'Now more than ever, schools must be an emotional base'

As schools reopen, a nurture approach will be essential to help learners recover, says psychologist Lynne Binnie

Lynne Binnie

Why we've made wellbeing a taught subject at our school

Relationships fulfil our most fundamental need as humans: social connectedness. A nurturing approach recognises that positive relationships are central to both learning and wellbeing.

Nurturing approaches are underpinned by an understanding of attachment theory and the importance of early relational experiences in shaping children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. Nurture recognises that everyone who works with children and young people has a role to play in establishing these positive relationships.

When children and young people experience consistent safety, security and comfort from key adults, they develop the skills and desire to explore their environment and engage in learning opportunities. These relationships should be reliable, predictable and consistent wherever possible.


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Given that most of our children and young people have been at home with the safest adults they know, they will be returning to school a little bit wary on many levels. Rebuilding familiar routines and rituals within the school and classroom will be essential. We need to emphasis emotional growth, focusing on offering broad-based experiences in an environment that promotes security, routines, clear boundaries and carefully planned, repetitive learning opportunities.

Coronavirus: How the nurture approach can help when schools reopen

The six nurture principles are a helpful way to consider the needs of all children during this period of intense uncertainty and change. The impact of school closures on children and young people will be extremely individual and will have had a variety of positive and negative effects. Catching up should not be the priority: we need to give children and young people time to make the transition, share their experience and reconnect. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that our schools offer a secure emotional base for our learners.

On welcoming our children and young people back to school, it will help to demonstrate that we kept them in mind while we were not together. We need to help them see that connections and relationships are still in place and can be renewed and strengthened. We have an opportunity to build resilience by modelling mentally healthy responses to the disruption and change while not minimising the adversities faced by some during this time.

Children and young people will look to those around them for language to describe our shared experiences, and also to understand and put into words their individual experiences. We need to think carefully about the words we choose to describe the changes we have all experienced. We need to encourage children and young people to use different ways to explore what has happened to them and how they feel about it.

We may observe some confusing or concerning behaviours from children and young people when schools return. It is important to remember that any behaviour makes sense to the person displaying it, given their unique experiences. Through our relationships with them, we will be able to interpret their behaviour and work out how best to support them with what has happened, allowing them to recover and reconnect.

Everyone is making transitions to new circumstances, and we need time to adjust. Some children and young people will cope with these transitions with minimal support, while others will find this more challenging. Establishing a key adult, maintaining routines and the use of familiar environments, experiences and transitional experiences will help to support this.

In short, we will need to be flexible and responsive to the individual needs of every pupil.

Lynne Binnie is principal psychologist at East Lothian Council in Scotland. She has led a number of nurture initiatives, including a secondment to Education Scotland to progress nurture at a national level

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