Category Archives: Uncategorized

Belonging

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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.

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Being thankful

 

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This week I have have been writing a chapter on emotional wellbeing. For part of this, I have been thinking about the practice of gratitude and how this can enhance our sense of happiness and wellbeing. Sonja Lyubomirsky has written a book called The How of Happiness, she is the professor of psychology at the University of California and has spent years researching happiness. One conclusion from her research, this is also echoed through Brene Brown and Kristin Neff’s research is the positive impact regularly practicing gratitude can have on a persons life.

Lyubomirsky suggests keeping a gratitude diary or noticing and giving thanks regularly in the moment.

It is so easy to get caught up in the difficulties, the problems, the negative aspects of life. This can be a particular danger in my nurture work, where some of the children are regularly displaying challenging, unhappy, distressed behavior. There is some staff I work with who wait to tell me the long list of things which have gone wrong that week, and that is ok, I am there to hear those, to support them in their frustration, but I also need to be able to see the glimmers of hope as well. One way I try hard to practice gratitude in my nurture work is by thanking the child at the end of our session together. I will tell them how much I have enjoyed being with them and playing together that day. I will find one thing to focus on that went well, this maybe ‘ I love the way you enjoyed the sand today’ or ‘I enjoyed playing bubbles with you today and watching you smile and laugh when you caught them”. This act of expressing gratitude to the children helps them to feel valued and wanted, and it helps me to find the glimmer of hope in the work.

Gratitude is sometimes for the big events and others for the fleeting moment. I have had both this week, my Dad was taken critically ill in New Zealand while visiting my sister at the beginning of this week but is thankfully now recovering and doing well, I feel so grateful for him surviving. I have also had moments of gratitude while being in the sunshine and enjoying the spring flowers growing in my garden.

It is worth taking a moment to think about what you are grateful for from this last week.

Searching for signs of change

 

 

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This week I started back with my nurture role. January can often feel very hard,  the children take a while to adjust to being back in school and the routines, staff often don’t feel hugely relaxed after the holiday and everyone is slightly niggly about being back in school. January is a time to go back to basics; I often revisit activities around emotions, this week I will be using homemade lavender play dough and emotion games and revisiting the characters from the film Inside Out.

Importantly January is also a time to see the glimmers of change, to remind staff of the positives, the good things we are seeing, the changes we have seen over the last four months. This morning I was thinking about these changes as I walked in the meadow and through my garden. My thoughts were around the changes we have seen in the children, the small glimmers of hope that remind me that the work is having a positive impact. As I walked and reflected on this I noticed some daffodil bulbs just beginning to emerge from the earth in my garden; another sign of hope that things will change, spring is not far away, hope is ahead of me.

Finding wild spaces

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Today I have been seeking out wild spaces, as a family we drove into the beautiful peak district and then walked high in the hills, surrounded by the magnificent surroundings.

I felt a longing to be in a wild place, to be outside seeing beauty, this may have partly come out of two days of long car journeys, but is was also a recognition in myself of needing to be reminded of the possibility, to see the beauty, the wonder of what is around us. I find being in a wild place offers me a reminder of all the possibilities ahead of me; this felt very timely as we begin to move into the new year.

There is something about wild spaces that feeds the soul. This last year I have been writing a book about children’s wellbeing, this inevitably led me to think a lot about my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others I work with, particularly the staff in schools that I support. I am often thinking about what helps adults and children’s wellbeing, and I think in my top 5 list would be experiencing wild spaces. One of my plans for 2017 is to spend more time in wild spaces.

Photo by Summer Mainstone-Cotton

Finding space

 

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When your working life is filled with talking to adults and children, hearing people’s stories, being present for people, by the end of the week it can be a relieve to find some space and silence. This was how I felt yesterday afternoon, it has been a busy week and ended with delivering training yesterday morning, I felt in real need of some space and beauty.

In the afternoon I went to see an art exhibition which my husband had work in, it was in the Bishops palace at Wells. Afterwards, we walked through the gardens and found a garden of reflection, this was a beautiful, quiet space, with a large white wall and seated area, in the space your eyes are drawn up to the sky. In this space, I found the silence, space, the beauty my soul was desiring.

I think we know when our heart and body is telling us we need to find space and silence, we need to learn to tune into those messages. Just by spending 20 minutes in this space, in silence, I felt enriched and nourished.

