Archive for Parenting

21 Jan 2013

How to Raise Compassionate Children

1 Comment Being Intentional, Parenting, Social, Socio-Emotional Development

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. – Fred  Rogers

As responsive caregivers we are setting the foundation for empathy right from the very beginning of a child’s life. By responding appropriately to them we are showing them that we are aware of their needs and feelings. Through our actions they learn that their caregivers provide what they need, whether it’s food, a change or simply love and comfort. When infants get older and become mobile we begin to see them display empathy. I’ve seen many older infants and young toddlers bring a crying child a toy or other comfort object. They are beginning to respond to others in an empathetic way. Clearly we are born with a need for caring relationships, a need to engage others and even to empathize with them and to help. We are born with the capacity for compassion.

So what then do we do to nurture this ability in children? How do empathetic children become compassionate adults? How do we help children to learn to help others? How old do we have to be to learn compassion?

I think that the best way that we can help children to have compassion and to help others is through our own actions. Many of us donate our money and our time to help those less fortunate than ourselves, however, how much of this do our children see? If we’re simply writing cheques, how will our children become aware of our contributions? For those who keep busy schedules, sometimes the only way to contribute is financially, and that’s fine. I would encourage you, however to try to do this in a way that your children are aware of your contributions. Use the labels and cards that charities often send to accompany a donation. Tell the children where these items came from and what the money you gave went towards. If they are old enough, have conversations with them about what charities you support and ask what charities they would like to support by asking who they would like to help or how.

Some others ways to demonstrate compassion would be to make it a regular occurrance to go through your home and gather clothes that don’t fit, toys or household items that are no longer used. Pack these items up and take them to the donation centre together. When children are old enough they can start to make their own choices about what toys to keep and which to donate. If you volunteer and it’s appropriate, take your child with you. They might be too young to make a significant contribution, however, simply being present to see the work that you are doing will impact them. If we model these actions and behaviours right from the start, children will grow up with this type of work as a normal part of their lives and I think that’s the goal. As they grow and develop, so will their involvement and I think that children can certainly surprise us with their capacity to care and desire to help others.

My hope is that the next generation will be more caring, more empathetic and more compassionate than ever before.

19 Dec 2012

Practicing Reflection

1 Comment Child Care, Early Childhood Education, Parenting

One of the most important skills that an educator or caregiver should practice is reflection. If it is our goal to support children in their growth and development and to be lifelong learners ourselves then it is essential that we are regularly reflecting on our own experiences and practices. We all do it to some extent, but too often I think we reflect on the challenging or “unsuccessful” experiences more than the rest. However, understanding why a planned experience, group time or interaction went well is just as important as understanding why one didn’t. Over the past year, as I’ve been working with College students pursuing their diploma in Early Childhood Education, I have been trying to encourage them to get into this practice.

Reflection serves many purposes. Firstly it ensures that we remain in the moment and make observations about the children’s play experiences and interactions. If we didn’t take the time to really see what’s happening, then we can’t reflect, and these observations are essential as we plan each day’s experiences. When we plan, we usually have an idea with regards to how we think they might use the materials, however, children are great at thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to use the materials. Therefore when we take the time to observe and to reflect on what the children actually did, rather than what we assumed they would do, we develop an insight into their skills and their interests, which supports the planning process. I often hear that ECEs and ECE students feel stressed about planning experiences that the children will enjoy, however, when we take the time to observe and reflect, we can often come away with new ideas. Additionally, reflecting helps us to be intentional in our practice. For example, when new materials are being added to the learning environment, do you always take the time to ask yourself why you’re adding that material, thinking about what it will add to the children’s play. Finally, reflection supports our relationships with the children in our care, their parents and with the staff. Since reflection requires that we be observant and intentional in our interactions, our planned experiences and even in how we set up our environment, it supports us to be the kind of educators and caregivers that we want to be, because we are thinking about it and altering our plans and behaviours according to the way that we want to be.

One of the ways that we encourage our students to be reflective is included in their activity planning. They are asked to plan and implement an activity, and then when it’s finished, both they and their supervising ECE are asked to reflect on the planned activity. What did the children do? How did the ECE student respond to the children? What would they do differently? I encourage my students to spend time on this and use it to inform their practice and to plan further activities. I also typically have them do some form of a reflection each week in our field seminar class, asking them to reflect on an experience they had at placement that week.

