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Barnett, L. (1983). Language and Intimacy: Some Comments Arising from Action Research in a Local Authority Day Nursery. J. Child Psychother., 9(1):57-67.

(1983). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 9(1):57-67

Language and Intimacy: Some Comments Arising from Action Research in a Local Authority Day Nursery

Lynn Barnett


While writing the final report on Action Research in a local Authority Day Nursery (Bain and Barnett, 1980) the present author became particularly interested in trying to understand one of the findings concerning the sample of 12 children studied in detail in the Nursery and followed up two and a half years later at school. It was found that nearly half of these were below average in comprehensive language and three quarters were below average in expressive language. Although this was a small sample the findings are similar to those of other writers e.g. Goldfarb (1943), Spitz (1946 and 1950), Provence and Ritvo (1961), Burlingham and Freud (1974), Tizard et al (1972), Bowlby (1975), Laishley and Coleman (1977). Another finding of the research was that of a lack of intimacy in the relationships between nursery nurses and children and nurses and parents (which was the result of a complex system of institutionalised defences that protected the staff from experiencing the great stress involved in caring for large numbers of young, disturbed children over long periods of time). This raised the question of the connection between the language difficulties of the children and the lack of intimacy in the nursery relationships.

It is perhaps necessary at this point to give a brief summary of the research methods and findings in order to understand the context of the following discussion on language development.


There is a dual commitment in action research to study a system (in this case child care), and concurrently to collaborate with members of the system in changing it in what is together regarded as a desirable direction.

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