There are many types of adult/child relationships that occur over the course of a day in the classroom. Each has a specific purpose for moving the routine of the day forward. As an educator, I must remind myself to think about the different types of interactions that I have with children to remember to balance my practice by offering children opportunities to have different types of experiences for their social-emotional development.

In thinking about your practice, what types of interactions is the focus of your work with children?

In reflecting on interactions between adults and children, I see several types of interaction patterns emerge. These patterns are not inclusive of all interactions; they are just how I am starting to think about my practice.

Directional interactions. Directional interactions are part of every early childhood experience. There are times when we need to ask children to do certain tasks from putting on a coat to washing hands. Directional interactions help us move a community of children through the day to make sure that specific tasks are completed. Directional interactions are most effective when the directions are clear and concise – consisting of three or less specific tasks. An example would be “It is time to go outside. Please, put on your coat and line up at the door.” The strength of directional interactions is that every program has specific steps that need to be addressed in the simplest way possible. The gap in directional activities is that interactions between children and adults are limited to a request and the response to the request is generally compliance, challenge, or clarifications. The amount of social exchange is limited.

Invitational interactions. Interactions that are invitational are designed to invite children into engagement in some type of interaction or activity. True invitational interactions are based on children’s choice to join and engage in the activity or interaction. Invitational interactions are generally in the form of a question. An example would be, “Would you like to try our new paint brushes?” The strength of the interaction is autonomy on the part of the child to make a choice to engage in the invitation. The gap is that adults don’t always clarify between an invitation and a direction. We often try to soften a directional activity stating it as an invitation, “can you,” “would you like to,” and “will you.” This results in frustration on the part of the adult and child, when what the adult intended as directional compliance results in what is perceived as being challenged by the child. True invitational interactions are optional for children.

Social Interactions. Social interactions are based on adult/child interactions that are of a social nature. They are conversational in nature and focus on an authentic give and take of ideas. Social interactions are voluntary and include a pattern of questions, comments, and beliefs about a topic or topics. True social interactions involve active listening seeking to understand each point of view. The strength of social interactions is that they invite us to share an exchange of ideas and create a sense of connection. The gap of social interactions is that without authentic engagement and focus, the exchange feels unsatisfactory to participants. The result is a lack of focus that impacts trust in the exchange between children and adults.

Relational Interactions. Relational interactions focus on exchanges based on emotional synchronization. When we have an exchange that results in our leaving the interaction feeling something, rather than recalling the step-by-step process of what happened in the interaction, it is based in the connection between adult and child. Relational interactions feed our need to be accepted by each other. The strength of relational interactions is that they nurture and build over time, deeply meaningful connections. They are the emotional connections that sustain adults and children. The lack of relational interactions creates a gap in the personal connection between children and adults. Relational interactions cannot be planned into a day; they erupt spontaneously when we are able to slow down in be wholly present in a child’s life.

Follow the series in exploring the importance of interactions in early childhood education.

What other types of social interactions do you see in your work between adults and children?