There has been multiple debate surrounding the importance of building up strong, nurturing relationships within the first four years of a child’s life. Dr Suzanne Zeedyk discusses the flexibility of the human brain in the first four years of a child’s life and how it can be shaped as a consequence of relationships. Once these relationships are formed and the subsequent pathways a child will follow as a result of these relationships, it is very difficult to adapt the behaviour that their brain has come to recognise as crucial for coping in challenging environments.
It’s important that as teaching professionals, we recognise that some children have spent the first few years of their lives in a rather stressful environment and have not had the opportunity to form and develop good relationships due to a variety of circumstances. Therefore, a child’s first experience of a healthy relationship could be with me, as their teacher. Associate professor in EC Education, Sheila Degotardi, explains how, “a focus on relationships places interactions with others at the very heart of the learning process, with the view that learning is socially and collaboratively constructed through mutually responsive interpersonal exchanges,” (Degotardi, p1). Peer relationships can also be encouraged through a teacher’s style, whether that includes a focus on partner and group work, or the classroom seating arrangement; providing children with further opportunities to build up strong relationships from the beginning of their lives in a controlled and respectful environment.
The environment created within a classroom can impact how the brain fully develops; a stress-free and welcoming atmosphere can be created by the way in which a teacher decorates and organises the presentation of the room. A teacher can also impact the mood of the classroom through their techniques and mannerisms. Teacher who continually shouts, rarely rewards praise and puts unnecessary pressure in the early years are providing the grounds for early development of anxieties which have a long-lasting effects, such as worrying and constantly feeling threatened.
Dr Zeedyk speaks technically regarding the brain, explaining how brains that feel threatened metaphorically “drown” in a stress, causing young children, who’s brains have developed this way, to be physically incapable of calming themselves down. Obviously, some children have a genetic affinity to stress but it’s becoming more apparent that relationships can have an equal impact on a child’s future behaviour.
John Carnochan equates the atmosphere that some young offenders grow up in as “war-like” as he expresses the need for consistency in a child’s life from the very beginning. Teachers can easily provide a child with the stability and consistency they require by being there as a responsible adult each week. Sometimes, through no fault of the parents, children do not receive a lot of attention and their time to build up a relationship is compromised. Parents may believe they are doing the best for their child by working to support them but they may be unwittingly depriving their children of healthy relationships. Often, the strong bond between parent and child is replaced by another significant adult, like a grandparent, but in some cases this role may be partaken by the teacher. Equally, a teacher can provide support to many parents to aid them in the emotional development of their child, a concept they may not fully understand how to achieve but something teachers have studied and developed techniques to achieve.