Differential treatment (DT) refers to the extent to which adults treat children differently. Some Differentiation to meet children’s unique needs is considered good caregiving. However, high levels or unjustified DT may be problematic. DT by educators in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings has rarely been studied. In this study we examined DT of children in ECEC settings in Toronto. We also tested child, educator and classroom level predictors of DT. We operationalized DT using educator reports of their Closeness and Conflict with children (n = 610) as well as observations of the Positive Language, Warmth, Engagement, and Literacy and Math Instruction from educators towards different children (n = 819). We used multilevel modeling to account for the nested structure of our data. Results revealed substantial DT across all of the domains examined in this study. Educators reported closer and less conflicted relationships with more prosocial children. They also directed more positive support and engagement towards children with oppositional behaviour suggesting that DT in this context reflected educator’s efforts to meet children’s needs. DT was not associated with family and classroom resources. However, since DT by parents has been found to be harmful for all children, the high levels of DT found in this sample of ECEC classrooms warrant more attention. Finally, the fact that individual children have quite different experiences in ECEC raises questions about what is being captured by commonly used classroom level measures of process quality that do not account for the high levels of DT.
Michal Perlman, University of Toronto, Canada
Gabriella Nocita, University of Toronto, Canada
Olesya Falenchuk, University of Toronto, Canada
Jennifer Jenkins, University of Toronto, Canada