Educators’ Perspectives on Attachment and Professional Love in Early Years Settings in England

  • Jools PageEmail author
Part of the Policy and Pedagogy with Under-three Year Olds: Cross-disciplinary Insights and Innovations book series (POPED)


In the current risk-averse climate of the United Kingdom (UK) necessarily intimate relationships that early years educators develop with young children have become a matter for intense scrutiny. This chapter draws on a field-based study which investigated how early years educators in England engage intimately with young children to meet their needs and determine what ‘love’ looks like in early years settings. Emerging from a critical review of the attachment literature the study used an online survey, in-depth interviews and focus groups to explore how notions of professional care and love are constructed within a contemporary early childhood discourse in England. The findings of the study suggest educators want to feel more confident about their professional decisions in relation to expressions of love, care and intimacy. Educators also wanted to inform their everyday intimate relationships with young children with a better understanding of attachment theory and its focus on attuned relationships.



The PLEYS project was funded by the University of Sheffield Innovation, Impact and Knowledge Exchange (IIKE) in collaboration with Fennies Nurseries.


  1. Belsky, J. (2007). Caregiving matters. In M. Woodhead & J. Oates (Eds.), Attachment relationships: Quality of care for young children (Early childhood in focus series 1, pp. 17–18). Milton Keynes: Open University & Bernard Van Leer.Google Scholar
  2. Berthelsen, D., Brownlee, J., & Johansson, E. (Eds.). (2009). Participatory learning in the early years: Research and pedagogy. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Bowlby, J. (1965). Child care and the growth of love (2nd ed.). Middlesex: Penguin.Google Scholar
  4. Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Brannen, J., & Moss, P. (1991). Managing mothers: Dual earner households after maternity leave. London: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  6. Brooker, L. (2010). Constructing the triangle of care: Power and professionalism in practitioner/parent relationships. British Journal of Educational Studies, 58(2), 181–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brooks-Gunn, J., Sidle-Fuligni, A., & Berlin, L. J. (Eds.). (2003). Early child development in the 21st century: Profiles of current research initiatives. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  8. Buzzanell, P., Meisenbach, R., Remke, R., Liu, M., Bowers, V., & Conn, C. (2005). The good working mother: Managerial women’s sensemaking and feelings about work–family issues. Communication Studies, 56(3), 261–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell-Barr, V., Georgeson, J., & Nagy Varga, A. (2015). Developing professional early childhood educators in England and Hungary: Where has all the love gone? European Education, 47(4), 311–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cassidy, J. (2008). The nature of the child’s ties’. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications (2nd ed., pp. 3–22). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  11. Daily Express. (2009). ‘Working women ‘damaging children’. Daily Express UK News 2 February. Accessed 3 Feb 2009.
  12. Daily Mail. (2013). Parents’ horror as they catch their nanny smacking their baby in the face after filming her on a hidden camera. Daily Mail 6 February 2013. Mailonline
  13. Dalli, C. (2006). Re-visioning love and care in early childhood: Constructing the future of our profession. The First Years New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, 8(1), 5–11.Google Scholar
  14. Dalli, C., & Kibble, N. (2010). Peaceful caregiving as curriculum: Insights on primary caregiving from action research. In A. Meade (Ed.), Dispersing waves. Innovation in early childhood education (pp. 27–34). Wellington: NZCER.Google Scholar
  15. Degotardi, S., & Pearson, E. (2009). Relationship theory in the nursery: Attachment and beyond. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 10(2), 144–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Degotardi, S., & Pearson, E. (2014). The relationships worlds of infants and toddlers: Multiple perspectives from theory and practice. Berkshire: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Department for Education. (2012). Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage: Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. London: Department for Education.Google Scholar
  18. Department for Education. (2014). Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage: Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five ( from 1 September 2014). London: Department for Education.Google Scholar
  19. Department for Education. (2015). Early years qualifications list. London: Department for Education: Online. Accessed 30 May 2016.
  20. Elfer, P. (2012). Emotion in nursery work: Work discussion as a model of critical professional reflection. Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 32(2), 129–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gerhardt, S. (2004). Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goouch, K., & Powell, S. (2013). Orchestrating professional development for baby room practitioners: Raising the stakes in new dialogic encounters. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 11(1), 78–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gopnik, A., Meltzoff, A., & Kuhl, P. (1999). How babies think. London: Weidenfield and Nicholson.Google Scholar
