide specific services that fulfill the needs of the both parties. MACFC was designed by the workers in a collage of styles taken from European school. There is an art room, a large indoor playroom, two infant rooms, two toddler rooms, and two preschool rooms. Only one of each is operational right now, because the building is so new. The staff of MACFC is made up entirely of women. The only exposure the children have to older males are the fathers who come to drop off/pick up their children, the workers building the playground outside, and male members of the education classes that come to observe the center. This exposure to a mainly female populated environment creates a centered space of female authority; reaffirming the bonds small children make with their mother as the chief provider, care taker, and authority.

The center is extremely well lit, with wide sweeping hallways. There are several small windows of varying heights that have been placed into the walls of the rooms and offices. This is done so that all the children may watch and observe each other, helping them to socialize themselves to the concepts of their coming school years. Each classroom was built for it’s accommodating age group. 

      The toddler room, like the others, is a large room, with several large windows that face the playground and another classroom. The space is completely open and there is a small loft that is used as the reading area. The furniture is designed for small children; there are mini couches, chairs, cubbies, tables, a sink, and two toilets. The bathroom is equipped with two mini flushing toilets and a changing station. The bathroom is located in the far front left side of the classroom. The door to the bathroom is half the normal size and is fitted with a large window so other children may observe the children using the potty; this is done to encourage toilet training. Like in the hallways and other classrooms, the toddler room has a small sink where children wash their hands before and after eating, going to the bathroom, coming in from outside, or doing a messy activity. MACFC stresses the importance of clean hands in order to prevent illness.

The toys that have been provided for MACFC’s toddler room, for the most part, come from the old Early Learning Center on Warren Wilson College. The other toys have either been donated by the community, or purchased by MACFC. In the toddler room the toys are varied from anatomically correct baby dolls to a wooden train set, blocks, and lots of dress up clothing. Besides books, those are the main toys coveted by the children. Reading is a big deal for the toddlers, when they are upset, lonely, sleepy, hyper, happy, angry, or any other emotion they almost always insist on having an adult read to them. The interaction of reading socializes children to this learned behavior as well associating children with the school environment. MACFC is set up like a small preschool, although it chooses not to use that terminology. The children that attend MACFC are receiving alternative day care services that have stemmed from past dilemma’s in the daycare environment in the past.



Literature Review

      The topic of gender roles in the day care environment and how they affect both self and groups identity is best summarized in Angela Browne Miller’s book The Day Care Dilemma (1990). The book is based on several studies conducted in the 1980s looking a problems surrounding daycare. She researched several sites of varied forms of daycare. Her conclusions stated that children develop a sense of self and learn social skills in the early part of their lives, and with exposure to safe and nurturing environments children can grow into socially functional adults. Rubin’s take on middle-class families concludes that gender roles shape children’s identities and family structure. Her book Families on the Fault Line summarizes how the demystification of the ideal family model has changed the societal constructions of identity and group ties. Stephanie Coontz, in her book The Way We Never Were, also sheds light on the problems of the ideal family model. The effects of the demystification are the emergence of women in the work force, a call for better day care, and the opportunities for children to develop their own socializations and identities within the daycare environment.

      The family unit as a whole shapes the way in which children construct identity, socializes with others, and can determine what type of childcare service can be provided to them. Coontz, Rubin, Miller, and R.C. Ainslie’s The Child in the Day Care Setting gives background to family structure’s history and how family structure effects child development. The family is the initial place and environment where children learn social skills, self identification, and learning habits. Alison Clarke-Stewart’s book entitled Daycare, in the Developing child series, gives different perspectives on how the family plays into child care outside of the home. The studies in her book explain feelings of abandonment and separation of children from their parents.

Identity is also constructed through power struggles and socialization of different groups, how they interact, and the effects dynamics and continuity among the group. Robin Lynn Leavitt’s book Power and emotion in Infant-Toddler Day Care addresses the concerns of children struggling for personal and group identity in the day care environment as well as looking at how children react to workers, the day care environment itself, and the children they associate with. Many power struggles relate back to gender identity and how those constructs play into the lives of children. Sherry Ortner’s article “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” discusses the controversy of nature verses nurture and male influence vs. female influence. These struggles affect children because they witness the tensions that gender roles, power plays, and the dominant culture have on family structure.

In the context of family structure, children often place family identity onto the workers and other children in the daycare environment. Children form attachments to the workers, often exhibiting the same behaviors they would toward their mothers. In forming bonds with the other children they are setting the stage to perform associations that resemble family life. Role playing is apart of this set up, by playing house or playing with baby dolls children emulate what goes on in their home. Again Sherry Ortner’s article is useful for this example in that it discusses whether it is nature or culture that determines adult behavior. Also the book Exploring Careers in Child Care Services by Jean Ipsa gives insight into how to deal with child attachment, social grouping of children (that may result in rivalry or cliquish behavior), and the feelings of separation children may have.


