An important factor influencing children’s social and emotional development is the nature of their relationships and interactions with educators. By engaging in warm and respectful interactions with children, educators can foster secure attachments that encourage children to explore and interact with their environment. Further, feelings of loneliness, stress, fear and sadness are among the factors known to undermine children’s ability to successfully self-regulate. Thus, by ensuring children feel safe, secure and supported in the setting educators can establish a strong foundation on which to extend children’s self-regulatory skills.
Scenario: At morning drop-off, Harry’s Mum expresses that she is running late for work and needs to make a quick exit. Noticing Harry has become distracted talking with his friends she takes this as her opportunity to leave. Several minutes later, Harry runs over to the door as he realises his Mum is no longer there and becomes quite distressed.
Be sensitive and responsive to children’s emotional needs. When children experience negative emotions, rather than distracting them from their feelings, be sensitive, responsive and empathic to children’s emotions and needs. Give them time and support to deal with these emotions, providing physical comforts (e.g., pats, hugs, holding hands) and verbal reassurance to support children when they are feeling distressed.
Talk to children about emotions and feelings. This helps them identify how they are feeling and understand others’ behaviours. Books and felt stories are a great way to support emotional understanding (e.g., ‘Have you filled a bucket today?’, ‘When I’m Feeling’ collection).
Foster secure attachments by engaging in responsive practices. In instances where it isn’t possible to respond to children’s requests straight away, communicate this by reassuring them that they have been heard and a response is forthcoming (e.g. ‘Thank you for inviting me to come and play your game. I have to help Sarah pack these paints away first, but when I am finished I will come straight over’).
Create places that children can go to when they are feeling overwhelmed by emotions. For example, you can utilise quiet and cosy spaces in the room where children can feel safe to go. Provide emotional outlets where they can expend emotional energy (e.g., providing windmills for blowing, amygdala bottles, playdough, a calming water bowl).
Communicate with families about how they support their child to regulate their emotions. Working with families ensures consistency across contexts. At times of stress, such as drop-off or pick-up, consistency can offer great comfort to children. Some families may be more challenged in this area and may benefit from your guidance and support. Effective communication between families and educators is key to establishing a supportive and responsive emotional context.
This principle and associated practices are referenced in the following sources of evidence in the EYLF: