Why do people crib about their work

Germany archive

Agathe Israel

Dr. med .; Specialist in psychotherapeutic medicine, psychiatry / neurology, child and adolescent psychiatry, psychoanalyst for adults, children and adolescents, lecturer at the Institute for Analytical Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy - Esther Bick in Berlin.

The state-sponsored educational practice in the GDR had a double face: on the one hand, the numerous institutions offered parents and children a stable framework, on the other hand, control options developed right into the family, which meant that parents almost had to give up their responsibility for upbringing.

Children washing their hands in a crib in Leipzig, 1970 (& copy Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J0304-0007-001, Photo: Waltraud Grubitzsch)

Sociopolitical and ideological context

The establishment of day nurseries for toddlers up to three years of age was one of the most powerful social policy measures in the GDR since the mid-1970s, along with family-friendly subsidies for children's clothing and children's literature, inexpensive food provision in day-care centers, schools, after-school care centers and “birth benefits”. Gradually, mothers were given leave for a baby year with full wages and their job was secured for three years. Furthermore, since 1972, if you marry before the age of 26, you have received an interest-free loan that was repaid proportionally with the birth of each child. Full-time mothers were given a reduction in working hours of 3.75 hours per week from their second child. The length of annual leave was dependent on the number of children, as was the amount of child benefit. If a child fell ill, the mother or father was given an indefinite leave of absence, which was also paid on a pro rata basis (if several children lived in the household). However, this option was mostly only used by the mothers. Inexpensive kindergarten places as well as vacation and leisure time care were sufficiently available. From the beginning of life, a state-subsidized “full supply” was ensured.

All state efforts were aimed at ensuring the professional activity of women and at the same time the formation of a “socialist personality” in the children. The equality of men and women was laid down in Article 7 of the first constitution of the GDR as early as 1949. To this end, facilities for children should be created "which ensure that women can reconcile their duties as citizens and workers with their duties as women and mothers". In a “unified, cohesive educator front”, the social educational institutions and the “socialist family” (in which father and mother bear fundamental characteristics of socialist personalities and the responsibility and obligation for the socialist upbringing of their children) should also have social influence on the development of the "Potentiate" the child. [1]

From earliest childhood to adulthood, life took place mainly in hierarchically structured small and large groups according to the model: leader - led, speech without counter-speech. The value of the individual was subordinated to the group norms and the ideologically desirable educational goals were to be enforced, also against the interests and resistance of the individual. The focus of the upbringing was the classification into the "children's collective". In the GDR, a collective was understood to be the most developed form of the group, they
    "Consists of socialist personalities [...] is oriented towards the optimal development of its members [...] who conscientiously fulfill tasks in joint action and mutually educate each other to behave in a desirable way". [2]
This model for the structure and dynamics of a community of toddlers between the sixth month and the third year of life underlines how little the connection to the inner experience and to the needs and fears of the children was. Unfortunately, few experts in the GDR expressed concerns about the large groups of babies and toddlers of the same age, the frequent change of caregiver, the long daily separations of nine to ten hours and references to the evening stress with overworked, tired parents. They also seldom criticized the repressive, regulative style of upbringing. [3] With the acceptance of this predefined paternalistic structure, GDR society in its unconscious self-image moved further and further away from its original turning away from the totalitarian conditions of the National Socialist regime, which had been supported by "normal" citizens at the time through silence, looking the other way and following along. A conflict arose which, although felt, could hardly be thought and certainly not discussed in public: The authoritarian-controlling strategy of cultivating maturity, empathy and responsibility from early childhood, hindered the development of precisely these characteristics. [4] This development milieu in the “Nazi-free” part of Germany created a bond with authority. It is an essential characteristic of the “totalitarian character type”.