I don’t limit my reflection to being something I ask my students to do, however, I try and make sure I am reflective in my own practices as well. As difficult as it sometimes is, I always read the feedback my students give me in their evaluations and sometimes do an extra evaluation at midterm, asking students for their feedback on what they find helpful or not helpful. More often than not they request “no more tests”, however there is other feedback which I try to take into account. I always want to keep learning, I don’t ever want to be finished, and so I keep reflecting. I hope that this will inspire you to keep reflecting too.

Photo by radical_vamsi on Flickr

29 Aug 2012

Parents as Partners

No Comments Early Childhood Education, Parenting

TRUST

They bring their child to me
And hope I’ll come to know,
How much their offspring means to them,
Their trust in me bestowed.

They bring their child to me
With love and hope and pride,
Looking for a helping hand,
And a teacher who will guide.

They bring their child to me
And our partnership is clear:
To nurture and allow to bloom
A life we both hold dear.

They bring their child to me
A step toward letting go,
And trusting in our special plan
To help the child grow.

by Gloria Weber Henbest

 

I received the above poem from a member of the Reggio Group that I belong to. We’ve been talking over the last few days about infant programs and the importance of forming relationships with parents in infant care programs. Although parent involvement is always important, regardless of the age group, I think special emphasis needs to be placed on the role of the parent in infant and toddler programs.

This is often a family’s first encounter with child care, be it centre or home-based care. It is even likely that child care will be the first time the child has been cared for by someone other than the parents. You, the caregiver, are a complete stranger and they are in a position where they have to give you their baby and trust that you will care for their child and nurture their child just as well as they would. That’s a hard thing. One that’s incredibly hard where you are still getting to know your child and their likes and dislikes, when they are learning and developing at such a rapid rate that you can barely keep track of all the new things they are doing and when they are at an age where they can’t come home and tell you all about their day, so you can share in their experiences.

Early Childhood Educators (ECE) and parents should be partners. The lines of communications should be wide open, with the ECEs sharing the goings-on in the child care environment, sharing specific things the children do each day and asking questions to learn about the children and their families. Similarly, parents should feel comfortable asking about their child and sharing their own stories from evenings and weekends, sharing their children’s accomplishments and asking any questions they might have about the centre or their child or even parenting in general. It should be a community. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.

In my years in the field, I have developed many wonderful relationships with the children that I’ve cared for, and I’ve also developed many wonderful relationships with the parents of those children. Some of whom I am still in contact with to this day. Those relationships have made my work more meaningful and I am glad that I took the time to partner with parents, because it made a difference for me, for those parents and most important of all, it made a difference to those children.

I hope this will inspire you to think about how you partner with the parents in your programs as well.

 

Photo from FamilyMWR on Flickr.

09 Jul 2012

What does it mean to have a sense of self?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 2.3 Sense of Self
  • sucking fingers, observing own hands
  • showing preference for being held by familiar people
  • beginning to distinguish known people from strangers
  • showing pleasure in mastery
  • playing confidently in the presence of caregiver and frequently checking in with her (social referencing)
  • increasing awareness of opportunities to make things happen yet limited understanding of consequences of own actions
Hold the infant securely when she is meeting a new person. Look at the person and reach out to them.
This helps the infant remain secure with new people and build confidence as she expresses her preference for certain people.

 

Infants are people.

Take a moment and think about that. I know it seems obvious, but I think as adults and as caregivers we can forget that these tiny little humans who depend on us so completely are also individuals. They are unique individuals who are developing their own identities and personalities as well as their “likes” and “dislikes”. Infants are people, just like you and I are people. Now, being conscious of that, how does this affect the way that we engage with infants? How can we not only appreciate them as individuals, but support them in the early stages as they begin to develop a sense of self?

My first tip- allow babies some time to be naked. No joke. Infants are learning about their bodies; they are discovering their hands, their feet and all the different parts of their bodies, but to be able to do that they need access. How will they ever learn they have toes if their feet are always covered with socks or slippers? Additionally, bodies that are free from clothing have freedom of movement. There’s a reason babies love to be naked, so why not turn the heat up a notch and allow your infant some time to explore their bodies freely?

