Who We Are

PROMOTING FIRST RELATIONSHIPS is a training program at the Barnard Center for Infant Mental Health and Development at the University of Washington. We are dedicated to promoting children’s social-emotional development through responsive, nurturing caregiver-child relationships.

Providers who work with parents and other caregivers of young children have a unique opportunity to positively influence these first relationships.

We train service providers in the use of practical, in-depth, effective strategies for promoting secure and healthy relationships between caregivers and young children (birth to 3 years).

Why Promote First Relationships? What is the Need for Promoting First Relationships Training?

There is substantial evidence that the foundation of emotional organization, attention regulation, and communicative skill emerges from early, pleasurable interactions with caregivers. All children are born into this world totally dependent on the relationships they develop with their parents and their caregivers, the people who are closest to them. These first relationships are the foundation for young children’s growth and development in social, emotional, behavioral, language and cognitive domains.

Features of the training program include:

  • Videotaping caregiver-child interactions to provide insight into real-life situations.
  • Giving positive feedback that builds caregivers’ competence with and commitment to their children.
  • Focusing on the deeper emotional feelings and needs underlying caregivers and children’s distress and behaviors.
  • Promoting a wondering stance in parents and caregivers through reflection and mindfulness

A young child’s social and emotional development, that is a positive sense of self and of others, can only be developed in the context of relationships. Social and emotional development, or mental health, begins from the first day of life and future growth and experiences are based on what a young child internalizes about himself and others. “Children grow and thrive in the context of close and dependable relationships that provide love and nurturance, security, responsive interaction, and encouragement for explorations. This is true for children who are typically developing, and for children at risk for or diagnosed with developmental delays.” (From Neurons to Neighborhoods, 2000).

Young children need sensitive and secure relationships with the adults who are most important to them in order to grow in social-emotional, language and cognitive domains. By training providers to support parents and caregivers to be loving, responsive and tuned in to their children’s feelings and needs, we can achieve the desired goals: happy children who engage in trusting and caring relationships with others and are free to explore and learn about the world around them.