But not all citizens submitted to this upbringing and education concept. It would be a fundamental error to assume that "the reality of upbringing in the GDR was exclusively determined by [...] official intentions and indoctrinations". [5]

There were quite resourceful spirits among teachers, educators, academically active educators and parents who dealt with “Western” concepts through various channels, such as Montessori education or “Gordon's Family Conference”. But those who created a private space within their families for their children's attachment and individual development often found it difficult to express their attitudes towards the outside world. They quickly had the reputation of being "bourgeois, individualistic deviants". [6] Among other things, this was due to the fact that reform pedagogical ideas, which were based on raising children and their individuality, had already turned away in the early 1950s. The tradition of reform pedagogy from before 1933 was broken because it represented “revisionist views and aspirations”; only Friedrich Wilhelm Froebel as the "inventor of the kindergarten" was occasionally cited as an ancestor. [7] And their further developments were also demonized as "the greatest enemy of a true democratic upbringing". [8]

Soviet educators like Anton Semjonowitsch Makarenko, who literally "projected" the personality of the child to be brought up, or Pavlov's theory of higher nervous activity, which was particularly suitable for Lenin's theory of the reflection of objective reality in human consciousness, were favored. With the introduction of programmed education in the 1970s, these ideas were to be put into practice.

Intra-family context

In the GDR, many couples got married very early, often after completing their vocational training or during their studies, with the hope that they would externally break away from their family of origin and be able to live independently. In view of the housing shortage, a married couple could expect to be allocated their own tiny apartment. Children were seen as a socially supported status symbol and as a means of exerting pressure for greater social freedoms such as a larger apartment, child benefit, freedom from being tied to a job or shift work and the opportunity to travel to the “West”. Of course, children also helped to fulfill their parents' wishes for security. In the case of the self-evident professional activity of both spouses, everyday domestic work was largely shared. Nevertheless, the wife and mother mostly remained responsible for the emotional side of family life and thus ultimately for the children. The constant time constraint was so natural that it was hardly noticed. There was still a double burden on women, and the socio-political family package was more of a “mother policy”.

The birth of the first child usually fell in the first two years of marriage, during which the couple had to consolidate their identity and find their own lifestyle. In this way, the desired child could quickly get into the position of a functioning object and, as a result, be allocated a limited emotional space for its dependency and needs for support and understanding. It then became less of a member in the family system who first had to get something, but instead took on the role of the giver. In addition, there were comparatively high divorce rates. Every third marriage ended in divorce. The first divorce peak occurred in the 1970s within the first three to four years of marriage, i.e. mostly between the spouses 22 to 24 years of age. As a rule, at least one child was born. The fathers' one and a half years of compulsory service in the National People's Army often fell into these first years of marriage, so that they could only experience the beginning of their children's lives from the perspective of an occasional weekend visitor. Early public education could not compensate for the loss of a father or mother, as one of the few studies on psychosomatic and psychological abnormalities of small children in the GDR showed. [9]

Structure of the nativity scene

The district pediatrician and head of the mother and child department visits a day nursery in Berlin Prenzlauer-Berg, 1971 (& copy Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-K0318-1005-002, photo: Klaus Franke)
By 1989, the GDR had the densest network of day nurseries in Europe. In 1950 there were only 194 institutions with 4,774 places, in 1989 there were 7,707 institutions with 348,058 places, which accepted 80 percent of children under three years of age. However, the age limit for admission to day-care centers shifted significantly upwards over the decades when, from 1975, paid leave for mothers or fathers in the first year of life was introduced.

The day nursery places in Czechoslovakia were expanded in a similar way in the 1960s. At the same time, the consequences of early childhood collective education were researched there. When it turned out that psychological deprivation and its transfer from one generation to the next occurred more frequently as a result of early separation and collective early education, these results were discussed publicly and relatively free of ideology and implemented in social policy. [10] The crèche places were drastically reduced to around 25 percent for one to three year olds and instead the families were supported in the early stages of their children through other measures.

The day nurseries in the GDR were subordinate to the Ministry of Health, which exercised the technical and political supervision and control via a hierarchically structured system with district doctors and their specialist departments. The economic and labor law responsibility lay in the hands of the councils of the municipalities and cities or with the operational (combine) management. With the introduction of “children's combinations”, ie functional buildings according to standardized standards, which combined crèche and kindergarten and thus more than 200 children under one roof, significant structural differences arose compared to the smaller rural or business facilities, which appeared more “familiar”. In the training of the nurses or crèche teachers working there, not only the pedagogical subjects for small children but above all the psychological subjects were poorly represented.

