The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview and some illustrative findings from an ongoing study of ‘The hard times of childhood and children’s strategies for dealing with them’. Let me make clear at the outset that when I refer to the ‘hard times’ of childhood, I do not refer to experiences such as malnutrition and starvation, serious illness, deprivation, and the horrors of child abuse. My concern is with identifying and examining some of the ordinary, everyday difficulties of simply ‘being a child’ in relation to adults, other children, and the broader social world—experiences that children themselves at the time see as hard. Consider the following excerpt from my data:
In my second year of preschool I had a few problems. I remember drawing a picture of my family. When it came time to draw my father I couldn’t remember if a mustache was over or under the nose. I was too embarrassed to ask anyone, so I think I put it over his nose. (Carol)
The kind of experiences I seek are not ones that adults would necessarily characterize as hard for children. As one of my respondents noted:
The experiences that I have told all seem so trivial now, like it was ridiculous to even have worried about them. But at the time they were so real, so important to me. (Pam)
In the terms in which my informants describe their experiences they constitute a serious challenge to the idealization of childhood as a time of unalloyed innocence and joy.
The study on which I am reporting grows out of phenomenology (Husserl, 1913), symbolic interactionism (Mead, 1964, 1966, 1982), and ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967). Of particular relevance is work in these theoretical areas directed to the study of children as full-fledged social beings