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Child Observational Study

This child observation study was done as part of the curricular requirement of the MSW programme of Kingston University. The child in this study is a 7-month-old girl ‘S’, born in a family from south India settled in London. She has an elder sister, who is 3 and a half years old. As both parents are working on different shift patterns, mostly only one of them is available with the children. They are living in a house having two reception rooms, a kitchen, an extended dining room downstairs, two bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs. There is a small but nice garden behind the house.

The child selection was deliberate on the intention that the parenting and the ethnic backgrounds of the child-rearing shall be culturally familiar to me. As I had personal acquaintance with the parents, I could easily negotiate with them by discussing the objective and methodology of the study and accordingly, we fixed a suitable time for observation. Here I am attempting to describe the process of observation emphasizing first the ways, the observations were thought-about within the theoretical framework, and second to show how this framework could then be used to address the problems of professional concern.

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This observation has been made in three phases of one-hour duration each with a time gap of one week between the observations. The selection of the child with an Indian origin was deliberate as I belong to the same ethnic origin. I planned and executed the observation on the baby on three occasions which are different from each other in terms of time and the adult individuals’ presence. One was in the morning with the father and sister, second in an evening with the mother and child, Dad and sister, and third time in another evening when she was sleeping. I could negotiate the schedule with the parents and they were happy to co-operate with me.

The first observation has been arranged in the morning on 21st December last. As planned earlier, I reached there by 9 o’clock in the morning. When I reached, the baby girl ‘S’ was sitting on an automated pink-coloured swing which has been placed in front of the television. I selected the sofa kept on the right-hand side of the baby as my place to sit. When I sat down she watched me almost for 5 seconds and then turned looking at her Dad who was standing nearby. It is interesting that S paid her Dad a smile at the 3rd second from she started looking at him. It is understood that S developed the most remarkable achievement of specific social attachment whereby the infant seeks to be near certain people, not just anyone. When Dad touched on her head, she was responding to that by moving her hands and legs rapidly and laughing again.

This shows that she could discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar people and developed the capacity to form a special relationship with certain specific individuals with whom she actively seeks to maintain contact. When S’ Dad and sister went into Kitchen, the baby was looking turned to look at the television screen. She used to give a very frequent look at me during this time. It is interesting that the infant did not manifest any stranger fear with me. Fear of strangers as a reaction to unfamiliar people is usually called, was at one time thought to be inevitable and universal and has become enshrined in the psychological literature as a developmental milestone (Hetherington & Parke, 1979, p233). It is now understood as neither inevitable nor universal. However, infants show a great interest in novel people and novel objects and often look longer at a stranger than their familiar caretaker.

In infancy, according to Ross & Goldman, (1977, p, 48, 638-642) behaviours of strangers determine how the infant will react. In the present case, I have not made any direct contact with the baby rather than I was just there. There was a little soft toy placed in her hand and when she dropped it down, she looked at me (as if expecting me to get it for her from the floor). As I have not intervened, she exhibited visual search but no manual search for the missing toy. Gratch and Landers (1971) are of the opinion that if the loss of the object is associated with the interruption of the child’s own movements, visual searching is more likely to ensure than if it has been hidden by another person. She was moving the position of head and hands when she heard the voice of Dad and sister from the kitchen concentrating attention towards that side.

She seemed to start categorization of objects by function and behaviour. While looking at the television, she was found keeping the hand and legs idle for about a minute, and at times she was moving the fingers of the right hand as she was enjoying the secondary circular reaction that helps her gain voluntary control over her behaviour (as suggested by Piaget, 1936/1952 ). When her sister called her from the kitchen, the baby was responding by moving her body. Same time she was looking at me too. Then she started to move her legs and hands rapidly and started playing with the blanket she was covered with. She choked two times and then she was looking to the kitchen side and made noise and moved her hands and legs rapidly. I felt she was looking for Dad and sister when felt discomfort.

Studies of toddlers’ attachments to mothers and fathers show that about 30% of children are securely attached to one parent .and insecurely attached to the other, with both possible combinations equally likely (Fox, Kimmel, & Schafer1991, p. 62, 210-215). It is the quality of each relationship that determines the security of the child’s attachment to that specific adult. In the present case, the infant is found attached and feels secure with the father and mother equally well. One caregiver variable that predicts attachment quality is marital status. Rosenkrantz, Aronson, & Huston (2004, p. 5-18) say that infants whose parents are married are more likely to be securely attached than babies whose parents are either cohabiting or single. Since the child under observation is born to parents of an orthodox Indian family where marriage is a necessary prerequisite for conception, there was no question of such propriety.

