As an ideology, the concept of social justice has long been a worthy, if slightly volatile, companion of early childhood theorists and researchers. Whilst the majority of the literature has valorised social justice, discontented questions regarding 'what' the construct entails and 'how' it might be tamed to work still remain. Using complexity theory, this article problematises the amalgam of social justice by readdressing the role of participation, inclusion and equality in early childhood systems. It is argued that social justice evolves from essentially local and relational interactions amongst a range of stakeholders. By framing early childhood interactions as those occurring within the context of relationships which are embedded within open systems (that is, systems within systems), this article discusses how interactions in early childhood involve a set of complex, yet systematic, processes which can only be understood as they unfold. Contextualised against the dominant discourse of 'normalisation' in early childhood, this article uses aspects of complexity theory such as nonlinearity, emergence and recurrency to focus on the ways in which layers of social justice are embedded in the values and processes experienced in early childhood systems. Drawing on the philosophical roots of transformative education, it focuses particularly on the use of complexity theory to frame concepts of children's power, agency and participation. It discusses how the proactive praxis of social justice might emerge from within early childhood systems.