A cultural-historical study of the development of emotion regulation through collective play in an institutional care setting in China

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There has been a number of institution-based interventions aiming to tackle the adverse effect of orphanages on child development, but few have focused on the development of emotion regulation (ER). Conversely, research shows that early childhood is a critical time for ER development and imaginative play is an effective tool. Therefore, this paper aims to explore whether and how collective play can support ER development of the young orphanage children. Based on the cultural-historical theory of emotion and ER development, we implemented an educational experiment (Hedegaard, 2008b) of collective play for ten weeks in an orphan-care institution in China. Diandian (pseudonym), aged 4.5 years, was observed as she expressed fear towards a “scary” cleaner in her everyday life and participated in the collective play activities. 78 h of digital video data were collected and analysed. The findings demonstrate the process where the raw emotion of fear was made conscious through enacting and re-enacting play roles, which eventually led to Diandian's regulation of fear in play. We argue that even though an orphanage is not comparable to typical family settings, there are still possibilities for a dynamic social environment to be created for its children where ER development is supported pedagogically.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100590
Number of pages10
JournalLearning, Culture and Social Interaction
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Collective play
  • Emotion regulation
  • Institutional care

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