5 Reasons Relationships Trump Everything Else
In the early childhood sector we have seen a shift in approach, as emphasis that used to be placed on skill and ability is now placed on social outcomes. With the introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standards we have begun to place more and more stock in the power of secure attachments. And now we are starting to understand that our relationships with children are paramount to our effectiveness as a teacher or educator. Here are 5 reasons relationships matter to children’s learning.
1. Children were not designed for this world.
When considering relationships with children it is important to understand that infants, in particular, rely on their relationships for survival. If a relationship is threatened, it is life threatening for an infant. Evolution and progression have changed the world for children. Infants are often dropped off at care from as young as 6 weeks old, and thus educators also become a survival relationship. As society changed, so did the lives of children. Children used to be raised by a community, with several important adult relationships. This is what their brains are meant to experience. But as technology increased and we became more and more time poor this evolved in to modern society where families usually work as separate entities, and thus children’s relationships at care become even more important to their growth and development.
2. Relationships connect children to the world
Part of being a human being is having relationships with people, being able to socially participate. Our relationships, both as adults and as children help define us. They become a part of who we are and perhaps even more importantly, they connect us with the world around us. As children develop relationships, they further this connection, finding their place in this huge and scary world. Relationships help keep them grounded and encourage a sense of belonging.
3. Secure attachments foster confidence
When children are first transitioned in to our care, they are faced with a new and often overwhelming environment. As adults we know confidence is important to our ability to participate and learn, and it is no different for young children. When we build secure attachments with the children, and they feel they are a valued member of our early childhood community, they will build the confidence to go out and explore, investigate and ask questions. We become their secure base from which to discover the world. Children will feel safe to move in and out of their comfort zone.
4. Relationships affect brain activity
Anyone who understands brain development will know that the integration of information is a complex process, and one that occurs more freely when a child feels safe and secure within their environment. As relationships build and that feeling of safety increases, so does the flow of information through the amygdala - a part of our brain which helps sort sensory information and perceive threat. When the amygdala is open in this way information can pass freely and quickly to the cortex for integration. Additionally to this, when children experience pleasure, something which really only happens when they feel secure, dopamine is released in to the brain. Dopamine is an important neural transmitter which helps messages move around the brain.
5. Children are responsive beings
Much research has been done in to the responsiveness of children to those people around them. The “Still Face Experiment” by Dr Edward Tronick is a perfect example of how children respond to the cues given to them by the adults in their life. Children are building over a million neural connections a second in the formative years, and these neural connections are built on repeated experiences. As they are learning they are responding to the cues from the adults around them. What the “Still Face Experiment” shows is that children’s moods and engagement depend greatly on the moods and engagement of those around them. Secure relationships and consistent experiences means strong neural pathways for children.