Another suggestion is to provide lots of opportunities for uninterrupted, child-initiated play. By this I mean allowing infants the freedom to select a material to explore and the freedom to explore that material however they choose for as long as possible. Infants learn about themselves and the world around them through exploration. When we allow them to make choices and take initiative in their play, we support their sense of self.

Thinking about your infants interactions with others, strangers in particular, you can support your infant by paying close attention to their cues. “Auntie” might want to hold your infant, but is your infant alright with being held by a stranger? Maybe they need a few minutes to get to know each other before your infant will want to experience close contact. Allow your infant to dictate the pace, which will help them to make choices, to feel secure and will allow this introduction of a stranger to be a positive, and not distressful experience.

An infant who is still developing their sense of self, continues to rely on their caregiver to provide a safe and secure environment. They trust us to provide freedrom to explore, appropriate materials and a safe space. Infants learn how to be secure in themselves by being secure in their caregivers.

Photo from: MGD Photography

27 Sep 2011

Sharing is Caring?

4 Comments ELECT, Parenting, Social, Toddlers, Toddlers
Toddlers (14 months -3 years)
Social 

1.1 Social Interest

  • observing and imitating peers
  • beginning to play “follow the peer” games
  • observing and playing briefly with peers (may turn into struggle for possession)
  • offering toys
  • engaging in short group activities
Incorporating singing games into play and routines. Engage one child at a time where other toddlers can observe. 

Toddler’s natural social interest in adults and children helps to focus their attention.

Observing the shared joy of the singing game will motivate involvement when a new game is being introduced.

There’s this phrase I hear time and again from parents and child care workers- “sharing is caring”. It bothers me every time I hear it, especially since it’s often used with toddlers and “twos”. I’m not sure where the phrase originated but I’m pretty sure it’s a big purple dinosaur that’s responsible for its popularity.

Now it’s not that I’m adverse to sharing (or caring for that matter), my issue is how this phrase is used and who it’s being directed towards.
I most often hear this phrase as a admonishment to a child. This child may be playing with a toy another child shows interest in or wanting to hold on to all of the cars or blocks. The phrase “sharing is caring” is used to tell the child to give up their current play so that another child can play. Now let’s imagine this same scenario in a more “adult” context. I’m working on a note in a client file and Joe wants to work on the same file. Joe and I cannot work on the file at the same time. Now it may frustrate or inconvenience Joe that I am working on this client file, he might even ask me to stop my work to give him the file. However, I am fully within my rights to refuse because I’m still using it. Now imagine that Joe’s recourse is to go to our boss; what do you think his response would be? Do you think my boss would ask me to give up the file to Joe stating “sharing is caring”? Doubtful. Would he set up a schedule for me to have the file for 1 minute and then Joe would have a turn for 1 minute and then it would be my turn again? Or would he just trust us to sort things out for ourselves?

Why don’t we allow children the opportunity to negotiate these property disputes on their own? Who are we to decide what is fair or unfair? It is difficult to watch children fight over toys and even more so when one child seems to always have toys taken from them. However, in those instances, does our intervention really help that child? In the short term perhaps, but in the long term, wouldn’t they benefit from learning how to hold onto their toys tighter or to tell other children “mine”? When we intervene, we take away those opportunities for children to negotiate these types of social situations on their own.

The other thing I’d like to touch on briefly is the expectations for very young children to share. Often I hear caregivers tell children as young as twelve or thirteen months to share. We need to remember that infants and toddlers are still very ego centric and they are supposed to be that way. At that age it is “all about me”. They might sometimes offer up toys or “share” with others, but only on their own terms. Our expectations should reflect this. I’m reminded of a poem I’ve read time and again:

Toddler Property Laws

What’s Mine is… Mine

If I like it, it’s mine

If I saw it first, it’s mine

If it’s in my hand, it’s mine

If I can take it from you, it’s mine

If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine

If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way

If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine

If you are playing with it and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine

If it’s broken, it’s yours

I”m not against supporting children in turn taking and learning how to share, I just think that we need to use the right words and have the right expectations based on their age.

What do you think?

Photo by Andrew_mc_d (Flickr)

01 Sep 2011

Can you “spoil” a baby by picking them up?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 

2.2 Self-Regulation

Emotion Regulation

  • becoming calm when comforted by familiar adults
  • comforting self with thumb
  • recovering from distress and over-stimulation in a secure relationship
Respond to infant’s distress by supporting his self-soothing behaviours. 

