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What is nurture and why is it so important?

Dad and his son in the park during winter time. He is holding his son in his arms and giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Nurture is the care and attention given to children when they are growing and developing. It allows children to connect with others, to build important relationships, and to develop a sense of self-worth. It’s not a luxury in development, it’s a necessity. Healthy development and attachment require nurture.

When a child misses out on appropriate nurture, they may crave it, maybe to the extent of accepting nurture from someone they hardly know. Other children will be wary and suspicious of nurture. They may find themselves mistrustful or feeling undeserving and may reject many of your attempts to be nurturing.

The good news is that even though the usual stage of development for intense nurture is in the first few years of life, the potential to help fill in the gaps of nurture never really disappears.

Nurture is a powerful action to help undo the damage that children in the care system have experienced. It can provide different and compelling evidence for your child that they are lovable.

Nurture helps to give the strong message that:

  • You are loved
  • You are safe
  • You are special
  • You are accepted

All of this helps to challenge your child’s poor attachment beliefs, in particular, the belief ‘I am a bad person’.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Leo Buscaglia

Top tips from The Go-To Therapeutic Parenting Handbook for Foster Carers

Look for lots of opportunities to nurture. Can you find opportunities to nurture above and beyond what you already offer?

Where your child finds it difficult to accept nurture, look for ways to do this more subtly. A gentle touch on the shoulder or checking out a hurt for example. Is there a game you can play that offers a chance for nurture? Preparing nice food or noticing something about your child are examples of less direct nurture.

Don’t be put off if giving nurture feels uncomfortable for you. You may be broaching new territory and so it may feel uncomfortable at first. You may also be picking up on the child’s belief that they are not worthy of your acceptance and closeness. This can be a powerful and compelling signal that your child might give off.

Other ideas for nurture depending on age include:

  • Bedtime stories
  • Games including physical touch
  • Craft activities
  • Face paints
  • Hugs or more subtle affection if appropriate for your child such as a touch on the shoulder
  • Special food
  • Games that give the opportunity for physical contact such as Thumb War, Twister or sports games that involve touch.

It can be difficult for you as a foster carer to feel confident to offer the nurture your child needs because of safeguarding concerns. Talking this through with other foster carers and your link worker will help you find positive ways forward. As essential as nurture is, it has to be offered gently and with sensitivity and a respect for where your child is at.