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Practitioner and Child; Positive or Personal Relationships?

For a while now, I have been reflecting on what we in the sector mean by the term ‘positive relationships’ and its impact on interactions between children and practitioners. With this in mind, my thoughts are on whether we should change the term to ‘personal relationships’ and more importantly how we should look at personal relationships between the practitioner and child in our day-to-day practice?

For instance, I have a positive relationship with the staff in my local bank, but this is not a personal relationship. Indeed practitioners need to have a positive relationship with children in order for the relationship to be personal and meaningful. Time and time again, when carrying out my mock inspection visits, I observe practitioners having positive relationships with children, but not on a deeper personal level.  If done on a superficial basis and as part of the daily routine, the relationship is one where it is routine led rather than being led from the child’s own personal and emotional needs. During these visits, when I ask practitioners about their role as a key person they often talk about the practical aspects, writing observations, updating learning journals and being the first point of call for parents. They hardly ever discuss the personal relationships that they have and how they influence children. On the other hand, I have witnessed some outstanding examples of practitioners having personal relationships with children and not being aware of the secure relationships that they are building with them.

I have heard colleagues in the sector say that practitioners should not have ‘personal relationships’ with the children that they care for, as the only individuals children should have a personal relationship with are their parents. I think this is wrong and as with most terms that we use in our sector, it is all down to interpretation.  Clarification is needed before misinterpretation comes into effect. We only have to look at the EYFS for misinterpretations…..that is another blog for another day!

Also, some practitioners think that they do not want to upset parents by getting too close to their child; they may have concerns over safeguarding issues, practitioners favouring/bonding inappropriately etc… Touch is one of the most important senses and when children are touched appropriately and meaningfully, this can help to stimulate a child’s emotional well-being, igniting their learning and development to an optimum level. One of my non-early years friends said to me the other day ‘Laura, is it true that nursery staff are not allowed to cuddle children as a result of the nursery in Plymouth?’ So, there is a perception that physical contact does not happen and when it does it is the minimum.

Do we need to cuddle children in order to have a personal relationship with them? Yes, if it is done in a way that is not overbearing or disrespectful to the child. Some say it is the child who should ask for a cuddle. Just imagine the child who has not developed speech yet or who will never develop speech, uses English as an additional language or who has delayed speech. How does this child ‘ask’ for a cuddle?

Children flourish when they feel emotionally secure with practitioners but they do know when the relationship is just done for routine’s sake or, on the odd (but unacceptable) occasion, when the practitioner behaves in a negative way towards them.

I remember my 17 year old son, when he first started school at the age of four. He came home saying on a number of occasions, ‘There is a really mean lady who only works at lunch time, she never smiles, takes our footballs and always tells us off.’ Fast forward to Christmas…. ‘Mum, we had Christmas lunch today and you know the mean lady, well, she didn’t even smile during the Christmas lunch!’  Was it the way the turkey was cooked or the joke in the Christmas cracker? This is not even a positive relationship. I know that practitioners are not meant to be prancing around like clowns or behaving like a children’s television presenter, but come on.

Does a practitioner, with a happy disposition, promote secure personal relationships with the children that s/he cares for? I say yes! Mary Portas, in her television programme ‘Mary Queen of Frocks,’ discussed recruiting staff for her new project and she stated “First and foremost they have to be happy and care about what they do.” I wholeheartedly agree with this. Yes, practitioners need to know about how children learn and develop but, crucially, their disposition needs to be one that enhances a child’s emotional well-being.  I have seen a certain number of practitioners who have the fire in their belly and really know how to build rapport with children because of their happy disposition. The practitioner who is happy to be at work and care about what they do is the practitioner whose disposition will have a positive influence on children’s personal, social and emotional development.

I believe that we need to concentrate more on personal attachments between practitioners and children. Discussing how do they personally connect and interact with the children that they care for? What do we really mean by the key person approach in practice? This needs to start when we are training individuals who come into the sector. The syllabus needs to have a strong emphasis on relationships and the covering of theory, in order that the qualification prepares individuals to form personal relationships with children. In addition, provide more professional development for practitioners; topics to cover should include defining personal relationships between practitioners and children and unpicking the key person approach in attachment theory.

Research tells us there are a few parents who have issues with forming secure loving relationships and attachments with their children; there are a multitude of reasons for this. With this in mind, surely there are some practitioners who have the same issues as parents with relationships and attachments to the children that they care for? That is why it is imperative for all of us in the sector to analyse honestly and openly about ‘personal relationships’ and the emotional maturity and intelligence of practitioners who care for children.

Thus, if we concentrate more on the personal relationships between practitioner and child, we will have more children who are emotionally grounded.

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