Programmed education

Between 1968 and 1984 the educational program “Pedagogical Tasks and Working Methods of the Day Care Centers” served as a binding basis for the practice. Expert advisors checked the quality of the implementation. Low pay as well as physical and psychological stress, for which the younger teachers in particular were not adequately prepared, led to a high fluctuation of the specialist staff. From around 1985 onwards, 2000 and more nursery school teachers left the profession each year, which the central management level perceived with concern and responded to with appeals to professional ethics. [11] In 1985, a new program that took greater account of the “subjectivity of the child” replaced the old guidelines. "Since a critical examination of the old program was not allowed to be conducted in public," it was "particularly difficult for the educators in practice to read out changed educational attitudes from the new program." [12]

The education program was supposed to “create the theoretical tools for the first stage of the unified socialist education system”. [13] It was drawn up between 1963 and 1967 under the leadership of the head of the Institute for Hygiene of Children and Adolescents in the GDR, Eva Schmidt-Kolmer, and between 1970 and 1974 it was given ever more meticulous details. The institute was directly subordinate to the Ministry of Health. The results of the educational work, structured according to the subject areas mentioned below, were precisely checked by means of development sheets. In a “leaflet on the employment plan” it was to be noted whether the child achieved his weekly goal. In this context, the child's presence was also checked to ensure that all children were doing the necessary exercises.

The objections raised by some toddler educators at the Humboldt University in Berlin towards the end of the 1960s against development arcs of this kind, which hardly took account of the individual characteristics of a child, were ignored. In its first section, the educational program comprised “The planning of the nursing-educational work” with regard to systematics, organizational-methodical design and control of plan fulfillment. In the second section "The subject areas of education - general, task sequences and methodological instructions" were listed. In numbered tasks and detailed methodological instructions, the program now specified how early care had to go: shaping life and behavior, movement training through physical exercises, training and instructions for children's play, becoming acquainted with the environment and language education, music education and performing activities.

The instructions made it clear how consistently child development was understood as a result of the pedagogical influence. Inevitably, a "schooling process in the day nurseries" began a few years after the program was published. [14] Curiosity, compassion, imagination and play were “developed and directed”, practiced and demonstrated under the leading role of the educator. In this regard, the toddler educator Hans-Joachim Laewen criticizes the program in which
    “The principles of order of the GDR are not difficult to recognize. For me they find their clearest expression in the incessant use of guidance vocabulary such as' The educator observes, uses, leads, directs, aligns, helps, demands, awakens, secures, cares, holds, organizes, specifies, motivates, informs [... ] and finally 'empowers' them. All activity is imposed on the educator, the child becomes the object of 'empowerment efforts', the success of which has been checked ". [15]


It is therefore not surprising that the importance of early separation and the associated fears were only perceived and accepted to a limited extent. Because "if the young infant continues to receive the usual nourishment and care in the crèche, it will thrive splendidly and constantly gain weight". One must "pay attention to disturbances of the higher nerve activity when admitting or relocating a child". Reference is made to "frequent acclimatization and adjustment disorders" such as weight loss, changes in behavior, developmental arrest in children after the age of twelve months. These can be well prevented "if the child does not suddenly have to do without everything familiar" and the admission is prepared. [16]

In 1974 the program recommended that the mother and her child visit the group for several days and that the child should stay alone there longer and longer in small steps. Only in the further developed version of the program in 1985 is the child understood more as a feeling subject.
    “With the admission, a profound change takes place in his previous way of life [...]. From the coexistence with peers, the contact with different adults, the order that exists in the daily routine of the day care center, new demands arise for the child, which it must gradually learn to cope with ”. [17]
Children who were insecure and separated at an early age apparently hardly reacted to the separation and the change to the day nursery, which mothers viewed as the result of their consistent upbringing and told me with great pride.These “easy-care” children were therefore relatively popular, even though their pace of development was often slower. [18] After initially violent protests, other children reacted with psychological abnormalities such as loss of appetite, sleep disorders, anxiety or reluctance to play. Crying and screaming children, however, were so much part of everyday nursery life that the individual need was hardly noticed. The adults gave little space to deal with grief and displeasure and the associated “negative” feelings.