  24. Harrison, L., & Sumsion, J. (Eds.). (2014). Lived spaces of infant-toddler education and care – Exploring diverse perspectives on theory, research, practice and policy (International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development Series). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  25. Hornby, A. S. (1989). Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary of current English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Lynch, K. (2007). Love labour as a distinct and non-commodifiable form of care labour. The Sociological Review, 55(3), 551–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lynch, K., Baker, J., Cantillion, S., & Walsh, J. (2009). What equalities matter? The place of affective equality in egalitarian thinking. In K. Lynch, J. Baker, & M. Lyons (Eds.), Affective equality: Love care and injustice (pp. 12–35). London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  28. Mathers, S., Eisenstadt, N., Sylva, K., Soukakou, E., & Ereky-Stevens, K. (2014). Sound foundations: A review of the research evidence on quality of early childhood education and care for children under three. Implications for policy and practice. London: The Sutton Trust.Google Scholar
  29. McMullen, M., & Dixon, S. (2009). In support of a relationship-based approach to practice with infants and Toddlers in the United States. In D. Berthelsen, J. Brownlee, & E. Johansson (Eds.), Participatory learning in the early years: Research and pedagogy (pp. 109–128). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Melhuish, E. (2004). Child benefits, the importance of investing in quality childcare: Facing the future. In Policy papers. London: Day Care Trust.Google Scholar
  31. Melhuish, E., & Petrogiannis, K. (Eds.). (2006). Early childhood care and education: International perspectives. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Noddings, N. (2003). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Page, J. (2008). Permission to love them. In C. Nutbrown & J. Page (Eds.), Working with babies and children: From birth to three. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  34. Page, J. (2011). Do mothers want professional carers to love their babies? Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(3), 310–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Page, J. (2013a). Will the ‘good’ [working] mother please stand up? Professional and maternal concerns about education, care and love. Gender and Education, 25(5), 548–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Page, J. (2013b). Child care choices and voices: Using interpreted narratives and thematic meaning-making to analyse mothers’ life histories. International Qualitative Studies in Education, 27(7), 850–876.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Page, J. (2013c). Permission to love them. In J. Page, A. Clare, & C. Nutbrown (Eds.), Working with babies and children: From birth to three (2nd ed., pp. 192–196). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Page, J. (2014). Developing “professional love” in early childhood settings. In L. Harrison & J. Sumsion (Eds.), Lived spaces of infant-toddler education and care – Exploring diverse perspectives on theory, practice and policy (International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development Series, pp. 119–130). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  39. Page, J. (2015a). The legacy of John Bowlby’s attachment theory. In T. David, K. Goouch, & S. Powell. (Eds.), Routledge international handbook of philosophies and theories of early childhood education and care (pp 80–89). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Page, J. (2015b). Professional love in early childhood education and care.
  41. Page, J., & Elfer, P. (2013). The emotional complexity of attachment interactions in nursery. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 21(4), 553–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Piper, H., & Smith, H. (2003). ‘Touch’ in educational and child care settings: Dilemmas and responses. British Educational Research Journal, 29(6), 879–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Powell, S., & Goouch, K. (2012). Whose hand rocks the cradle? Parallel discourses in the baby room. Early Years, 32(2), 113–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Taggart, G. (2011). Don’t we care? The ethics and emotional labour of early years professionalism. Early Years, 31(1), 85–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Trevarthen, C. (2005). Action and emotion in development of cultural intelligence: Why infants have feelings like ours’. In J. Nadel & D. Muir (Eds.), Emotional development (pp. 61–91). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. White, E. J. (2016). Introducing dialogic pedagogy: Provocations for the early years. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Open Access This chapter is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 International License (, which permits any noncommercial use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license and indicate if changes were made.

The images or other third party material in this chapter are included in the chapter's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the chapter's Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

Personalised recommendations