PPA Nurture Blog
Reflections on Nurturing Care
Tia had 12-month old Kieran on her lap. She was focused on the tricky task of getting his padded blue coat on. She guided his fingers through the sleeves and shifted him onto her other hip to zip him up. She chatted with him about what they had just done and what was happening next. It was just one of those everyday interactions, those – let’s face it often boring – tasks that you have to do as a Mum. But caught up in it she didn’t see that Kieran had his eyes fixed on her the whole time. We paused the video, she could see how he followed her every move and kept gazing at her even when his position was shifted. “See how he is looking at you!” I said, “He is so focused on you!.. How does that make you feel?” She paused and quietly reflected “I didn’t realise that he was so interested in me”.
In 2017, UNICEF launched Standards for Early Childhood Development Parenting Programmes. The opening paragraph states that “parenting can be understood as interactions, behaviours, emotions, knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and practices associated with the provision of nurturing care”. The first standard encourages programme creators to “support nurturing care because it contributes to holistic child development”. But what does nurturing care look like in practice and how can programmes influence parents’ interactions with their children, improve relationships and enhance development?
Nurturing care is a catch-all term that describes the emotionally supportive and responsive environment that parents create to enable learning, healthy development and protect their child from threats. Parents who are attentive, warm and affectionate and take time to interact with their child are supporting them to feel secure, safe and loved. This requires that parents are able to be responsive and tune into their child’s world helping them to feel connected and understood, thus strengthening the relationship. It also requires that they have the ‘head space’ to be able to do this and that they themselves have a stable environment. There are a number of pressures that will impact a parent’s ability to provide ‘good enough’ nurturing care. Parents who themselves had poor relationships with their carers in early childhood will find it harder to make good relationships with their partners, services and children. In addition, parental conflict, poor mental health, substance abuse and the impact of poverty can all influence the wellbeing of the parent-child relationship.
In 2011, UK focused Work with Parents National Occupational Standards (Standard 8) encourages parenting practitioners to “enable parents to improve the effectiveness of the parent-child relationship”. In order to improve the effectiveness of the parent-child relationship, parenting programmes will respond in a variety of different ways.
Mellow Parenting takes a strengths-based approach seeking to identify and build on the capacities of the parent, helping them to notice what is going well and reflect on what they would like to change. We aim to create a safe, non-judgemental and secure group that helps build trust and confidence. Video feedback is a very effective tool that helps us to look at real-life interactions between the parent and child. Our observation system gives us a framework for understanding interactions and providing strengths-based feedback. We are interested in the intentions and motivations of the parent. Practitioners learn how to support parents to think about behaviours and the effect they have on their children. We aim to maintain a curious stance and recognise that in order to feel understood, parents have to trust that we are trying to see things from their point of view. A typical video feedback session will last around 45 minutes. We spend time with the parent in an individual setting looking at the interaction in detail supporting them to notice moments where they were playful, encouraging, followed the child’s lead or supported them to learn a new skill, make a choice or gain some independence. We also consider how the parent seeks to mop up a child’s distress and helps them to regulate their emotions.
“For all relationships…the message is this: Don’t be afraid to disagree. Make mistakes. Stomp around. Allow the turbulence to happen. But figure out a way to repair and reconnect, to find your way through.” – Dr. Ed Tronick
There is no perfect parent and we all make mistakes, in fact, in order to build healthy relationships, it is important as Ed Tronick (famous for the still face experiment) reminds us to consider the power of discord and allow rupture and repair to occur *.
Building relationships is not a one-way process. Babies enter the world with their own personalities and temperaments bringing their unique capacity to capture their parent’s attention. If nurturing care is what the infant’s brain expects and depends upon, then supporting parents like Tia to see that their child is interested and wants a relationship with them might just be a step in the right direction.
Mellow Parenting August 2021
*The Power of Discord, Ed Tronick and Claudia M Gold (2020), Scribe.