Category Archives: emotion language

Be the love


It is the last week of term, the last couple of weeks have felt quite challenging in my nurture role. A number of the children I work with have been finding life particularly hard, and they show this in ways that can be quite demanding for everyone. This weekend I have been visiting family, while away we visited Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. As we walked into the building the choir were practicing, the space was filled with beautiful music and then I saw the Tracy Emin art work above the door with the words ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me’. I arrived in that space feeling shattered, quite stressed, my mind buzzing with the week ahead. The mix of the words in the art work and the music stopped me, forced me to stop, breathe, notice. Those words felt very pertinent to me, I have been regularly telling staff that the children we work with need to know they are safe, they need to know they belong and they need to know they are loved, isn’t that what we all need?.

Tracy Emin described the reason for her work

“The Church has always been a place, for me, for contemplation. I wanted to make something for Liverpool Cathedral about love and the sharing of love. Love is a feeling which we internalise; a feeling very hard to explain. I thought it would be nice for people to sit in the Cathedral and have a moment to contemplate the feelings of love, it’s something we just don’t have enough time to think about and I hope this work creates this space in time.” Liverpool Echo, September 2008

The idea of loving the children we work with can be challenging to some. Dan Hughes developed a model for adoptive and foster parents called PLACE ( sometimes called Pace)


This model is also used by many people who work children, including the team I work with. Dr Jools Page has also developed a model called professional love, which looks at how early years practitioners develop a professional loving attachment with the children they work with. Both of these models are helpful to remind us how essential it is that the children we work with know they are loved and accepted, these are both underpinning needs for a child to have a good wellbeing.

When we are working with children who are overwhelmed, scared, unregulated, as adults we need to be the calm, loving, trustworthy person for them. By consistently using scripts and reminding the children- “I can see you are …., I am here for you” we are accepting them, loving them and empathising with them.

When we work in this way it can be emotionally challenging for ourselves, it can be exhausting. We need to ensure that we are loving ourselves, taking care of ourselves, some of the ways we can do this are by eating well, having time to rest and if possible getting time outside, there are more ideas on our wellbeing in my new book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.


Hope for the future



This weekend I attended the wedding of a beautiful couple, Harry and Grace. During the reception, I had the usual conversation with other guests about jobs, when I am asked what I do I usually say I work with 4 yr olds who are finding life very hard. Or tell them my daughter’s description of my role “mum works with 4 yr olds, plays with play dough and says I can see you are really cross but it’s not ok to bite”. People, always look slightly taken aback when I describe my job and often ask how can a four-year-old be in such a difficult place. One person on Saturday asked me what hope there was, and my answer was lots. One of the main aims of my job is to share an emotional language, to encourage and help the children to recognise how they are feeling, what they are feeling and to help them manage those feelings. If we can put in place from a young age an excellent emotional intelligence we are offering children a fantastic starting point to life.

At the wedding on Saturday, I was reminded by the wonderful hope we have for the future, it was fantastic to see how this couple and their friends have an amazing emotional intelligence, there was no sign of any toxic masculinity at this wedding. This was a wedding full of men and women expressing their true feelings, this was a wedding where the best man and the groom publicly said how much they loved each other, where the bride publicly told her bridesmaids how important they were in her life. This was a truly equal wedding, with bride and groom walking in together, with tears from both as they greeted each other, with women leading the service and all speeches by an equal mix of men and women, including a speech from the bride’s father and the groom’s mother. This wedding gave me hope for the future, this wedding reminded me that times are changing, that there is a growing emotional intelligence and I firmly believe that will make for a better world and a better future.

Order of service by Joel Baker

Where did you find joy this week?



One of my jobs this week was to proof read the book I have coming out in December ‘ Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff. I love the whole process of writing a book; I find the subject takes up a lot of my thinking and reflecting time, but once I have finished it I often move on in my thoughts to the next project or just take a break from that level of thinking. When I get to proof read the final edition I am reminded of ideas I had, research I had done, some sections I read remind me of the time I wrote it and the feelings I had at that time. That was my experience this week; one small section talks about experiencing joy, finding joy in our work, in our lives, looking out for joyful moments. As I was writing this section, my close friend, Liz was dying of cancer, so to be honest life didn’t feel very joyful at the time.
One of the suggestions I make is having a practice of gratefulness, at the end of each day asking two questions what am I grateful for today? and where did I find joy? This is a practice I have tried to embed for a long time. It can be a real challenge when days are truly dreadful it can be really easy to get caught up in the gloom and negativity, but this practice encourages me to find something, even if it was small that I am thankful for and that brought me joy.

