8th February 2022 All Posts

Prioritising the Wellbeing of Children

In context – the Covid pandemic…

The wellbeing of children should always be at the forefront of our minds in early years.  However, with the events of the pandemic still hanging over us, now, more than ever, we need to prioritise the emotional development of young children.  Prolonged lockdown periods have meant fewer opportunities for children to socialise outside their households.  Some children may have been unable to attend their usual early years setting or had their start delayed.  Childhood experiences such as swimming, visiting the park and play centres and joining stay and playgroups have been limited.  In addition to these factors, for some children, their home circumstances could have changed.  Families have had to contend with job losses, illness, grief, caring responsibilities, home working and poverty. 

Extended periods spent in the home could have been detrimental for some children.  They missed out on early socialisation opportunities, affecting their personal, social and emotional development.  However, it’s important that we don’t just consider the impact of the pandemic from an entirely negative perspective.  Some children have been seen to thrive at home, having more time to play and interact as a family unit, reading, talking and learning together.  These experiences will have strengthened bonds and seen children flourish within a supportive home environment.  

Moving forwards…

It could be argued that it is more difficult to establish a child’s wellbeing in the early years than it is in the later years of a child’s education.  In the early years, children have fewer life experiences and can sometimes lack the language or understanding to contemplate why they feel a particular way.  This requires us to be more intuitive and sensitive to children’s needs.  We need to look beyond verbal communication, paying attention instead to body language, their interactions with others, engagement in routines and play skills.

The role of the adult…

The first steps in supporting children’s wellbeing as we learn to live with Covid, lie in recognising that some children may have had adverse experiences.  We can discover more about this by developing strong relationships with the families of children attending our settings.  This comes back to a solid key person approach where children have time and space to establish a bond within the setting.  Through attachment with their key person, children feel safe and valued.  From this secure base, children grow in confidence to play, explore and build relationships.  It is the role of the key person to observe, tune in and get to know the child and their interests.  These relationships are key in recognising and supporting the wellbeing of children in the early years.

As the key person observes, they will begin to build a holistic picture of the child.  They will become familiar with their interests, preferences, characteristics of effective learning and stage of development.  From these observations, the key person is then able to recognise if a child begins to behave differently, perhaps a sign that a child could be feeling upset, anxious or stressed.  Children in the early years can find these feelings overwhelming which can result in them struggling to contain their emotions.  Some children can find it difficult to communicate these feelings and therefore we see it manifest through their behaviour.  They don’t just verbalise but communicate in a multitude of ways, requiring us to tune in and interpret what we see.

Educators can act as co-regulators, as a safe base from which children feel able to experience these strong emotions.  It is our role to model the language of feelings, offering children the words to describe how they feel.  We can acknowledge that their feelings are valid and this is an important step in helping children to acknowledge their emotions.  Our prompt response to children in these situations is vital in showing them that we care and can help.  

As well as observing children, it is quality interactions that can help promote a positive environment in which children feel safe and their wellbeing is promoted.  We can reduce the number of questions we ask of children in the early years, and in turn, we lessen the pressure we place on them.  They don’t feel worried about having to give a correct answer to our questions.  Instead, it is more valuable to wonder and talk together, engaging in sustained shared thinking.  Educators can bring in the language associated with feelings, helping to develop a child’s emotional literacy.  It is also important that educators feel able to discuss their own emotions as this helps children understand that we can all feel sad, angry, frustrated and worried, as well as positive emotions such as happiness, excitement, surprise and pride.

The role of the environment…

Alongside the importance of the key person is the role the environment plays in supporting children’s wellbeing.  It is the environment that provides a safe space where children can feel confident and self-assured.  They will see themselves represented, promoting a positive image of all children within the setting. The environment will include a diverse range of books and resources which reflect our multicultural world, with educators enforcing the message that all children are valued as unique. 

The environment will be meaningful, with experiences based on the interests of the children but also allowing for some challenge.  Spaces will be available for children to retreat to when their senses are overwhelmed.  We all know that early years settings can be busy, noisy places at times.  Quiet nooks appeal to children who prefer calmer play spaces, areas where they can chat, look at books or just observe the play of others.  These can be spaces where children can just have a break from the hustle and bustle, learning to manage their own emotions.  

Finally…

Promoting children’s wellbeing in the early years should never be tokenistic.  The entire culture of a setting should begin with the child at the centre.  All policies, procedures, routines and experiences should be planned according to what is best for the children.  There will be a collective agreement that children need to feel happy, safe and loved in order to learn.  This may involve extra training so that all educators understand the importance of children’s wellbeing and how early years provides the foundation for this.

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About the Author

Campaign and Content Manager at Connect Childcare