Preschool anxieties. Constructions of risk and gender in preschool teachers’ talk on physical interaction with children

Åberg, M., Hedlin, M. & Johansson, C.
Journal of Early Childhood Research, 17(2):104-115


The study investigates what student pre-school teachers and newly educated pre-school teachers think about the risks and concerns of being accused of touching children inappropriately.


The results show that newly qualified pre-school teachers’ concerns regarding the physical touching of children involve more than just the physical act itself, and that they do not always verbalise these concerns. The concerns are part of a complex relationship network involving pre-school teachers, parents, children, management and the physical and organisational pre-school context. The concerns are also linked to relationships outside of pre-school, such as media reports, political decisions and public debates related to gender and equality. Moreover, this type of concern involves both the psychological and social dimensions of the phenomenon of touch. Educational institutions for pre-school teachers or pre-school as an employer should be sensitive to the context in their encounters with pre-school teachers’ concerns about the touching of children.

The study indicates that touch anxiety is largely linked to gender (men), but that both men and women negotiate around the stereotypical notions of the man as an abuser. The Swedish discourse on equality and gender has resulted in women being referred to as being just as likely to commit abuse as men are. The authors emphasise that suspicion directed towards the man cannot be corrected by also increasing suspicion towards the woman. This development can lead to an increase in touch anxiety among kindergarten teachers in general. Pre-school as a workplace should facilitate in-depth discussions about touch and gender, but without basing them on the sexes as homogeneous groups. These discussions should also involve positive and negative aspects of touch.


The study is based on interviews with 16 women and four men who had recently started working in pre-school, or who were soon to qualify as pre-school teachers. This empirical material was collected from a larger Swedish project called Touch in pre-school: Care or risk? The primary objective of the project was to investigate how Swedish pre-school and pre-school teacher training discuss and deal with the problem of physical contact between pre-school teachers and children. The project is based on interviews with and investigations of student pre-school teachers, practicing pre-school teachers and pre-school coordinators. The empirical data material was analysed using a thematic qualitative analysis.


Åberg, M., Hedlin, M. & Johansson, C. (2019). “Preschool anxieties. Constructions of risk and gender in preschool teachers’ talk on physical interaction with children”. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 17(2):104-115.