However, I find it difficult to add weight to the findings cited above when viewed in terms of the infant’s inability to recognize the marital status of the parents. When Dad came from the kitchen and moved around her, she was looking at him and tried to get his attention. She was scratching her knees, but not quite often and playing with legs, feet and hands while watching television. There was a gradual reduction in the strength of response due to repetitive stimulation from the television screen. Unbelievably, the infant was changing her response like, when music comes, her span of looking at the screen was more than when some discussion were available for viewing. She used to catch the metal frame of the swing as well. An important contributor to the long-term habituation times of young babies is their difficulty disengaging attention from very bright, patterned stimuli, even when they try to do so. (Posner, 1997, p. 327-345). But in the observed case, the infant’s attention becomes more flexible, a change believed to be due to the development of brain structures controlling eye movements.

After watching the television for a while, she made some noise and looked backward for other members of the family. When Dad came back to the scene, she tried to roll around in the swing but because of its positioning, she couldn’t. She was responding to Dad’s presence by moving hands and paying attention to him. When her sister reached near S and took the toy which was on the floor, S took it to her mouth. When Dad and sister were around, S reduced the frequency of looking at me. When her sister called her name she stopped the body movements and looked at her. Then Dad sat down on the sofa – opposite to me, near to her, she responded positively by smiling at him and moving hands. Same time she looked at me as well. When a musical program with dance, is open on the TV, she calmed down and watched it carefully and giving look at Dad as well. When the musical program changed, she started to look around, looking at me, playing with hands and making noise etc.

Developmental psychologist Judy DeLoache and her colleague Sophia Pierroutsakos have carried out several studies examining pictorial competence. Their research has shown that infants confuse pictures with objects they present up until the age of about 19 months. (Pierroutsakos & DeLoache, 2003, p. 141-156). They say that infants display the same kind of behaviour when shown videos of objects. Moreover, they work even harder at trying to handle televised objects when the objects are shown in motion (Pierroutsakos & Troseth, 2003, p. 26, 183-189). However, researchers who have looked at toddler’s learning of complex behaviour from video models have found that they do not learn as well from televised models as they do from models who are life.(Hayne, Herbert & Simcock, 2003, p. 6, 254-261: Schmitt & Anderson, 2002, p. 4 , 51-76). Many developmentalists suggest that the main thing babies learn from watching television is the behaviour of watching television (Boyd & Bee, 2005, p. 115).

On the second time, I attempted to observe the child in an evening with all four members of the family be at home deliberately to understand whether the behaviour of the baby differs significantly when the environment changes with more family members present with the baby. It was at 6.00 p.m. on 28th December 2008. When I entered the baby’s home, she was kept on the same swing in the reception room, in front of the television. She was being fed by her Mum. I sat on the very sofa where I sat last time. When the baby saw me, she looked at me in between feeding. S Dad and sister were around. As the swing was switched off, Mum was trying to swing it manually, when she registered some discomfort. Using her left hand S moved her mum’s hand, which was obstructing her view for television, while mum trying to feed her. I feel it as evidence for the coordination of hand movements.

While feeding, mum was tickling the baby to make proper attention and concentration in having the food, then watching TV. Her response to the tickling was very positive and she expressed happiness by moving her hands, legs and head. After feeding she found enjoying the TV, and at the same time, she was moving the fingers of her left hand. The right hand was kept idle. When the TV program changed, she moved both hands. (I felt it as a good symptom of concentration). S was found very comfortable and satisfied after feeding. When her sister made a noise, the baby was looking at her and she turned and looked at me too after that. Then she started moving her hands and legs rapidly and made different noises to respond to her sister and at the same time she was looking around and the light on the ceiling. S was babbling. It was indeed delightful listening to the babbling. When it was babbling, Mum talked to the kid in motherese to promote S’s speaking. Nelson (1973, p. 149 ) was the first developmental to point out that some toddlers use an expressive style when learning the language.

