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Between Terror and Trust: Patterns of Parent-Infant Communication in Play
Unformatted Document Text:  must inspire the child’s complete trust. On the other, he or she -- and as noted above this is typically a task adopted preferentially by the father rather than the mother -- must provide the child with the necessary pretend scaffolding to allow her to exercise her capacities to construct the mental space that are required to regulate her own emotional response to a fictively scary situation. The child’s success or failure at this task, which is crucially dependent on the father’s participation, may well have long-term consequences for the capacity of the grown individual to handle certain types of challenges. Although we hypothesize that the behavior is pedagogical in nature, neither the parents nor the children engage in these behaviors with an explicit pedagogical intent; instead, they are experienced as inherently enjoyable and worthwhile for their own sake. We suggest that this feature of spontaneous enjoyment is a necessary component of a pedagogical practice with deep biological roots: we cannot expect an infant to plan its own education consciously. Since infants are no longer at serious risk of predation, it is also unlikely that parents engage in these activities with a conscious intent to train predator-evasion skills. Instead, what patterns the communication from the subjective perspective is the excitement and pleasure it occasions. Studies of similar phenomena dating back several decades have examined peek-a- boo and chase play as social-cultural games that children undertake in order to learn how to fit into human society and culture. Research into infant play has generally adopted the perspective that play emerges from and takes place exclusively within the sociocultural sphere. Thus, Piaget (1954) suggested that the infant’s development is directed towards assimilating and accomodating to adult behavior, while Bruner & Sherwood (1976) and Vygotsky (1978) focused on the role of adults scaffolding sociocultural skills in

Authors: Kyas, Jirina. and Steen, Francis.
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must inspire the child’s complete trust. On the other, he or she -- and as noted above this
is typically a task adopted preferentially by the father rather than the mother -- must
provide the child with the necessary pretend scaffolding to allow her to exercise her
capacities to construct the mental space that are required to regulate her own emotional
response to a fictively scary situation. The child’s success or failure at this task, which is
crucially dependent on the father’s participation, may well have long-term consequences
for the capacity of the grown individual to handle certain types of challenges.
Although we hypothesize that the behavior is pedagogical in nature, neither the
parents nor the children engage in these behaviors with an explicit pedagogical intent;
instead, they are experienced as inherently enjoyable and worthwhile for their own sake.
We suggest that this feature of spontaneous enjoyment is a necessary component of a
pedagogical practice with deep biological roots: we cannot expect an infant to plan its
own education consciously. Since infants are no longer at serious risk of predation, it is
also unlikely that parents engage in these activities with a conscious intent to train
predator-evasion skills. Instead, what patterns the communication from the subjective
perspective is the excitement and pleasure it occasions.
Studies of similar phenomena dating back several decades have examined peek-a-
boo and chase play as social-cultural games that children undertake in order to learn how
to fit into human society and culture. Research into infant play has generally adopted the
perspective that play emerges from and takes place exclusively within the sociocultural
sphere. Thus, Piaget (1954) suggested that the infant’s development is directed towards
assimilating and accomodating to adult behavior, while Bruner & Sherwood (1976) and
Vygotsky (1978) focused on the role of adults scaffolding sociocultural skills in


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