"Even vigilant parents, who are well aware of the changes in their child, were more likely to resort to sweets, toys, medication according to their own oral coping patterns," noted critical pediatricians in the 1980s. [19] Even after 1985, when an hourly admission was allowed in the first few days, the presence of the mother or a trusted caregiver was strictly forbidden because of the strict hygienic regulations. Transitional objects, such as a comforter or teddy bear, which can facilitate the (daily) separation, were only reluctantly tolerated because of the risk of infection or the envy of other children; The skepticism towards any individuality remained unspoken. So the child was mostly alone with his pain during the acclimatization phase. Instead of courting it, instead of individual communication in dialogue, it was left to its own devices or scolded. This should prevent the child from being pampered. The risks of too early separation were denied for a long time and "rejected as biological conceptions". [20]

In recent decades, neurobiology has underpinned the knowledge that nothing stresses and scares a baby as much as separation from its mother. [21] And that's probably all the more so if this happens very early, i.e. the child had only a short lifetime to experience support and understanding in dialogue with the parents and to get to know themselves. Every child needs these unique experiences to develop internal working models that help them to orient themselves in the world.

Is the mere fact of leaving home too early to be equated with psychological trauma? Most likely we have to affirm this, if not an understanding-holding other who gets involved with the individuality of the baby, takes the outer void of mother or father and engages in an empathic, comforting and committed dialogue with the child. And if the separation occurs too suddenly and for too long, namely nine to ten hours a day. And last but not least, when there is a lack of trustworthy exchange between educators and parents on an equal footing. Then a crack, a wound, an injury develops, from which feelings of threat and persecution can develop in the child.

The everyday

Everyday life that leads exclusively to a consistent group education can make this more difficult. And this was the model of crèche education in the GDR:
    “These tasks require that we consistently assume that the educability and need for education begins in the first days of life, and that energetic, creative and all-round educated socialists can only be trained if the complicated process of upbringing and education from the first day into is designed uniformly and continuously into adulthood. [...] The child should learn at an early age to live in a group of their peers and to feel comfortable working together with others. [...] The most essential tasks of moral education consist in correctly directing the behavior of the children in the children's group ”. [22]
The child should be gradually “filled” through education and upbringing. The idea that you can make anything of any child, if they are brought up right, should guide action. The small groups were usually looked after by two teachers who took turns in a two-shift system between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Group sizes of eight to ten children were specified, but in fact 20 or more young children of the same age came together. An educator reports on the need to work in large groups of children:
    “Although I was still so young and inexperienced as a graduate, I sometimes had to look after up to 34 children, and these were infants and toddlers, on my own. That was due to the lack of staff and the long opening times. "[23]
The daily routine ran according to plan, structured in terms of time, with fixed feeding times, simultaneous "pots", group walks, sleep, times for guided and free play, musical and sporting exercises and later also regular employment times. So the plan came before the relationship was established, the request before the dialogue. The tone was usually harsh and loud.
    “However, what is decisive for the early education of the child is to stimulate the child's immediate confrontation with the environment, to assist and support them. It is precisely about those dyadic interaction loops [based on the relationship between two people] that are highly individually tailored to the mental comprehension of the facts. "[24]
A warning was given against individual attention, so-called extravagance. And even if nursery school teachers did not share this view, it was practically impossible for them to be an emotional point of reference because too many toddlers had to be provided for with similar needs at the same time. Only a few nursery teachers are ready today to talk about their work back then: “I mustn't even think about how we drove and commanded the children. Even then I thought it couldn't be good. ”Another teacher remembers:“ We really had to stuff the porridge into it, because everyone was hungry at the same time. ”[25]