Analysis and Methods of Data

Gender and Identity

      Gender is not only one of the main ways in which humans identify and socialize themselves’ it is also one of the first ways. Through the construction and behavioral carrying out of gender roles children learn how society expects them to relate to one another and world around them. The children I observed at MACFC are between the ages of one and three years old. This is the primary time when children discover the biological differences between themselves, and when they are taught how to behave according to the societal constructions of gender.

      Children that are at the toddler age are just beginning to learn to vocalize feelings and thoughts; they develop social patterns through play techniques. Some of the more popular games that a toddler plays is dress up and playing house. These games have traditionally perpetuated gender roles exhibited by the society and culture of the children. In America, playing dress up and playing house have marked a clear distinctions between the separation of roles for boys and girls. If a little boy wants to play dress up he is given a cowboy costume, or perhaps a police uniform, or a construction worker’s outfit; anything that can be identified as a male role is used in play dress up for boys. Little girls are given dresses, heals, make-up, anything that can be distinguished as being “feminine”. Behavior that crosses these boundaries is typically punished. For example, a little boy that wants to wear a dress and a tiara will be told that is not what little boys do, and the adults in their society make girls that exhibit “tomboy” qualities to play with dolls. My observations at MACFC were somewhat different. The teachers do not enforce the dominant culture’s construction of gender. When Micajeh asked if he can wear his hair in a ponytail and plays dress up with a cheerleading skirt and his doll Dolphin, the teachers do not scold him and tell him that that is not what little boys do. Instead they allow him to explore his own forms of identity and do not discourage his behavior by clearly stating it is not appropriate for his sex to behave in that manner. I have observed, with my interactions with Micajeh, that he identifies others around him as individuals and not as a gendered group.

       In one instance Micajeh was in the middle of playing house he stopped and wandered over to me, and told me that he was “pretty”. Our gendered language typically constructs this word as feminine. In Micajeh's case he did not make that connection. I later asked Micajeh who else he thought was pretty, and he responded by identifying Kelsey, Cameron, Rebecca, and all the other children as being pretty. The development of language for children of Micajah’s age is important in constructing gender. Words are used not only to identify characteristics that are gendered in individuals, but also used in identifying the world around the children. The primary source of this kind of socialization stems from the family then is perpetuated or dispelled in the daycare environment. At MACFC, the majority of teachers and parents focus on the child as an individual rather than a sex-typed person. Even when the children are at play, the issues of gender and division of behavior between the sexes is not distinguished. Many of the toddler boys prefer playing house, (i.e. pretending to cook, clean, take care of babies, and dress up), than the toddler girls. This behavior might be linked to their strong bonds with their mothers, and through emulating a mother’s duties the little boys feel less unattached from their mothers. On the other hand, many of the young girls prefer playing with the train station, toy tools, and general rough housing to playing with dolls/house. These behaviors are a way for the children to learn to share and develop their own habits of play and communication with peers and adults.

      Early one morning when only a handful of children had arrived at MACFC, Rebecca told me she had to use the potty. The bathroom in the toddler classroom is specifically designed for the children. The toilets are small and low to the ground. The door to the bathroom is half the normal size making it easy for children to open, and there is a window cut into the door so the other children can observe the potty goer. This window is a technique to help children socialize using the potty as a positive behavior, rather than wearing diapers. While Rebecca was using the potty, she looked up at me and told me that she did not have a penis because she sits down when she pee, and that she was a girl. Rebecca proceeded to tell me that little boys have penises and little girls are different from little boys. I asked Rebecca who had told her that information and she said her mommy and daddy did. Rebecca’s statements struck me as unusual because when toddlers are learning to use the toilet both boys and girls sit down while going to the bathroom. It was Rebecca’s parents that had influenced her thinking about the differences between boys and girls, not her own observations.  “In group daycare, infants are exposed to a social environment composed of more types and numbers of people available for interaction than traditionally found in the home” (Ainslie, 1984:133). It is the daycare environment that helps springboard children into being socialized adults, but it is the family who initiates developing behavior.

      I asked in my interviewing process the workers how they felt about the construction of gender roles children who attend MACFC. Nikki responded, “They definitely have them. This is the age when they begin to realize what the world around them is like. They watch their parents and others and emulate their behaviors. You can watch all the little girls vie for the babies (referring to the dolls) and the boys want to play with the trains”. When I inquired how she felt about Micajah and him wanting to dress in the cheerleading skirt and have a ponytail in his hair she responded, “Well, even though they can distinguish the differences between what boys and girls they still explore. At this age the children are concerned with fulfilling their own needs, and exploration is a vehicle for that”. Through role playing children can relate to the behaviors and attitudes of their parents (families).