This week the main joy for me has been in playing with waterbeads. My daughters describe my job as messy play and telling a child ‘i can see your feeling really sad, I am here for you!– not a bad description of a nurture workers role!. In the nurture work this week I have been introducing my four years to waterbeads. I love this sensory tool as they are messy play without being messy ( I have a few children this year who hate the feel of messy play), through using waterbeads you can bring out lots of language and conversation about feelings, touch, emotions. Most of the children adored these; it was so delightful to see their faces light up, they pulled the most wonderful faces of surprise, delight, and pure joy. Several of the children repeatedly commented while running their hands through the tub; ‘I love this so much, I am so happy’. Even when other moments in the week have been more challenging, remembering the children’s joy has been joyful for me.


Taking the time to stop and listen to children



The children I work with have now been in school for four weeks, I have spent the time watching, observing, listening and getting to know them and then assessing them using the Thrive assessment. From this week we start the intervention work, the Ta’s and I start working together with the child to build up their sense of feeling safe, feeling they are special and meeting their needs.

During the observation period, it is so important to see the world through the child’s eyes; we often focus on what overwhelms the child, what they find hard but I also love to discover what it is that excites them, that they are fascinated by. Once we glimpse this, we can then incorporate this into the nurture work and sensory work we will be doing. We know that children respond well when they are doing activities that link to their interests. I am always encouraging early years practitioners to follow children’s interest, and I believe we need to do this also in the nurture role.

This year some of the interests are Thomas the tank engine, owls, and dinosaurs. One little boy told me this week, with such passion and depth of feeling how he “adores owls” as he told me about his love of owls he put his hand on his heart and said “ I love owls so much’. Until this conversation I wasn’t sure what made him happy, this one conversion brought him alive, his eyes were sparkling, he was animated and enthusiastic, this was the first time I had seen this response. Another child loves Thomas the tank engine, the one way to engage him is to talk about Thomas and the characters.

This week I will be hiding Thomas and his fellow engines in lavender sensory rice, I will be hiding dinosaurs in crazy soap, and I will be playing with owls, fabric and boxes. I know from experience that keying into the child’s interests and incorporating this into the nurture activities will engage them, it will help them to feel they have been noticed and valued and help them to feel special. It’s amazing how much emotion language you can use with Thomas the tank engine or a dinosaur!.



This week I have been reflecting on the need we all have to feel that we belong, the dictionary definition of belonging is: has a place, fitting in, being included. This week has been the start of the new term for many pre schools, nurseries, and schools; many children have started nursery or school for the first time, both infants and senior, some adults have begun new jobs. For some those first few days can be overwhelmingly scary and frightening. In my nurture role, I have the privilege of being with four-year-olds. Watching these little ones start at their new school this week, I was reminded again of how much they need to feel that they belong, that the school needs to be a place where the children feel they fit in, where they are wanted and will be included.

Knowing that you belong is a feeling, you know when you do, you also know when you don’t belong. I believe as people we all have a desire and need to belong somewhere, this is in the groups we are part of, the faith groups, our work places, our places of education, our families and our friendship groups. I can think of many times when I have been in places, groups that I felt that I didn’t belong, I felt that I didn’t fit in, that I wasn’t understood, where I knew my voice was not being listened to, this left me feeling sad, isolated and unwanted.

This week I have seen some children who have coped wonderfully at the start of the new term, they have been excited, they have felt they had a place, and they belonged. I have seen other children who have been desperately sad, who have been overwhelmed by being in a place they did not feel was for them, a place they felt they did not belong. At these times it is so important that the children have calm, soothing adults around them who recognise and acknowledge their worries and fears. They need adults who are using emotion language to acknowledge and recognise their feelings; at these times it can be useful to use a script, e.g., “I can see you are feeling so sad about being in school, it’s ok I am here for you”. When a child hears this, they know the adult has recognised their strong feeling and worries they know they have been heard. Often what children hear after a few initial soothing words are the words ‘it’s time to stop crying now,‘ these words can make a child feel more isolated and scared.