Other care activities were also often carried out with similar rigor - for example, toilet training. This normally opens up the chance to develop an "I-do-I-don't-want" autonomy, to physically feel giving or holding, to practice separating psychologically, to experience pride, but also the danger of being broken for the first time, to be ashamed. Towards the end of the second year of life it becomes clear which feelings predominate in the child: guilt and shame or pride and awareness. Education for cleanliness plays a central role here. [26] Dressage, coercion, reproaches, punishments and shame in front of other children and parents, for example being hit in the face with a diaper, were unfortunately not uncommon. This was probably not so practiced because of the difficulty in nursing, but rather because of the high symbolic value of cleanliness for parents and educators. It was seen as an expression of obedience, ability to bring up and efficiency. Parents were ashamed if their child was not yet clean by the age of three, and reported embarrassing scenes when they were picked up from the crib, on the benevolence of which they felt they had to rely. At this point in time at the latest, the educational goals of the institution and families began to coincide in terms of order, discipline, cleanliness and classification. During the first years of life, a toddler usually lived in a care environment that enveloped him like a corset into which he was supposed to fit and that did little to support his ability to self-regulate and individual coping with stress. Current neurobiological findings show that these competencies develop in the first years of life and control behavior throughout life. [27]


In retrospect, a group of psychoanalysts attempted to find out how crèche education “felt” like in retrospect and what traces it left behind in an interview project with 20 former crèche children who were themselves parents of very young children. [28] They learned that their parents' decision to start daycare early on was mostly not made out of personal conviction and only a few mothers associated positive expectations with it. However, for some very young mothers who felt overwhelmed by the upbringing, the day nursery was a helpful relief. The small cribs, with a family structure and familiarity between parents and teachers, left friendly memories.

Self-development, the lively expression of which is the ability to perceive oneself and others as an independent being in feelings, needs and thoughts (reflexive function), was clearly influenced by the quality of care and sensitive interaction in the home and day care center. It became apparent that interviewees who “completed” the rigid education program from 1974 onwards had less developed the reflexive function, while those who had entered the previous years at a much younger age (some in some cases as early as six weeks) Crib came and achieved a medium to good reflexive function. An additional handicap was when parents, similar to what the education program provided, demanded strict obedience and paid little attention to the peculiarities and needs of their children. The reflexive function also unfolded less in stressful or traumatizing parent-child relationships, with the absence of the father (compulsory military service or job) representing an additional risk. If the admission age was before the sixth month of life, the children suffered more frequently from recurrent illnesses, some of which also led to “crèche unsuitability”, than children admitted later. It was the physical "answer" to the loss of the primary caregiver and to day-to-day life in the daycare. [29]

From pre-school to adulthood, the body's reaction gradually turned into psychosomatic and psychological abnormalities, which our interviewees justified by saying that they were not (or were) unable to cope with everyday stress. The longitudinal recording of the symptoms and the course of the disease showed that early separation and external care, as serious, life-history events, presumably perpetuate the stress level and limit the ability to cope. Two thirds of the interviewees, including the formerly “young” crèche children in particular, reacted to the existential new experience of their own parenthood with considerable emotional, psychosomatic or physical complaints. Even taking current stresses into account, we understood this as an expression of the reactivation of early overstrain and painful experiences.

The Janus head

The state-desired and promoted educational practice had a double face: On the one hand, the numerous institutions from birth offered parents and children a stable framework, inexpensive, group-related structures that could be used at any time. No child was left without supervision. On the other hand, possibilities of control developed right into the family, which meant that parents could give up their responsibility for upbringing, almost had to give up. This reduced their ability to develop ideas about the inner workings of their child, to respect their self-awareness and to protect their individual development profile. [30] Was that why they felt interchangeable and so little could empathize with the loss their child felt when it fell into other hands? For most of the children, early socialization in the GDR was shaped by early public education, in which “plan fulfillment” came before the formation of relationships. As a result, emotional learning was made difficult. Too little attention was paid to separation and loss. If we measure the quality of early development conditions by the extent to which “transition spaces” are made available that allow individual development, then they were to be assessed as poor. But there were also parents who consciously ensured that such spaces of experience were created, striving for a relationship that promoted personal experience and autonomy. They gave their children to the crèche later or only a few hours later or took turns at home in the first few years and accepted financial and moral losses in return.

There were also teachers who ignored the programmed upbringing in order to enable children to live at their own pace and to have their own experiences.

How to quote: Agathe Israel, Early External Care in the GDR - Experiences with Crèche Education, in: Germany Archive, November 17, 2017, Link: www.bpb.de/259587