Part 2. Connection to Ourselves
As early childhood teachers we have an incredible opportunity to make a meaningful difference for children through the power of connection. This article explores connection from the angle of connection to self. We will discuss the power of mindfulness as a tool for our own emotional regulation and wellbeing.
For us to truly connect with the children in our care we need to be connected to our own emotional state. We need to have our emotions regulated in order to be emotionally available. We can use the Circle of Security Model to explore this further. As teachers, we are the safe hands for the children. Our aim is to enable children to flourish in the early learning environment, to grow healthy brain connections, and to develop executive functioning skills. For this to occur, children must feel confident that they are in the hands of a safe and trusted teacher. Teachers must be available to share in the children’s exploration, to delight in them, to help them when needed, and to be a safe haven to come into when children need us to organise their emotions and comfort them when necessary. https://www.circleofsecurityinternational.com/, accessed 24/2/2020
Research tells us that children need to feel safe and secure before they can access their executive functioning skills. When a child feels unsafe, anxious, worried or scared they function from the lower part of their brain. This area of the brain, the brain stem, is responsible for our fight or flight response. When a young child experiences the feeling of being disconnected, stressed and unsafe, these experiences activate pathways in the brain and shape brain architecture. There is a saying, “cells that fire together wire together” coined by Donald Hebb the father of neuropsychology. https://can-acn.org/donald-olding-hebb/ accessed 26/2/20. We are born with a genetic blue print, but it is the combination of our life experiences and relationships that determine how the genes are expressed.
A key point in this model is that we must be emotionally available, safe and predictable in our responses. If we are dysregulated, or emotionally unavailable we may not be able to successfully meet the needs of the child. If the child is met with unpredictable responses from the teacher, they have the potential to learn mistrust of adults and may miscue their needs. This can have a significant impact on the child’s stress hormones and may have a detrimental impact on the child’s learning and development potential.
Practicing mindfulness is an effective and practical way in which we can begin to connect with our emotional wellbeing. Research has shown us that mindfulness can help reduce stress, boost creativity, strengthen relationships and improve attention, working-memory and concentration. When teachers learn mindfulness, they not only reap personal benefits, but their schools do as well. In randomised controlled trials, teachers who learned mindfulness reported greater efficacy in doing their jobs, had more emotionally supportive classrooms and better classroom organisation. https://www.headspace.com/science/meditation-benefits, accessed 24/2/2020.
In this article we have explored the importance of self-regulation when building relationships with children, the power of meaningful connection, and using mindfulness as a tool to support teacher wellbeing and resilience in the workplace and for the development of social and emotional wellbeing in young children.