Fostering the nurturing environment in your Early Years setting

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Ever since I became a nurturing parenting programme facilitator, I have always tried so hard to take on board the approach of nurturing within my career. It is important to nurture oneself to be able to nurture others. To see the benefits of teaching and endorsing nurturing to both parents and children has proven to be a success in my own opinion and the experience I have gained. To see the children and families I have worked with in my classrooms, parenting groups and nursery has given me food for thought too. It has made me think, in a time with so much change and curriculum upheaval, I wanted to discuss the child and how important it is to demonstrate a nurturing approach. This blog isn’t an answer to nurturing, but one which allows you to reflect through the eyes of an Early Years professional, capturing glimpses of the children in your setting.

Nurturing is nothing new, but for many the concept of nurturing may be. Not everyone is in tune with their emotional state – empathy isn’t something we can switch on and neither is love. If you haven’t thought about the context in which you provide a nurturing environment and how to adopt this within your setting, it can be at a detriment to your children and families. We have an over reliance to follow textbook, which can be useful but the continual educational outcomes and curriculum, the changed development matters seems to be the only avail when it comes to teaching children. But what if there was another way. A way in which children can become self-regulators, nurturing and empathic. To me this sounds more like learning from one another rather than a document telling us how to do this. A positive and strong way to learn in my opinion. My point here is do what you know and feel is right for your children. Continue to develop those positive relationships.

So, it all started for me on the nurturing programme training. This programme was first developed for parents, adopting an approach of nurturing to manage behaviour, through a positive lens. Adopting a real approach based on four constructs.

Research of Dr Bavolek (2012) is one to look at when learning about nurturing and adopting a child centred approach. He believes in 6 protective factors which is taken from a child protection perspective. However, the discussion from nurturing children and how to adopt such approaches links very well with the rights of the child and how this relates to our practice. He discusses that nurturing needs to involve all the family and the need to adopt a respectful discipline for all family members. It is clear from the 6 protective factors that adults need to nurture their own positive self-worth.

I use the 6 protective factors which supports the holistic approach of nurturing and how this can be reflected in my practice and adapted to each setting

Why do children need ongoing nurturing relationships?
Consistent nurturing relationships are essential for intellectual and social development. Nurturing relationships can sometimes be taken for granted as adults. But it is with children where we don’t always put this commonly held belief into practice. Pioneers, such as Erikson, Freud, & Burlingham, revealed that to pass successfully through the stages of early childhood, children require sensitive, nurturing care to build capacities for trust, empathy, and compassion.

Being within a supportive, warm, nurturing emotional interaction with an infant and young child helps the central nervous system grow appropriately. Listening to the human voice helps babies learn a distinguish sound and supports language development. The use of gestures helps the baby learn to perceive and respond to emotional cues and form a sense of self.

Develops Cognitive Skills
A secure relationship enables a child to learn to think. In their interactions, the child goes from desiring mom and going to grab her to saying mom and looking lovingly. They go from acting out their desires or wishes to picture them in their mind and being able to label them with a word. This transformation is the beginning of using symbolic ques for thinking.

Pretend play also plays a huge part with being able to develop cognitive skills. Children will play and act out with many physical objects. For example, such as dolls hugging or fighting – this helps the child to learn to connect an image to a wish and then use this image to think. As a practitioner we have to come to understand that emotional interactions are the foundations of the majority of a child’s intellectual abilities. This could include creativity and abstract thinking skills. Emotions are a complex thing but are actually the internal architects of our minds. Our emotions tell us how and what to think, what we need to say and when to say them and what to do. We “know” things through our emotional interactions and then apply that knowledge to the cognitive world.

As a practitioner, have you ever thought about bonding? Bonding with your children and families can actually build vital skills.

Nurturing emotional relationships are the most crucial primary foundation for both intellectual and social growth. Let’s put the phonics and mathematics to one side and think about how important it is for you to speak with the child, engage and learn about them, just as they are learning about you. Surely this is the most important aspect of all development? Or have I got this wrong? Nurturing doesn’t only provide an option to develop bonding skills but also an opportunity to learn about the world, environment and empathy, more to come on this later. At the most basic of levels relationships foster many elements such as:

  • Warmth
  • Intimacy
  • Pleasure
  • Security

Physical safety
The regulatory aspect of a relationship help children stay calm and later for new learning. When you adopt a secure, empathetic, nurturing relationship children are able to learn to be intimate and empathetic, eventually this will support communication, fostering more than communication by speech, but an opportunity to communicate how they feel, reflect on their own wishes and develop their own relationships on and in their own terms. By adopting and mirroring what a positive relationship looks like means that children are able to be taught which behaviours are appropriate and which aren’t. As children’s behaviour becomes a little more complex, do we know which age we are talking about? It is important that the above comes into its own where a 2-year-old is able to learn from their caregivers, hence why it is important to foster and adopt an approach with the child’s main caregiver so that there is a consistent approach. They learn to form their caregivers’ facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and words you would use to approval or disapproval of one’s behaviour. Patterns are then built up, being able to give and taken between caregiver and child. Alongside behaviour many other developmental outcomes are starting to take shape, including emotions, wishes, self-image and the emotional tone and subtle interactions in relationships are vital to be able to ascertain who we are and what we have learnt.

Morality and why the child develops that?
There are many other emotional interactions than thinking which grows from the child. A moral sense of right and wrong also develops. The ability to be able to understand another person’s feelings and to be able to care about how the child feels, which can arise only from the experience of nurturing interaction. Children are only able to feel empathy only if someone has been empathetic and caring with us. Children are able to learn altruistic behaviours to be able to do the right thing, but being able to truly care for another human being comes only through being able to experience that feeling of compassion through a continual relationship of peers and caregivers.

Developing a sense of self-regulation
The difference between children who can regulate their own emotions and behaviours of children who can’t. For some children whom the slightest frustration can feel catastrophic whereby their anger and the current situation is enormous, which the child masters the capacity for rapid exchange of emotions and gestures. As a practitioner it is the knowing and exchange of rapid interactions that the child will give to their parents or yourself by being able to negotiate how they feel. It is important to foster a nurturing and empathic stance

“I understand”, “OK I am moving as quickly as I can”. Whatever the response is, it is a response, it is a response to the signals of the child’s need. The child is then able to immediately receive some feedback and in turn moderate their own responses. The benefits of having an interactive emotional relationship are more important for many of our own essential intellect and social skills. The notion that relationships are an essential part of our behaviours, moods and feelings supports the notion of a more secure and robust approach to intellectual development. It questions the greater emphasis as we continually change and evolve within the Early Years about the kinds of settings we want to foster and develop for our young children.

I am not stating that I am an expert on this, but for me the common approaches to self-esteem, empathy and learning from each other needs to have a higher presence in children’s learning before we make the claims that they need to count and learn their phonics. It is clear from my discussion that for children to thrive and learn, cognitively It is important that we foster and deliver an approach to our learning environments that includes and respects each other. This should be welcoming and a place of safety where children can adapt, embrace and learn from one another. I don’t know about you, but we need this currently in our society. So, let’s start again, focus on the most important type of learning – learning about oneself and each other.

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