Thinking behind the behaviour

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Working in a busy inner city child psychology department led to the beginnings of Capellas Nurseries and Out of School Clubs which have now been in operation for nearly ten years. The main reason for referrals into the department for pre-school children would always have a dominant element around the difficult behaviour of the child. Nursery practitioners as well as parents would often be so focused or overwhelmed by the behaviour that the more obvious explanations such as a change in home circumstances, difficult transitions or relationship issues within the setting were being missed.

At Capellas, our staff team are trained in the foundations of child psychology and brain development as well as the patterns of relationship development to enable them to provide a more effective context for the children to learn. If staff can understand the inner workings of the brain, especially during the crucial stages of growth within the pre-school years, they are much better equipped to understand the meaning behind a child’s behaviour. This enables them to offer better quality observations as they can link what they are seeing to the way in which the child is developing neural connections. It also supports them in understanding throughout the different age ranges as to why certain behaviour surfaces. Rather than be reactive to the behaviour, they can step back and are supported within their supervisions to think about why this is happening, what contribution the environment is making, how the people and children in the setting are affecting the child and the impact of any home situations.

The staff team understand the importance of emotional containment for the child and parent/carer. We use the model to help us build reciprocal relationships with all the adults who work within or use our setting. We have strong community links to ensure that we are a nursery operating within a supportive environment and this makes the difference for those staff who feel that this really is a community raising a child. This approach also makes dealing with difficulties much easier, staff take the time to understand the emotional world of the parent and child before they react to any given situation. One of the induction tasks we use for new staff is helping them to think about how it feels to drop your child off for the first time and return back to work. We explore what emotions are present, how you might see anything other than perfect care not good enough and why you might want to phone ten times a day to relieve your own anxiety. This knowledge moves the practitioner away from feeling scrutinised or critiqued and into the mindset of the parent wanting the very best for their child. The importance of attachment and understanding how we build the blueprint for good relationships should form the basis of any good nursery nurse’s practice.

As part of their induction, our management team have the benefit of psycho-metric testing to help them understand their own leadership style and developmental needs. We never select our senior roles based on an interview but put them into a whole host of scenarios which mirror what it is like to work in a busy nursery. We have recruited a range of staff who are consummate professionals but may not be as strong in formal interviews. We have also avoided hires who are great at interviews but less able once in the role.  

We know that the environment we operate in is a powerful determinant of the behaviour we see in the setting and try to use our knowledge to inform our practical choices. The colours we use to decorate the nursery, the resources we source and the foods we provide are all thought about to ensure that the settings are calm, effective and fun places to learn. One of the main pieces of feedback we receive is what a calm and settled place the nursery is to visit or spend time in. We assess our nursery and management team on their capacity to deliver warm and effective care and education, as we know that how a place makes you feel both as a child and as an adult is key to foster a positive experience.

Of course, it helps to have a child psychologist on call to discuss specific concerns relating to children. The strong respectful relationships we have developed with our local authority and health colleagues are hugely important to the staff team who get access to the specialist professionals they need to support children as they have a greater understanding of who needs help and when. Whilst we have our traditional model of Special Educational Need support, it really helps that the staff team can see beyond a period of difficult behaviour which has been influenced by environment changes versus enduring difficult behaviour that stays regardless of the context.


About the author

Dr Sonya WallbankDr Sonya Wallbank is the Managing Director of Capellas Nurseries and after school clubs. Sonya is a Chartered Psychologist by background and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). Sonya is also a registered member of the Health and Care Professional Council (HCPC) and Chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD). She has worked in the UK, USA and Australia training a range of staff to utilise her model within their work. Her most recent NHS position was Director of Children and Families. She has trained a range of staff in the NHS, Department of Health, Local Authorities, private organisations, hospices and charities. As a keen writer, Sonya has published in both professional journals and books and has a number of ongoing blogs.








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