Recently, I was observing in a preschool classroom when I was approached by a young child. This was a new program for me, it was my first classroom visit, and I had never met or formed relationships with any of these children before. Occasionally, on a first visit in a new classroom, children will approach me asking what my name is or if I’m a new teacher. Today was different. No one asked questions as I tried to blend into their environment undetected. All the children were engaged with activities. Then I was spotted by one child. This child just watched me for a few minutes, then stood up, and slowly walked towards me in silence. He didn’t smile or show any facial expression, he just walked. As the child approached me, I smiled. I wanted my smile to illustrate that I wasn’t someone to be alarmed by or fear. This classroom is his environment, his safe place, his territory. I’m just a visitor in his domain. Then it happened, he hugged me. As he hugged me, he squeezed tight and I could feel the tension in his body being released. No words were spoken. I let him hug me until he was finished. It was obvious he needed this emotional support. He slowly walked back to his activity and resumed his work, but occasionally would glance over in my direction and smile.
Immediately after this event, I began to wonder, should I have let him hug me? Was I being unprofessional? Is this hug “babying” him? Soon I began to realize I did the right thing for this child at that moment. He just needed a hug! Yes, you can still facilitate independence with children and be nurturing. Giving a child a hug does not mean you are babying them. I’m a firm believer in the power of touch, everybody needs a hug sometimes and this child was no different. Research proves the importance and everlasting benefits of building strong emotional development during the first five years of life. It begins during infancy; infants and children need to have their basic needs met which includes forming relationships with parents/caregivers. These relationships are necessary to a child’s emotional foundation. This foundation can influence them positively or negatively throughout their life. It has a huge impact on children’s future outcomes.
As professionals in this field, we understand the importance and the impact of these first five years. As educators, we aspire to help them build that strong foundation. We want them to learn all their shapes, colors, letters, numbers, etc., before they leave our classroom—but what are we doing to enhance their emotional development? Are we building strong relationships with children? Do the children feel safe, secure and protected in our environment? What tools are we teaching or modeling for children to express their emotions appropriately, construct independence, and boost their self confidence? Can we foster independence and be nurturing at the same time?
Building meaningful relationships with children is the foundation piece needed to foster emotional growth in children. They need to feel safe, secure and protected in our presence and environment. As we truly listen and converse with children (not just talk at them) we are valuing them as people. It’s important that we help children acknowledge feelings and model empathy. We need to help children learn how to help themselves and others. Allowing children the opportunity to do things independently demonstrates we trust and respect them as individuals. Not only do we need to be physically present for children, we need to be emotionally available. We as educators need to embed ways to strengthen these skills throughout our curriculum and take advantage of these teachable moments. I encourage educators to put as much emphasis on helping children structure a strong emotional development as we do with all areas of development, and please do not be afraid to hug a child!