Responsive relationships – building and managing relationships in Early Years settings

Responsive relationships – building and managing relationships in Early Years settings
Responsive Relationships

In our work with Early Years Professionals, either through our advocacy screenings of the Resilience documentary on childhood adversity or from meeting many of you at our ABLE brief intervention training sessions, we have experienced your commitment to relating to children and families with care, compassion and empathy.

The opportunities we have to affirm your role and value in a child and family’s life and development are important to us at Ag Eisteacht because we aim to highlight the value of positive relationships as key social determinants of health and wellbeing. Our work is all about supporting quality relationships in frontline practice and our focus is on early intervention.

It is clear that you want the best for the children in your care. We see how the evidence-informed insight and reminder of the role that vital nurturing relationships have in those early years of brain development light up so many of your faces.

It reminds you of what you do and makes sense of it in neurobiological terms.

For some of you, it makes sense of your purpose – putting words on what you know already.

The daily serve and return interactions, which set the foundations for a young child’s ability to build relationships, are precious and important.

Providing a safe and consistent environment is key, as is providing a sense of nurturing.

For these young children in your care, you are an adult who sees them and who works to understand their behaviour and their world view and looks at the needs this may point towards.  As very young children can’t yet regulate themselves, you soothe and co-regulate. You comfort them and help them to make sense of what they are experiencing.

It is in relationships that we grow and develop. Infant mental health scientific research tells us that the quality of a baby’s relationships with his or her caregiver has a physical effect on the neurobiological structure of a child’s brain. By modelling positive relationships in your work every day, you are helping to develop a child’s ability to build relationships – and this is an important aspect of mental health.

Your relationship with a child also involves a relationship with his or her parents/carers.

Parents may be turning to you sharing some of their concerns and worries of how challenging it is as a family during this COVID time – and they may be worried about the impact this pandemic is having on their child.

COVID-19 has disrupted our way of being in the world, changing how we socialise, how we work and how we engage.  Job losses, bereavement or even two parents coping with working from home and juggling stressful jobs with home teaching of older children can all impact a young child’s sense of security and wellbeing. Socio-economic challenges such as poverty or neglect have all been accentuated now for the more vulnerable and isolated in our communities. As caring professionals, and as fellow citizens, you are sensing this change in the rhythm of life and the associated uncertainty and fear that the pandemic has created.

You might be noticing a change in behaviour in some children. All behaviour has meaning. When unable to verbalise their needs, fears or frustration, children ‘act out’ their feelings to show us how they are feeling or what they are experiencing.

 

Managing your time and boundaries for your own wellbeing

When you are aware of spoken or unspoken tensions or concerns and worries from parents/carers, how do you respond?

As frontline workers, we know that it can be hard to open up a conversation as it may feel like opening a can of worms. It’s important to think about the impact of this on you; how you respond to and manage these conversations and the feelings they evoke or contain is important and can impact your own health and wellbeing.

If you are turned to for help, and you don’t feel ready or able to respond, there are ways to manage and cope. One option is to talk to someone else in the team to help you to reflect on how you are feeling and how you might manage.

In our ABLE training, we use the acronym P.A.R.T. to help frontline practitioners to manage situations when turned to for support, particularly during times of change or transition. Often, asking yourself these simple questions can help you to cope with an unforeseen situation.

Place: Where am I? Is this an appropriate place to offer a parent my time, attention and respect? I’m in a corridor. Who else is here?  Perhaps it’s better to agree on a different time and place to speak in private at a mutually agreed time.

Agenda : Can I put my agenda aside for a few minutes, whether it’s to talk about a parent or carer’s concerns or frustration…and tune into what he or she wants to talk about?

Role: What is my role in this space? Is it to listen…not to fix…and perhaps, not to even offer advice? Remember, being heard is often enough to empower a person to resolve things for themselves.

Time: How much time can I offer now …… 5 minutes? By consciously stating and agreeing on a time limit, sets a boundary on your time and can free us up to listen attentively for that time.

According to the World Health Organisation, relationships are a key social determinate of our health and wellbeing, acting as both a risk and protective factor.

By offering our time, attention and respect within the boundaries of our time and role, we all have the capacity to impact positively on outcomes, while looking after ourselves at the same time.

 

Dr Maeve Hurley is the founder and CEO of Ag Eisteacht, a charity supporting frontline practitioners to build quality relationships in practice. Ag Eisteacht is the Irish word for listening. The charity nurtures quality relationships in frontline practice through training, advocacy, collaboration and evaluation. Ag Eisteacht has trained over 4,000 practitioners throughout Ireland to date via open and commissioned courses with its brief intervention model, ABLE (Adopt a relational approach, Build & Boundaries, Listen and Empower & End).

www.ageisteacht.com

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