The first thoughts which come to mind when reflecting on the personal, social and emotional development for children up to the age of three will almost certainly be about ensuring that every child feels secure and content. As I have argued earlier, it is essential that we work hard towards getting this basic aspect of our provision right. We also need to resist cosy assumptions that we have all the necessary procedures securely in place. We need to check that we are doing our best to help children feel secure and content through regular and careful observations of children, through dialogue with parents, and by having a robust staff supervision system in place.
But, going beyond these foundations, it can be argued that early years practitioners sometimes take too narrow a view of this area of child development. I think this potential narrowness can show itself in four main areas.
Firstly, there is the tendency to wish for a very up-beat atmosphere in settings, which is intended to help the children to feel that they are in a happy environment. The constant focus on positive feedback, with high fives, praise for every little thing, and requests to “show me a smile” may be well-intentioned, but they can have unwelcome repercussions. Where babies and toddlers are regularly encouraged to give us a smile, or gently teased for being grumpy or unresponsive, they can lose touch of their own emotions. They begin to prioritise what people want them to feel over what they actually feel. In the long run, this does not help them to manage their feelings or become aware of what they find upsetting or difficult. In the same vein, it is easy to make the mistake of attracting the attention of a toddler or a baby in ways which are playful and jolly, but interrupt their concentration. For example, I recently observed a baby who was working hard to crawl, focussing all her efforts on co-ordinating her movements. Her key person across the room called out her name, causing the baby to stop, look up and smile, but also to stop what she was doing.
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