Relationships and ‘Professional Love’ in Early Childhood

Sarah Emerson, Director, Consultancy and Training at Cocoro
6th September 2023

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“Relationships build brains” is one of my favourite sayings when it comes to child development. Positive experiences of early relationships, attachment and bonding help children to develop social and emotional skills, and develop a positive outlook on life. 

It is through relationships that children learn how to regulate their feelings, how to build relationships with others – and crucially it is relationships that influence how children see themselves.  

Professional Love was a term coined by Dr. Jools Page when she looked at the intimacy of day to day relationships in early childhood settings. She researched how practitioners felt about the idea of relationships that were professionally loving towards children. 

Relationships based in Professional Love provide children with predictability and security through the presence of an attuned and responsive adult when they are away from their primary carers. If children don’t receive an appropriate response when they try to interact with us, it causes them to feel stressed and anxious. Warm relationships are vital in early childhood and must be at the heart of practice. 

If children don’t feel safe and secure, they are not able to learn. When brains are happy and relaxed, they work a lot better and are much more open to learning. In this way, professionally loving and nurturing relationships support children’s cognitive development as well as their social and emotional development. 

Professional Love in Practice 

How can we support Professional Love in practice?  

Here are some ideas and pointers for reflection… 

The Key Person Approach 

The Key Person Approach within early years settings is a vital part of professional love, attachment, bonding and security for young children. We must remember we are not key workers (who manage a caseload) but key people whose focus is on bonding, attachment and professional love for the child. 

Professional Development  

It is important for teachers and practitioners to undertake professional development training in attachment theory and practice, emotional intelligence, and in connection based approaches to behaviour. Schools and settings should ensure that at least some of the staff are trained in Trauma Informed Practice. 

A Whole Setting Ethos 

Professional Love has to be woven throughout the whole setting or school. It should be discussed within our policies as part of our commitment to children’s emotional well-being and overall development.  

Meeting Emotional Needs 

We need to remember that children still have emotional needs when they are at nursery or school. We shouldn’t be encouraging them to shut down their emotions when they are away from home, but enabling them to be honest about how they feel and what support they need. Warm and sensitive responses to children’s emotions are key to their well-being. 

Physical Comfort 

Young children need physical comfort, and it is important that this is provided for them when they are away from home. They may need a hug when they are hurt, or missing their family, and children who are settling down to sleep may well need holding just as they do at home.


Professional Love means that ideas around emotional well-being, emotional literacy and emotional intelligence aren’t simply ‘taught’ through ELSA groups or learning about emotions from cards and books. While all of these are of course helpful activities for children to engage in, we need emotional well-being to go more deeply than this. We need it to be rooted in our culture, relationships and in our approach to learning, play and the whole life of the setting or school. 

About Sarah 

Sarah is an early childhood and parenting consultant working with nurseries, schools, and parents to support children’s emotional well-being. She advises on a variety of matters ranging from ‘behaviour’, ‘big feelings’, emotional literacy and intelligence, to boundaries, transitions such as starting nursery or school, sibling relationships, toileting, sleep and eating. Sarah holds an MA in Early Childhood Studies, a PgCert in Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Well-being, and is a qualified early years teacher, Montessori teacher and trainer of adults. She is also trained in holistic approaches to children’s sleep. 

You can find Sarah online, on Instagram (for parents and professionals), or Facebook (for professionals).

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