Interactions: the heartbeat of early childhood education
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At the heart of any relationship, personal or professional, sits trust. Interactions are the building blocks which grow or erode trust in relationships over time. The Sector Assistant Editor Freya Lucas outlines the impact interactions have on children and why it is so important to focus on building positive relationships.
By consistently being available, listening, responding to needs, and communicating, we establish some core truths of relationship – I am here. I am listening. I care. I remember. When we fail to follow through on promises, when we over promise and under deliver, when we are not available, consistent or fair, we erode the trust and goodwill we have built in that relationship.
So it’s no surprise then, that responsive and meaningful interactions are at the core of the work of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. Positive interactions support every child to feel secure, confident and included. Positive interactions with parents and families establish a bond of trust, so that they feel safe leaving their children. Above all else, positive interactions between staff – be that peer-to-peer, or leader-to-peer – support parents and children by creating a harmonious work environment, low staff transitions, and a sense of community within the service.
For children, however, interactions are about more than just relationship building. There is a mounting body of evidence which shows that interactions and relationships in the early years are neurologically critical; the foundational structures on which future emotional, financial, parental and physical success is built.
Attachment theory has demonstrated that children’s early experiences with relationships and interactions shape self-esteem; self-image; perceptions of their place in the world; the way they approach problems and cope with challenges, trauma and stress; how they establish and maintain friendships and romantic relationships; and, how they deal with strong emotions and impulses.
Whilst there are other factors at play, such as temperament, dispositions for learning, and social groups, it is primarily the quality of infant attachment – the way in which the infants need for comfort, security and attention are responded to – which shapes personality, and how we approach relationships, far beyond infancy.
Leaders of ECEC services can support quality interactions in their services by:
- Selecting curricula that foster rich discussion and interactions between teachers and students
- Providing professional development which encourages responsive and appropriate interactions
- Ensuring educators have sufficient time to engage in elaborated and authentic interactions with children by limiting class sizes and providing adequate staff support.
The most important aspects of a child’s development are centred around interactions with parents and primary caregivers. Frequent ‘back and forth’ interactions with every day activities, listening to children and responding with warmth and interest to what they are communicating, and providing information children can scaffold from are the best predictors of future development. Warm and responsive interactions develop children’s confidence, resilience and communication, preparing children for life stressors and resulting in better mental health and behavioural outcomes.