How do relationships help children flourish?
Children flourish in nurturing consistent relationships...
Babies are born ready to be in relationships - they are hungry for love and attention. It is up to us, as parents, to meet their basic needs. To feed them, keep them safe and warm and make sure they get lots of sleep. Babies will survive if we meet these very primitive needs, but we don’t just want them to survive, we want them to flourish! As parents we shower them in love, we cuddle them and comfort them because they are the apple of our eye and we adore them.
Through our behaviour we are naturally creating a secure attachment relationship, while at the same time, we’re encouraging our baby’s brain to develop. When babies are born they have all their brain cells in place but very few are wired together. In fact, 90% of the brain’s wiring takes place in the first three years of life. These connections are made directly in response to a child’s environment and influenced by the key people in their life.
In real estate they say it’s all about ‘location, location, location,’ while in brain development it’s all about ‘relationship, relationship, relationship.’ The better the relationships are in a child’s life, particularly for the first 1,000 days, the more the brain reaches its maximum potential in the future.
How is a secure attachment relationship created?
Children need adults who notice them, talk to them, cuddle them and who listen and respond to their emotions. During the first nine months of life, a baby’s focus will be on creating an attachment relationship with the person who cares for them the most.
Every time you respond to your baby with love and kindness, they are learning that their needs will be met in a caring way, setting the foundation for future understandings of connectedness, belonging and empathy. The map in their brain is wiring to say “the world is safe and I am loveable”, in turn creating a secure attachment. On the other side of the coin, if a baby is left in a state of stress for extended periods and responses are chaotic and cold, that baby will perceive the world as unsafe and will have difficulty managing stress, developing relationships and making sense of their feelings in the future. If you are busy in the bathroom and can’t tend immediately to your crying baby don’t panic! It’s the overarching environment that the child is experiencing that matters and how you respond most of the time to ensure baby’s needs are met. This means that the adults (parents, grandparents or caregivers) who care for young children are responsible for how these babies’ brains develop and to set them up for future success.
The Circle of Security, developed by a group of American psychotherapists, explains secure attachment relationships. (Cooper, Hoffman Marvin, and Powell (2004) www.circleofsecurity.org). In it, the adult represents a ‘secure base’ for the child to return to if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Notice how your toddler glances back at you as they crawl away or walk towards the playground, they’re ‘checking in’ and making sure you’re there if you need them – they’re simply looking for reassurance.
Children also need adults to be their ‘safe haven’ and need to know that they will be welcomed back into their arms if they trip or fall or when they come back from their exploration.
Young children sometimes run back to adults when they don’t understand what’s going on and need support when facing feelings that are too intense to manage on their own.
Often they may be tired, hungry, sad or frustrated but they need their parent’s or caregiver’s help to understand this because they’re still too young to do it alone. The Circle of Security reinforces that children rely on their parents or caregivers to be emotionally and physically available, even if it’s simply by observing from the other side of the playground.
Contrary to some old myths still floating around, an attuned, caring responsive approach does not make children needy, spoiled or a ‘cry baby’. In fact the opposite is true; the more a baby’s cries are responded to in their first year of life, the less they cry in their second year. This is because they have developed a feeling of security and they have an assurance that their needs will be met. It is not possible for a child to be too attached. It is paradoxical, but when we fulfil their dependency needs, children are pushed forward towards independence.
The baby will go on to form other attachments with their other main carers but there will only ever be a few key relationships, and a hierarchy will develop amongst them. This means that if Mum isn’t available they will happily get their needs met by Dad and if that second person isn’t available, they’ll let their Nana, Pop, or Educator help them. This is normal and healthy because children need quality interactions – not quantity.
In those first 1,000 days parents really want to provide, or have someone provide on their behalf, attuned, sensitive and consistent interactions with their baby. One of the greatest strengths of quality home-based childcare are Educators, who are able to form a secure attachment with a young child in a calm and natural home environment. With a maximum of four children in care at any one time, Educators have the time to provide children with consistency of care and a go-to person. The low ratio means they’re able to respond to a child’s needs and reassure them, creating the Circle of Security that’s so important in those first formative years and well into the future.
PORSE understands how the brain wires and fires in the early years. We use this to help develop training and programmes to support our Educators to ensure they’re doing the best for your children in their care.
If you want to stay at home with your children and earn an income or simply want the best childcare option for your family, contact PORSE today: 0800 023 456 or click here to visit their website!
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