The nurturing role of Dad’s

 

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Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the role of Dad’s. Our daughters are 17 and 19, even before I was pregnant with our first baby we had conversations about our thoughts on the role of being a parent and the importance of both parents being nurturing,caring and engaged as parents. From my own experience, my Dad did a lot of the nurturing, caring, personal care when I was young, as my Mum was very ill for large amounts of my childhood. Also, I had been influenced and inspired by the way friends of ours, Jonny and Jenny Baker parented their boys, they shared a job between them and shared the childcare equally between them. From these experiences I knew that Dad’s have an important role to play in nurturing, caring, actively parenting their children.
When our own children arrived we decided to share the childcare between us, our girls had each of us caring for them 2.5 days a week. Nineteen years ago this was still fairly uncommon, sometimes people would question me if I trusted Iain to look after the girls, this always really annoyed me. In my parent’s generation nurturing parenting was often seen as a female role, the male role in parenting was often seen as either discipline or boisterous playing. I wanted my children to see that a Dad can be loving, caring, gentle, in touch with feelings and emotions as well as fun, playful with clear boundaries.

We both feel the decision we made to actively share the parenting role from the beginning and to intentionally both be nurturing, was the best decision we made for our family. I love seeing the relationship our girls have with their Dad, it is beautiful, rich and very loving. We are now in a new stage where our eldest daughter is about to leave home for university, often you hear of Mothers talking about their feeling of loss when children leave home, this is often attributed to them being the main carer or the main nurturer. We have recently realised you don’t hear Dad’s talking about their sense of loss, you rarely hear Dad’s express their sadness. I have had many intentional conversations with male friends recently, to hear their experiences and feelings around their children growing up. It is no surprise to hear men tell me how they felt deeply sad, anxious, worried, when their child started school, moved to secondary school or left home. When we are parenting in a nurturing, emotional way we will be effected with strong feelings when our children grow and develop, we will at times have moments of feeling a sense of loss and sadness. Of course, this is not unique to Mums, but to Dad’s as well and this is OK, we need to recognise it and acknowledge our feelings.

 

 

Transitions

 

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For a long time I have been interested in transitions, the process of how we prepare, how we think and plan for transitions, for change. I believe we need to give careful time and thought to transitions and change. For my, under graduate dissertation, I did a piece of research around supporting 4 yr olds transition into school, and now 8 years on a large part of my current job is supporting 4 yr olds where it has been recognised they are going to find the transition into school very hard. A key component of a good transition is preparation and support. I know through the work with the 4 yr olds if we involve them in visiting the school, buying uniform, buying shoes , talking about the school, their teacher, talking about what they will do at lunch time, practicing with them carrying a plate with food on or eating from a lunch box and talking about the feelings they have, this all helps the child in the transition. I also encourage the schools I work with to make a booklet for the new children about their school, their teacher and classroom so the children can look at this over the summer.

I often believe what works for 4 yr olds often works with older children and adults too!, the new children moving into senior school, is another huge transition , these children respond well when they are emotionally and physically supported, again the process of buying new school bags, practicing the walking route/ bus route, practicing buying lunch in a cafe where they need to order what they want, carrying the tray, pay for the food, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, their expectations and their fears, all of these are important life skills. These can help ease the transitions when they are talked about, practised and supported.

In our house we are in a stage of a new transition, our eldest daughter is going away to university, we have had many conversations about what it will be like, how she feels about it, over the summer we have been buying new quilt covers, cushions for her new room, mugs, plates, thinking about what she needs to take away and what she doesn’t need, having conversations about independent living, managing money, safety. I am aware this transition is a huge one for all of us, this last year I have been preparing myself for her going, trying to recognise and acknowledge the emotions this brings, both a mix of pride, delight, excitement for her, plus some fear of the unknown and also sadness of a time that is ending but the recognition of the importance of this and looking forward to what is ahead.

During this year I have thought a lot about the physical experience of being wrapped, I noticed over the year that several of the children I worked with responded really well to having a blanket that they could wrap themselves or be wrapped in when they were feeling overwhelmed, sad or anxious. Over the Summer I bought myself a large shawl, it is soft, and I find it really comforting, I have worn it a lot over the last few weeks, I am beginning to think it has been a way of nurturing myself, providing myself with some comfort, not that I have been feeling overwhelmed or sad, but maybe instinctively I have known that I need that extra sense of holding. One thing I have discussed a lot with Lily has been how cold her  new room might be! with this thought I have been knitting a blanket, it is one I started several years ago but now I am rushing to finish it. It’s a blanket of coloured squares, it’s not perfect but it is a blanket made of love, it is a blanket that hopefully will provide some comfort, some warmth and some nurturing at times when that is needed during this transition.