Early Years Update focuses on the importance of respectful relationships in environments with babies, toddlers and three- to five-year-old children. This is part of a range of practical ideas to underpin the information in the Early Years Foundation Stage Principles into Practice cards

Theme: Positive Relationships‘Children learn to be strong and independent from a base of loving and secure relationships with parents and/or a key person.’

Commitment 2.1 Respecting Each Other

‘Every interaction is based on caring professional relationships and respectful acknowledgement of the feelings of children and their families.’

Areas of knowledge covered:

  • friendships
  • understanding feelings
  • professional relationships.

On the CD-Rom in the EYFS pack there is a short video clip and links to a small range of written resources including three extracts from the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme looking at ‘Getting on and falling out’, ‘Relationships’ and ‘New beginnings’. These provide a range of ideas of how to support children’s knowledge, understanding and skills in key aspects of personal, social and emotional development. Also included is a link to KEEP (Key Elements of Effective Practice) which sets out the fundamental principles must underpin high-quality professional development training for practitioners.

In the ‘In depth’ section of the CD there are the key messages behind what respecting each other means, how this should translate into practice and why mutual respect is so important. There is also a brief introduction to how theory can be translated into practice, with adults as well as with children.

Supporting effective practice
To develop their practice in this area of the EYFS practitioners should:

  • be willing contributors to the life of the setting and value the strengths, knowledge, skills and experience that others bring
  • demonstrate to children and colleagues how good relationships can work through one’s own interaction with everyone who visits the setting
  • create strong positive relationships with parents by being friendly rather than by establishing friendships.

Working with babies
Group childcare settings provide an ideal environment to develop babies’ awareness of one another and encourage their social development. From a very early age babies learn from each other, watching carefully and copying actions and expressions. Provide time and opportunities for these interactions to happen by providing collections of natural and reclaimed materials for babies to explore.   These could consist of everyday household objects made of different materials – wood, metal, plastic presented in an attractive basket or box. You might like to try setting up a large light box on the floor and providing a range of transparent and translucent plastic materials for the babies to investigate. Mealtimes are also important social occasions to help babies to establish relationships and build friendships. Organise seating at lunch and tea times so several babies can dine together, assisted by attentive practitioners who engage in conversations with them.

Ideas to use with toddlers
When toddlers express strong emotions or feelings, for example of anger, frustration or fear, it is important to use language that acknowledges their right to express their feelings. Use stories and picture books to explore emotions with young children, talking about how the different characters might feel in different situations. Help toddlers to recognise and manage their feelings by talking to them about how they feel and gradually extending the vocabulary they have for expressing their emotions. Model the sorts of behaviour that you want children to adopt and actively draw their attention to how you are behaving . Be alert to interactions between children and acknowledge instances where they demonstrate care, concern and support for one another. Create opportunities during daily routines – indoors and outdoors – for children to help one another in practical situations.

Be attentive to children’s friendships and provide lots of opportunities for children to cooperate and collaborate with one another. Respect the fact that friends may want to sit together or play together but find ways to include children who may need more time and support to feel they are a part of the group.

Working with three- to five-year-olds
Experiences that involve a group of children working together to achieve something collectively provide an ideal medium for helping them to see that there are many things that can only be achieved through teamwork. These could include building a large-scale construction indoors, creating a den outdoors, playing a circle game such as ‘In and out the dusty bluebells’, or playing a parachute game. There will also be ample opportunities for sharing and turn taking, but it is also important to respect a child’s choice not to take part in a particular activity. When talking with children draw their attention to the contributions which different individuals are making, reinforcing the benefits of teamwork and collaboration. During the daily life of the setting draw children’s attention to the different jobs which the adults do – the cook, the cleaner, the manager – helping them to see the contributions which everyone makes.

Encourage children to recognise and talk about their feelings by reading stories and poems, looking at pictures and listening to, and making, music. Help them to empathise with the feelings of others, beginning to understand that not everyone sees the world from the same point of view. Involve children in deciding what rules are needed to ensure that the life of the setting is ‘fair’ for everyone, children and adults. Build their self-management skills by encouraging them to become involved in settling minor arguments and resolving conflicts, learning the essential life skills of negotiation and the ability to compromise.

When working with children of whatever age the most important thing for practitioners to do is to model, through all their actions, language and interactions, the sort of behaviours which they want children to adopt. This will be the most powerful tool in encouraging respectful relationships and fostering emotional wellbeing.