All children and young people deserve the opportunity to flourish, both in the classroom and beyond. They should have access to the support they need, when they need it, and no child should fall through the cracks.
This Pride Month, we want to highlight how nurture approaches can support children and young people questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The six principles of nurture are crucial for creating a safe and respectful environment with trusted adults, where all young people can access the support they need.
Research from the University of Cambridge found that over half of lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT*) young people did not feel there was an adult at school or college that they could talk to about being LGBT*, and 60% did not have an adult they could talk to at home. Nearly half (45%) of LGBT* young people – including 64% of trans young people – were bullied at school or college for being LGBT*.
At nurtureuk, we equip and support adults working with or caring for children and young people with evidence-based tools to help them flourish inside and outside of school. We believe that a child’s learning needs to be understood developmentally, and we want to amplify the benefits of nurture for children and young people both within and beyond the classroom. Everything we do is guided by the six principles of nurture.
A nurturing approach benefits all children, including those who are LGBTQ+ or exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Ryan Gingell-Scott from the charity Allsorts Youth Project, is applying his nurtureuk training and the six principles of nurture to his work with children and young people who are exploring some of these questions.
The classroom offers a safe base
A safe environment is foundational for children and young people to feel calm and welcomed. As well as providing a physical safe space, a ‘safe base’ can also be a person: “The secure base [can be] provided through a close relationship with one or more sensitive and responsive attachment figures who meet the child’s needs and to whom the child can turn as a safe haven when upset or anxious… When children develop trust in the availability and reliability of this relationship, their anxiety is reduced and they can therefore explore and enjoy their world independently, safe in the knowledge that they can return to their secure base for help if required.” (International Journal of Nurture in Education, Vol. 6, p36)
For Ryan’s work, offering both a physical safe space and a secure person is vital: “Working out who they are, in a safe, respectful and nurturing environment is key to giving them the solid foundations to build upon as they grow up… we provide a place to create those secure attachments and positive relationships with safe adults. This development matters and impacts their journey into being happy, healthy young people who thrive as they grow up.”
All behaviour is communication
In addition to the immediate community of friends and family, children and young people are also embedded in wider communities that may affect their experiences. These communities could be a range of educational settings, sport, faith, youth organisations or statutory services. Their behaviour may be a product of one or more of these areas of their life and it is important to take the time to understand the entire world around the child to understand what their behaviour is communicating.
“For many of the young people we see, behaviour has been the only way they can communicate their sense of self up until this point. At times the behaviour is showing anger, fear or upset and we need to work out the driver for the behaviour, and explore this alongside them to unpick what they are telling us,” highlights Ryan.
Language is a vital means of communication
Supporting children and young people to develop their language enables them to communicate their experiences more effectively both in the short and long term. Ryan’s work includes “…developing their language skills as we know this is a vital means of communication. We use activities to help give language to their emotions, to help them recognise, regulate and manage their feelings in a way which is safe. By ensuring we implement the principle of language being a vital means of communication, we are giving them the tools they need to advocate for themselves as they grow up.”
The importance of transitions in children’s lives
Whilst all children experience transitions throughout their lives, the nuances, challenges and complexities associated with these moments for LGBTQ+ children and young people cannot be understated.
Ryan explains, “As much as possible, we plan for these moments and try to limit the stress, anxiety and fear that usually runs alongside such big steps. Our job is to help children communicate these fears and anxieties so that the intensity of transitions, such as moving to secondary school, is minimised.”
The importance of nurture for the development of wellbeing
For Ryan, the importance of nurture for the development of wellbeing is threaded through everything he does: “We can prepare the children for what is to come and help them establish healthy relationships, set boundaries and clearly communicate their feelings in healthy and safe ways, which in turn makes these big life transitions easier to manage.”
He concludes: “Implementing the nurture principles as early as possible with the children we work with helps them to understand they are deserving of a voice and that it is okay to be themselves, regardless of whether this is long term or just for now. These children are brave, inspiring and full of life…and they deserve nurture now more than ever.”
*Report published prior to updated more inclusive terminology – Lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+)