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Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

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3.1 Transitioning from home to other early years settings

The quality and nature of relationships that young children develop with significant others in the early years can help or hinder the ways in which they then cope with day-to-day changes in their routine and being away from home, as well as longer-term transitions from home to other early years settings. It is also important to remember that even securely attached toddlers can be affected if they are in a daycare provision where the quality of sensitive responsivity and attunement to the child’s wishes, views and how they express themselves leaves much to be desired.

You will explore the creation of environments that are conducive to supporting early transitions as effectively as possible in Session 5.

Activity 4 Attachment and transition to daycare provision

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Read the following case study, which is based on a child that the author of this course has worked with, and then reflect on the questions that follow.

Case study: Danii

Danii, who is 3 years old, is looked after by her mother and her grandmother (‘nan’). Her parents separated when she was 2 years old. Her mother then had to increase the number of hours she works in order to enable the family to continue renting their current accommodation, pay the bills and buy food and clothing. Danii then spent a great deal of her day in the care of her nan and grandfather (‘gramps’). She was very fond of her gramps, but he died recently.

Danii is loved and well cared for and, whenever possible, given plenty of positive attention. As the only child, she is often in the company of adults and some of the older children in the wider family network who treat her as their adored ‘baby’ girl. However, she has not had much opportunity to spend time with other children her own age.

Danii’s grandmother is beginning to have various health problems. On the advice of a GP and the health visitor, Danii is now to attend an early years daycare provision for three mornings a week to see how she gets on.

The first morning was very challenging for her grandmother; Danii would not leave her side at all, clinging to her and seeming to be very anxious and afraid. She also turned away from staff whenever they gently attempted to interact with her. Eventually, her nan said she had to go shopping, but would be back very soon to take Danii home. However, Danii would not go to any of the daycare staff or towards any of the toys once her nan had left. She ran and hid under a table and started to cry inconsolably, saying she wanted to go home.

  • How do you think Danii’s responses can be explained through attachment relationships she has developed so far?
  • Imagine you are a member of staff: what do you think your next move might be?
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You probably reflected on the close relationship that Danii had already built up with both her grandmother and grandfather. You might also have put yourself in Danii’s shoes, imagining how she felt going to a strange place for the first time. She was perhaps fearful about leaving her nan, bearing in mind that she has only recently lost another significant person in her life – her grandfather (‘gramps’). Her clinging to her grandmother for so long highlights how, although feeling secure with her nan, she is not confident enough at this point to explore new places and interact with new people, even with her grandmother in close proximity.

In running to hide under the table, Danii was perhaps attempting to find a safe place where she would not be disturbed and have time to be on her own. Of note, given her young age, and very limited experiences of being cared for by people outside her family, her response is perhaps less pathological or extreme than you might think. It is not unusual for a 3 year old to find a transition like this difficult, although Danii’s responses here do require careful monitoring.

So, what actually happened next? The staff did not immediately go to Danii and intrude in her space or attempt to physically comfort her. All such actions she may well have found very intimidating. Instead, one member of staff (who later became Danii’s key person) sat near the table, on a level with Danii, gently handed her cushions and blankets so she could make up her own ‘den’, then quietly watched and waited for Danii’s responses. In this way, Danii was being accepted as a child who could express her emotions and have control over what she then decided to do in her own time, without feeling pressured to meet external expectations or do things she did not want to do.

The case study of Danii illustrates how her key person helped to support Danii to make her feel better without overwhelming her. Danii had experienced a number of adverse experiences, but what are adverse childhood experiences? The next section explains more about what is meant by ‘adverse childhood experiences’ (ACEs).