The Function of Familiarity, Security, Affiliation, and Attachment in the Outdoors


The Function of Familiarity, Security, Affiliation, and Attachment in the Outdoors

The Function of Familiarity, Security, Affiliation, and Attachment in the Outdoors. Or Why That One Child Needed Time and Someone to Hold His Hand.

Efficient communication between young children and adults is both a complex and precise subject; a subject that goes way beyond control and containment. In my last blogs, I have written about the "culture of danger" in early childhood education and education about the environment underlining strategies used by adults and capabilities exercised by young children. Respecting the developmental age of a child and acknowledging that child development is naturally uneven. Observing and documenting young children’s gazes as a base for understanding their individuality. And, as we will see in this blog, developing "symbolic affiliation" and documenting related behaviors, are a few of the strategies used by adults.

Respecting Developmental Age: Acknowledging the Individuality of Young Children

Young children have at their disposal several abilities they can use to communicate like

  • "sliding their gaze toward the adult and letting their gaze be piloted,”
  • learning in a rote manner,
  • sounds and gestures as cues,
  • imitating as means to encode wanted behaviors before being capable of choosing them voluntarily,
  • and experiencing events and environments as repeated occasions to manage and integrate information and knowledge over time.

Pedagogically, these abilities can become strategies for adults to ensure optimal communication within education to the environment.

It has been my experience that adults tend to expect too much from young children as they are not familiar with developmental processes. They tend to ask young children to be like five-year-olds who often have attained a certain level of development, can mimic all the good behaviors, and are on pause (more or less) when it comes to physical and hormonal development. This makes them quite docile, and agreeable with a steady mood, all conditions being optimal of course! So, a two-, three- or four-year-old is not a five-year-old!  Plus, they are individuals with their own life stories.

The Boy in the Doorway

One day, while I was working as a daycare director and pursuing my research in anthropology of early childhood education, a very special boy was presented to me and my team of educators. He was three and a half years of age and came from a very disadvantaged environment. Taking him by the hand on his first day in daycare, I took him to his assigned peer group. The door was wide open, and the children were playing happily. His educator was smiling and welcoming. He stood in the doorway, staring blankly, and refused to walk in. He stood there every morning for three weeks.

I held his hand and eventually pulled up a chair beside him and put my arm around his shoulders. He had never seen toys or other children… So, we waited quietly. We encouraged him with our affection and gave him time. The time he needed to look, to identify, to name, to observe the children playing, to make sense of all the activities, to understand the noise and motions, and to recognize his assigned educator. He did not say a word for three weeks.

One morning he let go of my hand and walked into the room to grab the most sought-after red fire engine. Experiencing, processing information, identifying knowledge, making sense of relationships, and familiarizing oneself with time and space takes time.

Attachment and Affiliation: Key Factors in Successful Communication

It also takes familiarity, security, "symbolic affiliation"[1] (as in sympathetic or friendly association and complicity), and attachment. If a child is unsure, worried, unfamiliar with objects and people, confused by noise or activities, or if his basic needs are not satisfied, he is unable to play. It happens to all young children at one time or another and with different degrees of intensity. So, to gain their confidence, adults must cultivate steady, warm, and authentic relationships with them.

Just because children have not learned the "affiliation behaviors"[2] that we expect to see in early childhood doesn’t mean they cannot develop them at a later age or with different people. As Hubert Montagner explains [3], familiarity can be encouraged and occasions to practice it can be organized. A sense of security can come in time if proper conditions are put in place and if we take the time to get to know the individual children. As adults, if we are seeking affiliation and attachment with children, and we should, we must keep in mind that WE must be worthy of those relationships.

Concerning "attachment" and its classifications used in developmental psychology, caution should be used in employing the terminology as the "relational models of attachment are simply norms used in scientific research that found their way into the collective imagination through processes of generalization."[4] Relational models are scientific constructions, and they are not "synonyms of attachment itself" as Goldberg, Blockland and Myhall [5] remind us. Educators and teachers are not responsible for establishing a diagnosis, but they are responsible for reaching out to children and offering them the best educational environments possible. The number of children per adult is a key factor in developing affiliation and ensuring successful outings. The lesser, the better! Something must be said about taking children under three years old on outings. Taking a young child to new places or unfamiliar settings can make them feel confused and insecure if the person they are attached to is not with them. Attachment, or at least affiliation, is necessary to mediate information for young children.

About the boy who stood in the doorway, in awe of his play environment, I can attest with pleasure that he went on, in time, to preschool with success. He taught us so much about observing, listening, seeing, responding with respect, documenting, and intervening.

Lastly, if you liked this blog or have any questions, please write to me:

SM/sm blog June 2023


[1] Montagner, H. (2003: 9). L’attachement, des liens pour grandir plus libre, L’Harmattan, 207 pages. (Citations from Maurice Berger (1997)).

[2] Montagner, H. (2003: 192-193). L’attachement. Les débuts de la tendresse, Odile Jacob, 331 pages.

[3] Montagner, H. (2003; 75). L’attachement, des liens pour grandir plus libre, L’Harmattan, 207 pages.

[4] Major, S. (2014: 77). Mamès, profèsorn oun kinder likth. Éducation en petite enfance en CPE. Le cas des femmes hassidiques Belz en services de garde en milieu familial accrédités, Thèse de doctorat, Université de Montréal, Département d’anthropologie, 294 pages.

[5] Goldberg, S., Blockland, K. & Myhal, N. (2000: 72). Le récit de deux histoires: l’attachement, le tempérament et la régularisation des émotions, in Tarabulsy, G.M., Larosek, S., Pederson, D.R. & Moran, G., Attachement et développement. Le rôle des premières relations dans le développement humain, Presses de l’Université du Québec, 57-90.

About the Writer

Suzanne Major is an anthropologist and early childhood educator. She received her Ph. D. in 2015, with mention of excellence, in Anthropology of Early Childhood Education from the University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She also has a master’s degree in Child Studies which was obtained in 2004 at Concordia University, in Montreal, Canada. She has worked 12 years as Director for the Early Childhood Studies Program of the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Permanent Education. She has been a teacher in the program for 19 years. Suzanne is also an eePRO Moderator for the Early Childhood EE Group.

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