Early Years Mental Health Conference 10th June 2021

Me, You and Us, emotional dynamics in relationship

On 10th June I was privileged to present the Early Years Mental Health Conference hosted by Essex County Council’s Early Years and Childcare Workforce Development Team, on the theme of the role of the Key Person in the often-complex emotional dynamic in relationship with child and family.

We noted that paying attention to our own and others’ nervous systems is our first priority in every interaction. We recognised how co-regulation happens at this biological level and reminded ourselves about the conscious and unconscious behaviours that make co-regulation effective in developing the child’s self-regulation. We also considered the new PSED ELGs in this respect.

Working with the nervous system enables us to support the child at a biological level first (Universal provision) thus providing a clearer idea of a child’s individual needs to more accurately target the provision.

The day was structured around 5 themes:

One delegate said: I have gained a lot of new knowledge thank you, I loved the session and look forward to delivering a training to my setting in the future’.

We included practical strategies that support psychological safety and self-regulation and worked through a case study using an observation checklist linked to the nervous system. Like all our training the handouts were designed to make it easy to disseminate in setting.

If you missed it and are interested in this topic contact me for more information.

Connecting to the Wild

Mental Health Awareness Week follows the theme ‘Nature’ (10-17th May). This year I am talking with my students about how playing in nature helps us breathe more deeply, connect more easily and freely, learn about change and unpredictability and encounter the microbes that help build our immunity. Finally, being with other species, plants and animals, helps us regulate both excitement and fear.

Watching a robin devour a centipede fills us with a range of emotions within a moment, enabling our bodies to manage a spike in our nervous system as our emotions change rapidly. Watching the breeze move the blossom is mindful and triggers production of telomerese which protects our chromosomes from deterioration. Child trauma can accelerate the aging of chromosomes and associated with major long term health problems. Research found that telomeres are shortened by the impact of childhood trauma. Exercise and mindful connection with nature can help protect our children against this premature aging of the chromosomes.

This report released by The National Trust about our relationship with nature  is fascinating and provides lots of creative ways we can be more wild and well!  

No time to get outdoors? Just search ‘nature landscapes’ in You Tube and relax!  Being aware of our nervous system and knowing how to regulate it is probably the single most important thing we can do to help ourselves to function well. A recent study ‘provides evidence that autonomic control of the heart is altered by the simple act of just viewing natural scenes with an increase in vagal activity’ (Gladwell VF, Brown DK, Barton JL, Tarvainen MP, Kuoppa P, Pretty J, Suddaby JM, Sandercock GR. The effects of views of nature on autonomic control. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Sep;112(9):3379-86. doi: 10.1007/s00421-012-2318-8. Epub 2012 Jan 21. PMID: 22270487.)

Learn more about the benefits of nature in this  Early Years Mental Health training or learn more about the role of the nervous system in supporting secondary attachments in our settings at the forthcoming Early Years Mental Health conference on 10 June 2021, sign up with the new booking system Education Essex.

Understanding the nervous system, responses to trauma and COVID 19.

The mainstay of my approach in Therapeutic Teaching lies in an understanding of Polyvagal Theory. Seeing the positive outcomes of The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), with the individuals I work with, is perhaps the most rewarding part of my work during these challenging times. It warms my heart to see the changes in a person’s quality of life through this therapeutic intervention. It’s not just about listening, it’s the connection in relationship that comes with the process that enables significant changes to take place. The SSP was developed in response to the Polyvagal Theory and the insights it has given us to the science involved in feeling safe.

This video recently released by The Polyvagal Institute explains the Autonomic Nervous System in such a way to give us all a clear understanding about how, by knowing our nervous system, we can better navigate the world feeling safer. This video refers to our responses to trauma and in the light of COVID, we could all benefit from learning about how social connection is so important to support our wellbeing, while recognising why this might also be something we are wary of during this time. It may cause you to reflect on any mixed feelings we can have about connecting socially but also provides us with the insight to manage our detection of threat so we can better assess safety in social connection.

If you are interested in learning more about how The Safe and Sound Protocol can help you feel safer go to my home page.

Attachment Play in the Age of COVID19

Our secondary attachments with young children rely greatly on physical proximity and touch. We are all working hard to mediate the impact of COVID restrictions on connection which supports healthy attachments. For some children their time in setting is the only opportunity to counter the stress they might be experiencing at home.


<a href="http://<span>Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@annaelizaearl?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Anna Earl</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/parent-child?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a&gt;Photo- Unsplash – Anna Earl

Our communication skills are even more critical to mental health and PSED at this time. It helps to remind ourselves of strategies such as ‘Observe, Wait, Listen (OWL) and making that attention deeply connecting – to see inside their feeling world. To activate stress-countering neurochemicals we are aiming for a state of interpersonal synchrony- ‘a delicious feeling of oneness with the other’ (Cirelli, 2014). There are lots of ideas on this DVD. Learn more at the forthcoming Early Years Mental Health conference hosted by Essex County Council, June 10th. Useful resources on this page.

