The term ‘professional love’ was coined by Dr Jools Page as part of a research project, talking to Early Years professionals across England during 2015. One of the aims of Dr Jools Page and her team was to investigate whether media coverage around sex abuse scandals had resulted in wariness and impacted on relationships with the children in our care. She wanted to understand how professionals felt about ‘loving’ children in a professional capacity.
The survey, completed by 793 professionals, was ground-breaking. The results found that 95% of professionals believed that demonstrating affection towards children was an important part of practice in Early Years. Unfortunately, 10% of respondents worried about false accusations.
Interestingly, respondents gave lots of different meanings to the term ‘professional love’ which is what we are going to consider now…
What does professional love look like in the current Early Years climate?
Perhaps the word ‘love’ has connotations that some professionals feel uncomfortable with. Could there be confusion between the love expressed between parent and child and that seen and felt in Early Years settings? Love can be displayed often without us even realising.
How many of us respond to the needs of children with…
- Time and attention
- Tuning in
- A desire to help a child achieve their best
- Celebrating achievements
As professionals, we are complimenting the love and care children experience with their primary care giver. However, there are two important points to consider here…
- Not all children have loving, secure attachments with their primary caregiver. These children may need and require a different approach from us in order to diminish the effects. Children require a safe space, a haven where their needs are met and emotional stress minimised.
- Professionals will have had different experiences, as a child and adult. Our ability to express and reciprocate professional love can be affected by our prior lived experiences. We need to focus on the needs of the child rather than our own. If a child needs a cuddle, we can provide this, but if we need a cuddle, it is not appropriate to use a child to meet our emotional needs.
Why is professional love important in Early Years?
All children need and deserve to have their emotional needs met whilst in our care. Our role is to nurture, enable and value children, respecting that each child is unique, joining us with different experiences and needs, some of which we may not be aware of.
Professional love enables children to…
- Develop emotionally
- Become resilient
- Understand that they are valued, helping them feel worthwhile
- Feel safe and secure, enabling them to feel relaxed and happy to play and learn
Our child centred positive interactions should be the foundation of everything in Early Years. Professional love, therefore, must be embedded in the culture and ethos of the setting, demonstrating a commitment to meeting the emotional needs of children.
Meeting the needs of our very youngest children in the education system can be stressful, tiring and emotionally draining. Recognising the strain on professionals means our focus should be on supervision processes and the adequacy of these. We must acknowledge whether professionals are emotionally able to engage in professionally loving practices as well as the impact of giving and receiving love.
Professionals need time and space to offload. This could be as part of the supervision process or at any point when they feel a need to talk. Leaders must be open to providing emotional support, understanding that professionals may need support to understand their own feelings in relation to the children. This is particularly important when safeguarding concerns arise. Professionals with a close relationship to the child, such as the Key Person, could be anxious, scared and full of self-doubt.
When we talk about professional love being the bedrock of the setting, radiating through the curriculum and culture, it means a collaborative approach is necessary. Reflecting on this as a team can help make sense of what professional love means to your setting. This includes how it is demonstrated, limitations, the impact and any challenges that could be faced.
Professional love still seems to be a term that is not widely used or understood within the sector. Could this stem from a lack of training? It’s evident that meeting the emotional needs of children is a high priority with Personal, Social and Emotional development being a prime area learning in the EYFS – so why aren’t we including professional love in Early Years training courses?
Increased dialogue around the subject of professional love is required to normalise the subject. When it becomes recognised as a valued part of our role, professional love will be seen as usual good practice, necessary for the learning and development of children. Initiating and engaging in critical discussion and reflection by all those working in Early Years, from those providing the care to those training the future workforce, is important in developing a whole sector approach to professional love. Normalising it will hopefully see the links with paedophilia diminish, with professionals feeling able to demonstrate love without fear of accusation.
Love is not often, if at all, mentioned in national or organisational policies. Why is this? Unfortunately, it raises the question of whether the sector is becoming academized through outcome driven processes. We need to acknowledge the ‘caring’ aspect of Early Years as being just as important as more academic areas of focus such as phonics and mathematics.
Emma Davis – January 2020