Written by Early Years Lecturer Ian Currie.
Children returning to early childhood settings after a sudden and unplanned exposure to a less predictable world are noticeably different from those who left to enter lockdown almost three months ago. The settings they are returning to are also substantially changed. With human contact significantly reduced and, in some settings, discouraged altogether, we find much of our existing ‘best practice’ eviscerated. The ‘human’ element of social and emotional care reduced to a distanced form of (literally) sanitised interaction that jeapardises the emotional literacy of a generation.
Children frequently need emotional comfort, the simple expression of which combines an appropriate choice of words with some kind of physical contact – a hug, holding a hand, stroking a bruised cheek. They have spent their first few months and years of life learning this and benefitting socially and emotionally from such consistent expressions of care. We know that such patterns of interaction between children and care-givers are amongst the crucial foundations of the attachment bond and the trust that underpins such early relationships.
We even understand the neuroscience of how the brain develops structurally in response to the predictability and security of one’s environment but in three short months we have pulled the predictability rug from under a generation of children. Of course we have not done so intentionally. We as adult carers and parents have been wrestling with our own uncertainties and insecurities about the pandemic. Our world too has become much less predictable and as we have tried to make sense of hearsay, gossip, official advice and data, our vocabularies have changed. We have conversations about ‘lockdown’, ‘Covid 19’, ‘R-rates’, ‘Corona virus’, ‘hospitals’, ‘death’ and ‘fear’. We forget that children hear these conversations, whether amongst ourselves and our families and friends, whether on the 5pm televised Government briefing, whether between siblings or peers. Children’s worries and insecurities are emerging in play. We are seeing ‘lockdown’ games and Covid monsters, we are hearing conversations about death and dying and we are seeing fear and aggression exhibited in play activities. Literature on childhood trauma recognises such behaviour but in a world-wide pandemic where our own knowledge and understanding is incomplete how should we respond to these expressions of insecurity amongst our children? How do we manage emotions amongst children who are trying to understand new boundaries? How do we support children to articulate their concerns? How do we create stability in the new and unpredictable normality? How do we manage our own mental health and resilience?