Family and Identity

Historically, the family has provided the earliest human environment within which the child’s character is shaped (Kardiner, 1947). It is here that early patterns of compliance with authority are established. It is here that the child learns to curb his impulses and to adapt culturally appropriate ways of the journey from an immature, self-centered organism to a mature, socialized adult (Ainslie, 1984:67)


The family is the most influential source for the development of a young child’s mental and social health. During the early stages of childhood development, a child’s family may be the only contact they have with the dominant culture and the society they have been born into. Strong attachments develop between the mother and child, making entering daycare a problem for most toddlers. As I mentioned earlier in this paper, many of the children that attend daycare struggle with being separated from their parent(s). The story of Ella and her troubles with coping with being separated from her family is common, although her severity is unique. Cameron, age two and a half, also had difficulty relinquishing his routine with his family in order to enter daycare. Cameron cried until he had worn himself out for the first two months of being at MACFC. The workers did their best to sooth him, but he only stirred up the other children. Due to Cameron’s and Ella’s lack of coping skills, the cozy corner was established in order to teach the children that their behavior was not acceptable.  Due to the difficulty of children adjusting to the daycare environment, they either form attachments to one another (close friendships) or to the daycare workers themselves. Children often use the family structure to identify and socialize workers as having family roles. Children often see the workers as alternative mothers, and that the nurturing aspect of their job is taken as the nurturing aspect of their mothers. For example, Kelsey is a toddler who’s mother is a worker in MACFC’s kitchen. As her mother drops off Kelsey, and she goes to the kitchen to work, Kelsey immediately turns to Laurie (one of the toddler room teachers) for comfort. She is held by Laurie, read to, and carried around the room until she feels comfortable enough to play with the other children. Kelsey exhibits the same behaviors towards Laurie as Ella and Cameron exhibit towards their mothers.

The fear of rejection, separation anxiety, lack of socialization, and abandonment have all been issues surrounding the daycare environment. The quality of care provided in the day care environment is crucial to a child’s development. If they are not receiving proper stimulation than the child may suffer from anxiety, feelings of abandonment, become introverted, and lack social/verbal skills that are needed for their futures as adults. Tying back in with the history of day care, Tamara Anderson and Beth Vail state, “Because women are responsible for child care in most families, and because they earn less than men, they are under tremendous pressure to find an exploitable, cheap labor force to care for their children” (Anderson and Vail, 1995:). The quality of care determines the forms of identity and socializations that come into play in the children’s later lives.

In my observations of MACFC, I noticed that the children displayed patterns of socialization by repeatedly playing at the same activities with the same children. This is a way of bonding among the children that establishes behaviors such as sharing, verbal communication, and emotional dependence. Emotional dependence in children starts with their families. They are associated the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and the continuity of their personal family structure from birth. Leavitt states in her book entitled Power and Emotion in Infant-Toddler Day Care states, “Consequently, the overwhelming concern in the day care research to date has been the effects of disrupting the mother-child bond, as mothers go to work outside the home” (Leavitt, 1994:9).

 In the case of Ella her attachment is so strong that she carries around a photograph of her family as consultation whenever she has feelings of withdrawal. Other children at MACFC have small picture galleries of their family and friends placed at their eye level. Children who are related to one another often exhibit stronger bonds. Joy and Ella are cousins and frequently play with one another exclusively as well as console, council, and consult one another. Another form of consultation for the children is when parents either stay and eat breakfast with them, or come during lunch. Many parents do this in order to help children deal with their feelings of separation and abandonment. I observed that the parents not only comfort their own children, but those who their child socializes with. They also help in letting the children define their gender roles by letting them play dress up, house, or with the toy train. When a mother or father comes to eat, or spend time with their child they help to break their child’s identification of the workers as mother figures. Many children, due to their feelings of loss and/or abandonment, will reconstruct their family structure within the day care environment. I have heard the children slip and call one of the workers mommy several times. Often when dropped off by a parent, the child will cling to one of the workers in the same manner as they did with the leaving parent drops them off. The reconstruction of their own personal family structure must be modified since there are no male workers at MACFC and that the workers are of different racial backgrounds than from they are from. This does not affect authority of the workers. They use techniques that ensure that the child knows they have done a wrong action, but without isolated, humiliating or physically harming the child. There are several phrases the workers use to discourage improper behavior: phrases such as, “We do not hit our friends”, “That hurt our friend, we do not hurt our friends”, “Please put that down, we are not playing with that today”, and the use of “No” either comes before or after the phrases. The workers do not raise their voices and have not hit a child for wrong actions. These phrases, calm use of a disciplinary voice, and exhibit of power is constructed in a way that the children learn to trust the

workers and not resist punishment.