Early Years Mental Health Conference

June 10th 2021 hosted by Essex County Council
Me, You, Us – Understanding emotional dynamics in the Early Years setting
Central to the mental wellbeing of the young child in the early years setting is safety in the relationships the child forms with early years practitioners.
I am presenting the keynote address that explores:

  • the role of the key person as a secondary attachment figure,
  • the impact of a child’s insecure attachment profile on their ability to relate to adults
  • and the subsequent impact on the Early Years practitioner’s mental and physical wellbeing.

The workshop that follows considers an assessment checklist that corresponds to the Early Adopter ELGs.

Download my flyer and find assorted free resource here . Book your place on this conference here.

‘Their challenges are our challenges’ – a must read…

A new survey by the Anna Freud Centre has revealed that a high proportion of nursery workers have experienced working with children facing extremely complex backgrounds and challenging emotional and behavioural needs. Many admitted that they had found these needs difficult to manage. Read the report here.

https://unsplash.com/photos/Qba_TeacKas

Winter warmers

In the last post we considered how quiet and stillness helps us savour the ‘hygge’ in our settings in winter. What about the children who struggle to relax? We reviewed the power of soft voices with easily-dysregulated children.

Let’s think about how movement helps to regulate the breath, which in turn regulates heart rate and the nervous system ‘brake’.  When you get the children really moving, so they start to puff and pant, as they stop and slow down, notice which children need longer to settle.

These children have lower ‘regulation fitness’ and need structured, regulating, movement often throughout their session.

Integrating movements to music can add to the fun and increase motivation, develop language skills through rhyming songs and support sensory integration.

How closely do we plan our input to our children’s sensory developmental profile? You might find this checklist and activities helpful.  

Find out more about helping children self-regulate through movement:  Early Years Mental Health training – a video, useful links and free resources are here.

Rest and Regulate

This should be a time to rest and renew but most of us are exhausted, COVID has amplified this fatigue. The children have been on an escalator of excitement and anticipation, joys and disappointments.

Can we enhance calm in our settings to relish the quiet and cosiness of the winter months? Imagine yourself through the sensory day of your most sensitive children.

Can we reduce movement? Soften the noise in our spaces? Are quiet spaces really that quiet?

Can we slow our talking and soften our tone any more than we do already?

On a sound walk, an imbalanced nervous system can be spotted in our struggling listeners.

Listening is a nervous system experience, what we hear can calm or arouse, create safety or danger. Our voices and the breath in singing and playing wind instruments is not only very regulating for our children, it can help us feel calm.

Find out more about helping children self-regulate through sound and listening experiences:  Early Years Mental Health training – a video, useful links and free resources are here.

Connection Calms

Enhancing connection with young children and parents/carers is one way we can ease the strain on everyone’s mental health in these difficult times.

Our nervous system reminds us, moment by moment, that connection to others can help us to feel safe, when some-one asks us how we are with a curious expression or reassures us with an empathic soothing voice. This only happens when we receive safety signals in the face and voice of another.

When we are stressed, we can find ourselves in a sympathetic ‘high energy’ (action or fight/flight) state very quickly or in an immobilised ‘helpless and hopeless’ shutdown, low energy state (freeze/shutdown).

It’s vital for us to move our own body to a calm responsive state and we need to read the child’s nervous system well, this video explains this with some nervous system ‘hacks’ in an entertaining visual way.

 Find out more with Early Years Mental Health training – a video introduction with useful links and free resources is here.

If you, or someone you know , of any age, is struggling with balancing their nervous system then take a look at The Safe and Sound Protocol.

Playful adults in the Early Years

In the last post we considered how play can heal our children through this difficult time in our lives. How does it also help our mental health when we are playful with the children? In play children can rearrange the world to make it less scary and it’s the same for us. Healing neurochemicals are activated in joyful play and strengthen attachments, vital to feeling safe in setting.

Take ‘Peek-a Boo’ which creates a momentary fear response in the child but this small degree of fear can help a child regulate their emotions. Children with chronic anxiety struggle with even mildly threatening situations because it leads to high degrees of fear generated by the person’s fear of losing control (Gray in Voice of Play).

We also get protective anti-stress effects from our playfulness. While we can’t let ourselves go in the setting, try to make some time for play.

Give yourself permission, be spontaneous, set aside your inhibitions and try something you haven’t done since you were a kid. Learn more here