An explanation of children’s need for nurture and top tips for helping pupils gain self-esteem from Susan Harvey.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, nurture is to “care for and protect (someone or something) while they are growing.” 1 What a wonderful word it is! An all-encompassing wrap-around holistic care, which incorporates the first steps of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This basic framework acts as a reminder of what children need in order to feel loved, safe and secure.

Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of needs’

Physiological

The first steps in the triangle cover the basics, such as food, shelter, warmth, clothing and sleep. This is something that new parents do automatically, and it is where nurturing begins. A new-born’s primal instinct is to cry out to have their needs met (be it for feeding, rocking or nappy changing) – this is their survival instinct.

Safety

When a child is cared for in a structured and organised way, this contributes to their overall wellbeing and sense of security. Those with more chaotic and disorganised lives can have feelings of anxiety of uncertainty and will usually strive to find a semblance of order to help them feel more grounded. However, too much structure can lead to imaginative skills being stifled, so it is about getting the balance right.

Love and belonging

Nurturing is not just about bonding but having the opportunity to learn about the whole environment. All positive relationships are key to wellbeing and learning. Early childhood development and the formation of healthy relationships can shape a child’s formative years, where they begin to feel a sense of belonging. In early childhood, children play by themselves. They may focus on the toy in front of them as opposed to other children around them. By around the age of two, they may play alongside others (this is known as parallel play). Jump to age 4 plus, children are aware of each other and share an interest in both their friends and the game they are playing.

Esteem

When children begin to understand more about emotions, they become secure within themselves, and they gain and show confidence. Certain changes that can happen in their lives, such as a new house or a school move, can challenge this but adults can guide them with the right support. Children with low self-esteem usually suffer from a lack of confidence and tend not to try new things for fear of failure. They may compare themselves to others and find difficulty maintaining friendships. To help in these situations, adults around them can model behaviour, such as admitting aloud if they have made a mistake (they can even turn it into a joke), talking about trying new things, and the lessons they have learnt when something didn’t turn out the way they expected. Encourage children to ‘try.’ This will be more successful if the child feels safe to begin with.

Self-actualisation

Self-actualisation means to grow and feel fulfilled. Education plays a large part in helping to fulfil this need by allowing children to be expressive and creative. This can be done when teachers expose children to a range of activities where they can find out where they are at their happiest and what motivates them. When they are given the opportunity to work at something they enjoy, even if it is difficult, they are more motivated. Giving praise can increase this motivation further. 2

Emotions

When children understand who they are, this increases not only their self-confidence and ability to create lasting friendships but gives them a greater sense of value which others around them can also benefit from. By being able to express how they feel, they can better understand how others feel, which leads to better communication skills and empathy.

After writing a children’s book, I created the Nurture Gnomes. These are resources designed to support children in increasing their emotional skills in a fun, enjoyable and relaxed way. They help them not only explore their own emotions but also learn about how others feel, which increases their empathy.

When children understand who they are, this increases not only their self-confidence and ability to create lasting friendships but gives them a greater sense of value which others around them can also benefit from. By being able to express how they feel, they can better understand how others feel, which leads to better communication skills and empathy.

5 top tips to help children gain self-esteem

1. Embrace differences

Support children to love exactly who they are. Discuss what makes everyone unique and remind them of their
strengths. Using daily affirmations can be an effective way of promoting a positive mindset – even more so if a child has
a diagnosis of additional needs and they need to know that ‘different is okay.’

2. Try new things

Allow children to take careful, healthy risks. Let them try to climb on the play equipment in the park, run downhill in a field or make their own breakfast. For example, if while Poppy got down her breakfast bowl and cereal, she spilt her milk, she may find a cloth to mop it up with. She has learnt something new; she just learnt to problem solve. By not rescuing children from failure, you set them up to learn new independent skills.

3. Give choices

When children are given choices, they gain a sense of responsibility, which helps them to build confidence. Sometimes, if younger children have too many choices, this can cause confusion or upset so it is fine in this case to limit them to two choices. Let them have a choice of what clothes to wear or what they’d like to eat for lunch, ensuring these are age appropriate. Let them take responsibility for their choices, like making their bed or helping to lay the table for dinner.

4. Encouragement

Encourage children to develop their skills in areas that they show a high interest in. Talk about them together and compliment them, not just for getting better but for sticking with it. If they are struggling with a challenge, see if you can bridge the gap with something they can do, to give them a sense of achievement. This can help them feel more accomplished and therefore more willing to try difficult tasks. Provide opportunities for them to succeed.

5. Praise appropriately

By nature, we want to praise children for everything they do and try to do, but overpraising is actually detrimental to their learning. By constantly telling them how super and fantastic they and everything they do are, they stop trying. There is nothing wrong with failure; we all fail at different things somewhere down the line. It’s how you recover and adapt that helps build resilience. Praise them for specifically what they have done, as opposed to a general, “You did a great job.”

 

Author

  • Susan Harvey

    Susan is a parent, as well as an Author and Art Teacher for a post- 16 pupil referral unit. She has worked in SEND education for over 20 years, from early years through to young adults. Following the release of her first children's book, she started a new business, Nurture Gnomes, and creates resources to develop children's social/emotional vocabulary and well-being.
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