      Such actions and behavior management reconstructs family roles of parental authority with the day care workers. Young children have the tendency to ignore outside authority and disregard punishment from adults other than their parents. The phrases that the MACFC workers use are techniques to communicate with the children who are misbehaving on a level that they can understand and interpret easily.


Identity through Socialization: Power struggles

The ability to predict landmarks of normal growth and development has limited utility in that every individual develops at his or her own rate. Any form of care, especially group care, which fails to take into account an individual’s unique characteristics of development risks the omission of crucial responses to the individual’s needs (Miller, 1990:103).


The role of caregivers in the daycare environment is an important and highly influential role in a child’s life. From the caregiver children receive affection, positive reinforcement, encouragement, and physical and mental skills needed for a future life in society. Children place the same characteristics of their families on the workers. This causes several problems and power struggles between the workers and children. Although children recognize the workers as authority figures they may rebel against punishment. This is due to several factors such as exposure to outside authority figures, their self absorption of basic need fulfillment, and coping methods for being separated from their families. Children at the toddler age are just beginning to form their identities and often feel constrained when told they are not allowed to something because they are trying to satisfy their needs. When they are told no, they are being denied the desired emotional need that is expressed through the action they want to carry out. When a child wishes to play with a doll that another child is playing with they do not think about whether the doll can be shared they simply express the need to make the doll their own. To own the doll would complete the emotional cycle of wanting and possessing. In denying a child the completion of this cycle problems concerning authority appear. I noticed one day that Alexa, a three year old, wanted to play with everyone else’s dolls. She was not satisfied with possessing her own doll, but wanted control over the other children’s toys. When Laurie repeatedly told her to stop taking the other children’s toys and stating, “You already have you own baby to play with, the other children would like to play with theirs” and Alexa not heading to Laurie’s warnings about being placed in time out, Alexa still continued to attempt to have all the baby dolls. She was eventually placed in time out after she pushed Lena down and took her doll. I inquired after how Laurie felt about Alexa’s refusal to listen to her authority and how she felt about punishing Alexa. Laurie stated:

Well, it’s always difficult to punish a child that is not your own. Even verbally having to discipline them can be difficult. You become frustrated when they don’t pay attention to what you are saying, and it is hard to separate a child from the group, because it can change your relationship with that child. There is a thin line between being friends with the children and also acting as authority figure. You have to build trust while keeping your distance because you are not their mother.             


      Resistance is a large concern for the day care workers. Some children do not respond to the authority of the workers even after punishment. The workers are often faced with a child that refuses to listen and be conditioned to the constructs of right and wrong. The workers at MACFC focus in on this problem and when it is recognized in a child, extra attention and diversion tactics go into effect towards the child. They are shown that their actions are inappropriate and that their behavior will lead to the revocation of certain privileges. They do this in a manner that allows the child to understand their actions and the actions being put on them. Leavitt uses the perspectives of other social theorists to explain this point. She says, “Foucault (1998) posited that power is not completely controlling, that there is always the possibility of resistance in the relations of power (p. 12). Likewise, Goffman also believed that persons simultaneously embrace and resist institutional rules and expectations” (Leavitt, 1994:38). Children at the toddler age are taught and restricted to certain behaviors that acquaint them with the society and its customs that surrounds their developing lives.



       Through my research I found that it is extremely important for children to have access to adults outside of their families and have exposure to other children of their own peer group. This exposure results in the development of self and groups identity, as well socializing skills that are important to build before a child reaches school age. With alternative programs like that of MACFC children become prepared to enter the larger world and the environment outside of their home. They build verbal communication skills, learn to form friendships and build trust, gain motor skills, a sense of the world around them, and learn to obey the authority of people outside their families. At MACFC I discovered that gender roles are constructed through the parents first, and then the children are allowed to explore their own interpretations of those roles. I found that they identify themselves spatially with the environment of the day care facility and home. I discovered that children tend to place maternal roles onto the day care workers, and that their authority is constructed out of these ideas. An individual child will struggle for control over their activities and possessions not only with other children but also with the day care workers. Also, there is a call for affordable, reliable, safe, and high quality day care in America. Too many children in America are not receiving the care they need for proper development mentally, psychologically, and physically. It is centers like that of the Mountain Area Child and Family Center that will provide solid foundations for child development in personal and group identity as well as skills necessary for socialization with the societies and cultures that surround children.