23 July, 2021 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

Dr Judith Butler: The Importance of Every Child Having ‘One Good Adult’

Dr Judith Butler Portobello Institute

"You might be the only single smile that a child will see that day so always greet a child with a smile, every single child" - Dr Judith Butler

When we talk about trauma-sensitive and relationship-based approaches in early childhood education, it comes down to the idea of every child having ‘one good adult’ to buffer the impact of stress in their lives.  

This is according to Dr Judith Butler, an expert in early childhood care and education.  

READ MORE: What are Adverse Childhood Experiences? 

Having one good adult in every child’s life may seem like an obvious thing, but during her study, she has found that it is not always the case.  

Awareness of this need and the role that can be played by early childhood practitioners could make a difference in that child’s life now and in the future.  

“When I was doing my PhD which was essentially focused on the social domain of children’s development and their relationships, I saw the importance of having one good adult in your life, just one good adult to be a buffer.  

“Then I saw when I was working in teaching that wasn’t always the case, there were children coming to school and they didn’t have that one good adult.  

“Sometimes it wasn’t through any fault to the parents the parent might have been ill or have challenges themselves or the child might be living out of the home in alternative care.  

“It sparked my interest and one day I was working in a school and there were two little lads, they were only about five or six and I asked them to go over to the bigger school to get keys from the principal so that we could go to the hall.  

“I sent them over and they came back and one of them, the little boy said to me, lets just call him Tom, ‘Tom threw the keys teacher and said f*****g keys’ so I said oh my god what’s going on here? 

“Usually what we would have done in those days was put Tom into the corner for being a bold boy and for throwing the keys.  

“I realised and it came to my attention that what had happened was that those keys had been a trigger for him because poor Tom’s dad was in prison and the keys on the prison officer’s trousers rattled every time he went to visit the prison.  

“They were a big bunch of keys similar to what you would see on the trousers of a prison officer and I just thought there is more to this here and that was my first introduction to the whole thing.  

“When I was doing my PhD the whole adverse childhood experiences study had just been released and looking at the impact of adversity on children.  

“I’m a big believer in relationships, that no learning can happen without a significant relationship.  

“Relationships precede learning and we know that ourselves from school, you might have started off secondary school dying to do art and then you met a teacher who wasn’t so nice to you and that was the end of your art and then you might have thought you hated Irish and met the loveliest teacher.  

“The important thing is the teacher and the attitude, values and beliefs and how they show you kindness and compassion these can make or break success.    

“You might be the only single smile that a child will see that day so always greet a child with a smile, every single child, it could be the only smile they see that week never mind that day. 

“We want the child to internalise positive beliefs about themselves, we want them to believe that they are loved and valued and welcome here.  

“That allows them to feel safe and if they feel safe in your classroom or in your setting they will excel. No learning will come before safety,” she said.  

READ MORE: What Does it Mean to be Trauma-Sensitive in Early Childhood? 

Dr Judith Butler graduated from UCC with a PhD having gained prior qualifications in Montessori Teaching (birth- 12 years), Special Education and a first-class hons in Early Childhood Studies from UCC.   

She has completed Trauma Practitioner Training including; Trauma Responsive Practice in Education, Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools and Children of Trauma & Resilience.  

Dr Butler will present her knowledge on ‘Trauma-Sensitive and Relationship-Based Approaches in Early Childhood’ at Portobello Institute’s webinar series.   

This free webinar takes place online on Monday, August 23rd 2021 from 7 – 8 pm, it is free to attend and open to everyone. Register to attend here. 

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