Applying the tavistock method of observation and group reflection to the study of babies and toddlers in centre-based childcare

Linda J. Harrison*, Belinda Friezer, Robyn Dolby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter presents new Australian research to illustrate how psychoanalytic theory and methods can contribute to early childhood educators’ understanding of the emotional world of infants and children. Working with a small group of educators, the authors trialled the use of Tavistock infant observation method (TOM) in a study of children attending centre-based childcare. The TOM approach is unique in that it places emphasis not only on what is seen and heard but what is felt by the observer. Regular discussions led by a TOM-trained psychologist supported the group to reflect upon their emotional responses and insights, using basic psychoanalytic concepts of countertransference, projective identification and container/contained during an eight-session training programme. The authors, who came to the study with differing levels of familiarity with psychoanalytic theory, provide examples from their observational narrative records to illustrate their developing understandings and ability to use psychoanalytic concepts through the process of collaborative reflection within the seminar group. The chapter concludes by considering how the deep understanding that the TOM provides about babies’ and toddlers’ emotional communication can help educators reconcile opposing notions of the child as competent and vulnerable.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudying babies and toddlers
Subtitle of host publicationrelationships in cultural contexts
EditorsLiang Li, Gloria Quiñones, Avis Ridgway
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9789811031977
ISBN (Print)9789811031953
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameInternational Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development
ISSN (Print)2468-8746
ISSN (Electronic)2468-8754


  • Tavistock infant observation method
  • infant emotional communication
  • applying psychoanalytic theory in childcare
  • observation methods
  • educator reflection


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