After a few minutes, the baby tried to turn around and sit upon the swing. But as the swing was structured in a way which baby cannot turn around, she failed in that attempt and that made her uncomfortable and slightly frustrated. After few minutes she started looking at the TV when it started playing music. Then her mum gave her a drink (Carrot Juice). During the course of giving the drink, Mum stopped it two-three times and attended television neglecting S. By this time she started screaming to get more drink. She seemed to be happy drinking that juice. When mum left the kitchen after giving the drink, she was looking at the door to the kitchen repeatedly and manifested some discomfort. From about seven months infants begin to develop specific attachments and insist to stay close to certain people especially the mother. The feeling it demonstrated must be a separation anxiety

The 50 minutes time was over by this time and I have stopped the observation and started taking notes. There was no noticeable difference in the infant’s behaviour when found with more members of the family. The third day’s observation was conducted on 4th January 2009. On this day I planned to start the child observation when it is sleeping so that I can see the sleep-wake-up pattern and the emotional manifestations attached to the process of sleeping and wake up. The time was made agreeable to the parents through discussion. The observation started at 7.30 p.m. When I reached the place, S was being breastfed in the bedroom upstairs. After 10 minutes, Mum came down and told us that the baby began sleeping. Her Dad and I went upstairs to start observation. He was talking to me a bit louder and maybe because of that we could find the baby woke up.

She was lying on a pine-finished wooden crib, completely decorated with pink coloured clothes and blanket, where she used to sleep every day. When I sat down on the bed near the crib, she was found a bit disturbed as she could not enter into a deep sleep. She was not found sleepy – maybe due to my presence and started playing herself with the side of the blanket she has been covered with. She was making the hand movements properly while playing with the blanket. I could find her yawning while playing with the blanket. A few minutes later her Mum came in and that made the baby pleasant and she was moving the hands and legs rapidly and made noise to get attention. She was looking above the head when mum moved to the head side of the crib. The baby was making noise and started to cry when mum withheld eye contact. But after a few seconds, she calms down and started playing herself.

In between that dad came around and then the baby tried to get his attention. As dad and mum went downstairs, she started crying. But when Dad called her from downstairs, she calmed down and started to continue playing again. After that, she looked at me and smiled. When I smiled back, she also gave a very nice smile back. When playing, it was noticed she enjoys shaking the crib by herself. She was trying to turn around and when she failed, because of the shortage of space, she was moaning. After few seconds, she started playing again. When the doorbell rang, she stopped everything and found listening to that for few seconds. A few minutes later her mum came in and played with her for approx. two minutes. Baby found so happy and hold on to mum’s hand and sat down on the crib. But a few seconds later, she fell down on her back into the crib.

As the mattress on the crib was soft and nice, she didn’t show any discomfort. When mum took her in hand, she was looking at me and expressed her happiness. Through frequent sucking on objects like blankets, she claimed to be at the oral stage. In between that didn’t forget to give looks at me too, especially when I change my sitting posture. She was found wide awake this time. I concluded the last phase of the observation process also well within the stipulated time. Observation of children serves the purpose of treating them as individuals; it is focused on understanding development and it shall facilitate communication with the child. Such information shall lead towards the assessment of the child’s developmental, emotional and social needs and to the assessment of the risk.

A link is made with the theoretical training of social workers in understanding the development and needs of the children. The observation provided me extensive opportunity to learn from experience about an infant. The process helped me learn how family members behave and experience the crucial events of the infant’s life and the quality and nature of the relationship that develops between them. Although focused on the infant, the caregiving behaviour of the parents also could be observed. It is primarily considered as the context for a child’s behaviour. The major limitations I felt with respect to the present investigation are the unwillingness of the parents to let the infant freely lying on the floor thereby disenabling me for a more natural observation and the circumstantial pressures that constrained me to leave my original plan to observe the child when sleeping and coming out of sleep.

In conclusion, I can safely state that the sensorimotor development of S is normal and adequate. She becomes more aware of individuals and events outside her own body and makes the events happen again in a kind of trial and error learning. Beginning understanding of the “object concept” as suggested by Inhelder and Piaget (1958) could also be detected. Globally in general, and India in particular, it is the family environment that has profound significance and impact on the child’s growth. Factors within the family that may influence the ability to respond to the child’s developmental needs include the parents’ own experience on childhood and parenting style.


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