When recovery from distress is supported by an adult, the infant’s attachment to the adult is reinforced. The infant learns that strong emotions can be tolerated and recovery is hastened.

The one thing that I wish that I could tell every new parent and caregiver is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up too often. I know that seems like common sense to many people but unfortunately that old way of thinking is still present in our culture today. I think that almost every person I have encountered with a young baby has had an older relative or neighbour tell them not to pick up their crying child.

What we know now, however, is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up. We also have a much better understanding of how important it really is that we respond to an infant’s distress. It is through our consistent responses to an infant’s distress that we reinforce our attachment with that infant. This  helps them to feel secure and is the foundation upon which a child learns to regulate their own emotions and behaviours. By consistently demonstrating to infant’s and young children that we will be there if they need us, they are able to learn to calm their own distress, knowing that their caregiver will meet their needs.

Understanding this, I also want to caution caregivers to “look before you leap”. What I mean by this is rather than rushing in to swoop up a crying infant, take a moment to determine why the infant is crying first. Do they have a physical need; are they hungry or tired? There are times when intervention is required by the caregiver, but there are other times when the infant simply needs comfort or support. This might mean engaging the infant in a different way. Rather than picking up the infant, you might choose to get down to their level, talk to them or place a reassuring hand on their arm or back, as you would with an older child or adult. We can offer this type of support, especially as the infant  becomes older and is learning to self-regulate.

It is through the consistency of our responses to children’s distress that we form secure attachment relationships and within those relationships, children are able to learn to regulate their own emotions. The way that we respond to children’s needs is so important and although there are no expectations that we will be perfect, our consistency and responsiveness is key to helping children’s socio-emotional development.

Photo by: Dan Harrelson (Flickr)

26 Aug 2011

Race you to the potty: First one there wins?

1 Comment Parenting, Toddlers, Toilet Learning

There have been a number of articles which I have come across lately on the topic of toilet learning. As I’ve been reading and contemplating these articles, I thought that I would share some of my own thoughts and insights here.

Right off the bat, I want to say that I don’t like the term “potty training”, I prefer “toilet learning”. This is because it’s something that a child learns to do as part of their development, not something that should be forced on them by their caregiver, as I feel the term “training” implies. We say that children learn to walk, they aren’t trained to walk; why should controlling their elimination be any different? That also really seems to be a theme when I think about the different articles I’ve come across on toilet learning. On one hand there are those who believe that the child will learn in their own time, and those who believe it is the parent (or caregiver)’s responsibility to motivate the process. I’m of the first school of thought; what’s the rush? Why pursue something that your child might not be ready for? It’s not a competition.

Every child is different and will be ready both physically and emotionally in their own time. Just as they learned to walk and talk on their own agenda, so will they learn to control their bladder and bowels. We all have that friend or relative or neighbour whose child was “potty trained” right out of the womb, however their child is not your child. It’s rarely helpful to compare one child’s growth and development to another’s as we all have different temperaments and our own strengths and weaknesses which make us unique. The bottom line is, your child will be ready… when they are ready.

In order to help ascertain whether your child is ready, here are some things to keep in mind. First of all, children typically aren’t physically ready to control their bladder and bowels until somewhere around their second birthday. So, in my opinion, unless they’re really interested and showing a lot of signs that they’re physically ready, I wouldn’t worry about it until they’re two. Another thing I’ve found helpful is to remember that there are three stages of “readiness”. The first is when your child knows after they’ve eliminated. The second is when your child knows when they are in the process of eliminating. The final stage is when your child knows before they have to eliminate. This third stage, along with the physical ability to “hold it” are crucial for successful toilet learning.

A few other skills that will help your child’s toilet learning success are the ability to independently take off their own clothes, the ability to get on/off the toilet (or potty) independently and the verbal skills to let you know when they need to go. All this being said, there will certainly be children who show interest in the toilet before they are physically ready. I would certainly encourage their interest, however far it extends. However I would do so with the understanding that nothing may come of it until they are more ready. As caregivers, we need to make sure that we have appropriate expectations of what individual children are capable of and allow them to reach milestones in their own time. After all, development isn’t a race.

Photo by Mollypop (Flickr)