Early childhood educator Karen Winderlich is a teacher who has worked in various contexts and with learners of all ages, from babies right through to adults. She has been privileged to spend much of the last ten years working with and alongside babies and their families in long day care settings. Karen is passionate about making these, our youngest citizens and learners, visible and audible as the wonderful and competent learners that they are.
1.Can you talk about the role of early childhood educators in supporting infant mental health?
Infancy and early childhood is a critical time for the development of emotional, physical and mental health.
Early childhood educators can play an important role in supporting infant mental health by creating a safe and nurturing environment in which children’s needs (social, emotional, physical and cognitive) are recognised and met.
All play and learning, all growing, developing, exploring and discovering is carried out only when children are feeling safe and secure in a nurturing and supportive environment.
For our youngest children this safe nurturing environment is created when they are wrapped up in the respectful, responsive, consistent and loving care of a primary educator or caregiver.
In this type of environment children are well placed to develop a strong sense of wellbeing and develop the confidence to engage fully in the task of making sense of the world and their place in it.
Positive and secure relationships always come first when supporting infant mental health. Indeed, close, trusting relationships underpin all that early childhood educators do when working with and alongside babies.
2. How important is it to support families transitioning to childcare settings?
For an early childhood educator to be able to fully respond to a child’s needs and provide a caring and supportive learning environment, it’s critical that they also understand and support the family.
Building a trusting and supportive relationship with the child’s family is especially important in the early days when children and their families are transitioning into a childcare setting.
As these relationships take time and commitment to develop and nurture, providing a transition period with enough family visits to the centre is an important way to build these relationships.
It’s important in this early period of transition to build a partnership with families founded on a joint understanding, expectations and knowledge. It’s only then that early childhood educators can effectively provide the opportunities and possibilities that every child deserves and needs for their mental health and wellbeing.
3. What is the circle of security model and how can it be used in an educational setting to support infant mental health?
The Circle of Security model is a program developed for families and children that focuses on the attachment relationships that support children and their emotional needs.
This model features a map which supports families and educators to recognise value and respond to children’s needs in terms of their relationships.
It’s a useful framework that allows educators to look beyond and beneath children’s behaviour to understand what they are communicating in terms of their feelings or emotional needs.
The model highlights children’s need to have a special caregiver who is available, not only physically but also importantly emotionally as well to be their secure base or safe haven.
It is this secure relationship that enables children to move out, explore their world and make the very most of the learning opportunities awaiting them.
4. How do educators work collaboratively with other health and community professionals in supporting infant mental health?
When educators work to establish and maintain a close, trusted and respectful relationship with a family they create a foundation for the ongoing support and open communication about the wellbeing of the child.
This trusted relationship means that educators are often the first referral point for families who want access to professional supports and services like mental health professionals and child and maternal health nurses.
It’s important, too, that early childhood centres have accessible information for families about the range of support services and organisations available in their local community.
For more information
View a recording of the recent webinar featuring Karen Winderlich and other experts on supporting infant mental health.