Clayton Early Learning

Children Act on How They Are Treated


On multiple occasions a year, the staff at Clayton Early Learning gathers into one of our many meeting spaces for professional development.  This is an opportunity for us to look at various aspects of research and we are challenged to deliberate and often are called to action. This school year has been no exception. Early this year we gathered together to review a piece of research that would help us improve our practice and encourage us to focus on building stronger relationships with the families we work with; Metatheories of Childrearing by Ronald Lally can be found in the pages of Concepts of Care: 20 Essays on Infant Toddler Development and Learning.

Lally draws attention to the fact that every person has a theory, fed by experiences, that contributes to their point of view on child rearing.  This is important to understand, especially by those who are in the position of working directly with parents, caregivers or home visitors in matters of childrearing, guidance and discipline.  Being that each individual will be bringing a different set of values and opinions, there can be a difference of opinion between practitioners and clients.  These differences are typically caused by conflicting Metatheories of Childrearing.  Simply put, a meta-theory of child rearing is the story carried by an adult about what makes a children act and how a child must be treated given those actions.  By identifying our individual and organizational beliefs in child rearing we are able to work more effectively with our children and families by reaching a third space where you can work together around new ideas.  These Metatheories are popular amongst both caregivers and parents:

The Blank Slate (Empty Vessel): From this point of view the way children turn out is completely based on the experiences the children have in the environments in which they are raised and through the provision of information by others.

The Unfolding Flower (Noble Savage): The child is viewed as a flower that is blossoming with a trajectory for healthy growth that is present from birth.  From this meta-theory a child’s development can be damaged from too much interference from the outside.

The Constantly Tempted:  Also referred to as the “Devil On Left Shoulder – Angel On the Right”.  Individuals who see child rearing this way want the child to be on guard so that they pay attention to whom is whispering in the ear.  They will warn the child to pay attention to that angel whispering, not listen to the temptation of the devil and to stay vigilant. They continually remind the child that they are in a struggle between good and evil, and will be tempted to do bad things.

The Savage:  From this point of view unless impulses are strongly inhibited and controlled right from birth the child will be an un-socialized wild person.

The Unknowing/UnfeelingThe Unknowing/Unfeeling: This metatheorie suggests that little engagement happens until age two and pretty much anything can happen in front of children of a younger age without permanent consequence.

The Late/Early Bloomer: This philosophy believes that until a child is about 5, 6, or 7 years old – the age of reason – that the child does not have the capacity or the  responsibility for right or wrong actions. children are given free reign to explore, allowed to play, allowed to transgress i.e. to “be children”.  But come age 5, 6 or 7 things change dramatically. Expectations of  children change quickly, almost over night as do socialization patterns and educational practices.

The Predestined: From this perspective those who care for children see their roles as both one of nurturance and  of facilitation of the child’s learning agenda.

What if your Metatheorie on Childrearing?  How does it impact your decisions as a parent or educator?



101 Three Friends 7131 (2010). [Graph illustration February 12, 2010].  Retrieved from


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