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Improving Outcomes for Children Takes a Multi-disciplinary Approach

So often I am asked what do I do with CHILD SA?

I’m a child and family health nurse working in the early learning sector. It doesn’t make sense to some people. Some of my family don’t really understand what I do.

So here is my what and my why in a nutshell………

When young children don’t get the connection they need from family, day-care, early learning, kindy, or school, they may not learn, grow, and develop to their full potential. At the most severe end, disconnection can create long term behavioural, relationship, social and emotional, mental health, and physiological health issues. That’s where the nursing interest comes in.

“All behaviour is communication and the answer is connection.”

Children’s behaviour tells us that they have unmet needs, so often we get it wrong, labelling the child as naughty or punishing the child in some way, sometimes even our body language or our tone of voice can drive disconnection. How often have you heard the advice to ignore negative behaviour? Or heard children called attention seekers? All behaviour is communication and the answer is connection.

Let’s reframe attention seeking as connection seeking. Ignoring a child that is trying to seek a connection with you, or punishing a child that is trying to reach out to you through their behaviour doesn’t make sense when you look at it through this lens.

“Let’s reframe attention seeking as connection seeking”.

Reacting to behaviour doesn’t work, reminding children of the rules, or saying things like “we don’t hit our friends” when children have heightened emotions doesn’t work either. What children need is to feel safe, and have a calm, predictable and regulated adult to respond with empathy and genuine connection. Only then can children learn from the experience and develop the skills for managing their emotions and behaviour.

So this is what I do …….I use my knowledge of child health, early childhood development, with my teaching, coaching and mentoring skills to help families, educators, teachers reflect on their knowledge, skills, attitudes, and awareness of how they are connecting with children, how they are taking care of themselves so that they are emotionally available for connection.

When we get this right, we will significantly improve relationships, behaviour, educational and long-term health outcomes for children.

I can’t think of a better or more important way to use my skills. If you would like more information about CHILD SA and what we offer please check out our website, email me, or drop me a message.

Connectedness in Early Childhood a 3 Part Series

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.

Connectedness in Early Childhood a 3 Part Series

Article 1. Connection with children

Over the past decade there has been an enormous amount of research informing us on how the brain develops, and technology now brings this information into the palm of our hand. We know that the first 1000 days are critical in a child’s development and that the first five years is the most impactful time to positively influence the developing brain. As early childhood teachers we have an incredible opportunity to make a meaningful difference for children through the power of connection. This series of three blog articles will explore connection from three different angles and how we can apply this to our important work supporting children’s healthy brain development.

From birth an infant’s behaviour is designed to draw in and keep an adult close. Infants cannot survive without a someone to care for them; this is an in-built biological survival mechanism. Children’s attachment systems are always “on”; therefore, an infant will seek connection with an adult that is in close proximity and is emotionally available. This means that an infant will provide attachment seeking cues and if these cues are met with a sensitive and predictable response, the infant will start to develop trust, and an emotional connection will be formed.

Emotional connection creates the biochemistry that optimises the function of the brain. An infant learns how to feel about themselves, how to be in a relationship, and how to regulate their own emotions through being in a sensitive, responsive and predictable relationship.

Forming a meaningful connection with a child is one of the most powerful ways that early childhood teachers can support children’s social and emotional wellbeing. In doing so, we are creating the opportunity for the growth of neural connections that lay the foundation for future relationships, learning and development.

When the brain activates certain pathways, the connection is strengthened. This explains why when we practice something, we get better at it, and when we don’t practice a skill for a long period of time, the brain prunes this connection and we lose it. When a connection is repeatedly activated the brain lays down a special coating over the neural connection, which turns it into a superhighway for transmitting information.

As a teacher in the early learning environment there are many opportunities for meaningful connection throughout the day. Children travel around the circle of security hundreds of times in a day. If we are attuned to children’s needs, read their cues and are emotionally available, then we can respond appropriately with connection moments of shared delight, comfort and care.

Conscious discipline discusses four elements of connection, eye contact, touch, presence and playfulness. Our bodies produce a chemical called oxytocin, this is sometimes known as the hormone of love, every time we share a connection moment our brain and body is flooded with the chemistry that tells us that we are safe, connected and loved. https://consciousdiscipline.com/the-power-of-connection/ accessed 02/03/20

“every time we share a connection moment our brain and body is flooded with the chemistry that tells us that we are safe, connected and loved.”

Forming meaningful connections with the children in our care is foundational to building healthy brain architecture. In this article we have explored the importance of building relationships with children, the power of meaningful connection.