Quality Area 5 of the National Quality Framework focuses on fostering relationships with children to maintain sensitive and respectful connections with them. This is one of the quality areas wherein the goal of the National Quality Standard is to build and maintain sensitive relationships with both educators and their peers.
Children need to trust their caregivers
Trust is paramount when it comes to forming healthy relationships with children. Aside from learning how to communicate effectively, it is foundational for children to feel safe in their environment. The national quality framework states that a service needs to be a safe place for children to learn and develop. The centre must enable children and be built on a genuine desire to learn about each child’s ideas and emotions. How we take care of that trust will directly impact each child’s behaviour.
Additionally, they must have faith in our ability to keep our promises, that we will listen to their problems and that we will not criticize or condemn them in any way. Children need to be able to put their faith in their main caretakers. Showing that we care about them as people and that their emotions and views matter to us is essential and will ultimately empower children.
When it comes to a child’s notion of respect and trust, even seemingly unconnected parts of the environment may have an impact. Even the way we present ourselves and the equipment we use (such as puppets and toys) may communicate how much we regard the children and want to provide them with a better experience. One early years educator notes how she was able to be sensitive to one particular child:
Adam spent a long time to set up the farm the way he wanted it, constructing complex-shaped fields surrounded by plastic fences. He pleaded with me to keep it this way so that the following day when he played with it, it would be the same. While dealing with the annoyance of someone else playing with your toys is a crucial part of growing emotional resilience, I didn’t need to add to the frustration that he was already experiencing. Knowing that other children would be playing with the farm that afternoon, I photographed the layout and set up the farm in the same manner shortly before he arrived. I wasn’t sure whether he’d remember, but I thought I was demonstrating my appreciation for his imaginative work and that I was taking his request seriously.”Inspiring and Creative Ideas for Working with Children: How to Build Relationships and Enable Change—Deborah Plumme
Learn more about why fostering respectful and equitable relationships can help the children in your service as well as improve your ratings in Quality Area 5.
How to Improve Your Ratings in NQS QA5
Actively listen to the child
One of the things that educators need to do to connect with the children under their care is to listen actively. Even though it sounds easy, it’s crucial that we’re mindful of what we say and that we respond appropriately so we can foster sensitive and equitable relationships with children.
Our own ideas, emotions and prejudices may often come in the way of really listening to someone else. Filtering out such distractions, putting our own issues aside and really focusing on what children are saying are all part of active listening. We not only listen to what the speaker says, but we also look for nonverbal cues. We take notice of body language, eye contact and gestures. We pay attention to emphasis and accent. All of these factors allow us to support children and better comprehend what they are saying.
Showing that we are listening and interested in what someone has to say is another part of active listening and helps us to resolve conflicts. Nonverbal signs, such as eye contact, gestures and body position, as well as insightful remarks and sensitive (but uncommon) inquiries, will encourage children to expound on what they are saying.
Common roadblocks to listening
Some common barriers to active listening in an educator-child relationship include the following:
- Being overly reassuring (‘Don’t worry, everything will be fine.’)
- Denying feelings (‘Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to worry about.’)
- Offering advice (‘Well, if I were you, I would…’)
- Arguing logically (‘There is no point in being anxious because…’)
- Asking too many questions (‘Why did you do that?’)
As caregivers, we have the task of helping children feel secure as they process their roadblocks so they can acquire the skills needed to effectively resolve conflicts that come their way.
As educational leaders, managing child interactions is one of the things we must do. Part of that job is ensuring that we can promote children’s sense of self through active listening. Having the opportunity to support children through the difficult part of their learning journey is both a privilege and a duty, so whenever possible, it’s our responsibility to make the child feel secure and make sure that the child is supported in every way possible. How we enable children to negotiate effectively with other children is dependent on how we can step in and help them navigate their social circles.
As educators, we are offered the incredible privilege of providing each child with our undivided attention during their stay in the centre. Whether it’s a small group or a big one, the classroom is where the young ones will learn important concepts, like how to regulate their own behaviour.
The good news is that even short moments of “being heard,” recognized, understood and accepted may help a child’s sense of self and mental well-being, as well as pave the way for a supportive connection to develop. It’s up to us to take the first step in leading them towards a healthy relationship through intentional listening.