The challenge of striking a balance between the needs of a child and the common good

Every child is unique and is to be treated as such. However, distinguishing between socialising a child to be part of a group and allowing it to be a unique individual calls for a subtle balance.



This has been shown by a Swedish study intended to determine what early childhood educators want to accomplish when working with children. What do they consider to be the most important qualities that children learn in preschool?

Researcher Airi Bigsten interviewed nine teachers in four different preschools in Sweden. In addition, she filmed the interaction between these teachers and 64 children, then asked the teachers: What is happening here? The idea was to raise their awareness of why they do what they do.

She identified some fundamental ideas of importance to the teachers. A child has the right to be unique. All children should be given a good start, and that requires clear parameters and predictability.

Walking a fine line

‘Children should grow up to be democratic members of civil society, who take others into account. That being said, they must also be allowed to be individuals who can voice opinions and be heard.

‘However, distinguishing between socialising a child into being part of a group at the same time as allowing it to be unique always calls for a subtle balance.’

‘Striking this balance may arguably be the most challenging task facing an early childhood educator’, contends Bigsten.

The study gives an idea of the great complexity of common activities and many other routine situations in preschools.

‘Regardless of how seasoned teachers are, finding a balance means walking a fine line. One must consider both what is unique about a child and its right to be included in the group.

‘Society makes many demands on a child that is part of the community. To be good members of society, children must  have the support of adults who guide them into this group’, explains Bigsten.

Clear parameters

Bigsten also finds that preschool teachers consider it an important right for children to have clear parameters and predictability in preschool.

‘Clear parameters are both an end and a means for preschools. Having clear parameters engenders values such as caring for others, safety and protection from injuries.

‘Consequently, there must be certain rules, even though the need for rules may occasionally be at odds with a child’s need for freedom.

‘However, the rules should not be so rigid that children lose their freedom. Here too, it is often difficult to strike a balance,’ Bigsten continues.

Laying a strong foundation for children’s futures

Early childhood educators emphasise the importance of laying a strong foundation for children’s futures.

‘The teachers say that they want to instil hope in the children, and to provide support for them so that they believe in themselves and in their lives with others, both here and now and in the future’, expounds the researcher.

It is important that the employees occasionally discuss and reflect upon what they do, and why they do what they do.

Important to reflect on one’s own practices

Bigsten asserts that the study is indicative of how complex working with children actually is. She is surprised at the extent to which ethics underpins preschool teachers’ work with children. Rules are not to be followed just for the sake of following them. There should be an ethical justification for them.

‘The study shows that it is often difficult for early childhood educators to accomplish what they want to accomplish on a day-to-day basis.

‘It is important that the employees occasionally discuss and reflect upon what they do, and why they do what they do,’ concludes Bigsten.

Regardless of how seasoned teachers are, finding a balance means walking a fine line.