There are simple things which help children to feel they belong:

The start of welcoming a child warmly by their name as they arrive is an important beginning. Most settings have named and pictured pegs and drawers for children in nursery and primary school, this can help them feel they have a place. However, some children then need further guidance, an invitation to find a book or join in an activity, with some children they need a member of staff to guide them and support them to the carpet/ activity/ book corner. This sounds obvious, but it is not always remembered in the rush of the morning arrivals. For the child who is feeling overwhelmed they need the gentle guidance and support from a trusted adult. I often think it is in the first few weeks of a new term that schools could benefit from having volunteer workers. A few calm, safe adults who can be there to sit with children, welcome them, guide them to the activity/ book corner, this frees up the teachers to speak with parents. Reception classes often have one teaching assistant. However, one TA to help settle up to 30 children can be a big challenge. If there are additional adults, who can reassure the children, listen to their stories about their journey arriving, look at their conkers, hear about the runaway dog, etc. then children arrive feeling welcomed, feeling they have a place, it helps them to feel safe and secure. By being welcomed and settled well the children are then ready to learn and explore that day. However, if a child arrives and feels scared, overwhelmed, frightened it will take them a long time to calm, to regulate and they will not be ready to start learning.

Start of a new academic year



The bulk of my work is as a nurture consultant, supporting 4 yr olds in their reception year. Starting school is a major transition and can be so overwhelming for children and parents. The children I and my colleagues support have been identified as needing some extra nurture and extra support. However, in the first few days and weeks, all the new children ( and many of the parents ) need that extra nurture and support. The move to school is such a big change, even for those children who have been in early years settings full time. They are taking on so much new information, new experiences, there are not as many staff as there were in the nursery, the school is often louder, bigger, lots of children. There are many new noises, sights, sounds, smells, everything is often different, that can be so overwhelming even for the most confident and able child.

With all these new changes children will often be exhausted, I often hear parents who have had children in full-time nursery say that school shouldn’t be any different. It is important to understand that change is tiring, change makes us as adults feel exhausted. Think about when you started a new job; I bet you were exhausted at the end of the week; it is just the same with our children. The brain is taking on so much new information, it is working so hard, and this is tiring. So my tip is whether your child is starting infant school, junior school or senior school expect them to be very tired at the end of the week. Acknowledge this and support them with these feelings, they may well be more snappy, emotional, irritable, be there for them in these feelings. Acknowledge how they feel and validate those feelings for them. It is ok to be tired and to feel overwhelmed and to feel a bit scared at the start of something new. Be kind and gentle to them; this is a time of big change, they need to be supported and nurtured.

Also as parents, this can be a hard time for us, many of us cried when our child started school or senior school ( or university!), we can feel worried about how they will survive, overwhelmed by the change that is happening. Be kind to yourself, offer yourself kind words, do something that makes you feel happy, that might be eating cake or going for a run or a swim, speak to someone you know and trust about your feelings.

How to nurture your teenager



This is an article I co-wrote with my 17 yr old daughter for the Church times for mental health week.

Recognise and use emotion language with your teenager. Acknowledge how they are feeling. You could use words such as ‘I know you are feeling upset about falling out with your friend, it’s ok to feel cross and upset. When you are ready I am here to help you think about a way forward’. Make sure you don’t belittle their feelings or come up with immediate solutions for them, be there to hear them and listen to them. Help your teenager to use emotion language with themselves; many people learn at a young age to self-criticise, the words we say to ourselves can often be harsher than the words you would say to a friend, children and young people learn to do this at a young age. Help them to use kind words to themselves e.g. ‘I know I am feeling scared, that is ok and normal, it’s an exam, every 16 yr taking exams is feeling scared right now.’

Teach your teenager to be kind to themselves. If we can teach our teenagers to be self-compassionate, we are offering them a great life skill. Learning to be self-compassionate starts with having a good emotional vocabulary as mentioned above. Being kind to themselves is particularly important for girls and boys who are high achievers and have high expectations. Encourage them to recognise when they need to take a break from working hard, e.g. go outside, listen to their favourite music, read a book, have a drink or eat some food that makes them feel good. During exam time or when they are feeling very stressed, ask them each day, ‘what will you do today that makes you happy?’ Encourage them to think about things that are life giving to them e.g. seeing friends, going for a walk, doing some art, doing yoga, going for a run.
Help your teenager to navigate between being independent and having support. Summer Mainstone-Cotton (age 17) says ‘As teens, we think independence is expected of us from ourselves and society, however as teenagers, we are not fully grown yet, we experience so much turmoil during our lives during this stage. Yes, we are independent young adults, but we are still partly children. We need parents to support us emotionally through this, without being patronising, we need parents to empathise with our struggles instead of being judgmental, e.g. a 6th form student may not have enough time in their lives to balance school work, social life and earning money and they should not be pressured to. A teenager might feel overwhelmed with school or home, to nurture themselves they need social time outside the home/school with friends, they need to be supported in this.’

co-written with Summer Mainstone-Cotton. Photo by Summer.