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Professionalism: An Introduction

Working with children and youth requires a commitment to providing the very best care and education. In your daily work, you assume significant roles that greatly affect children and youth and their families. It is critical that you strive for excellence. In this lesson, you will learn about professionalism and its significance to the field of family child care.

  • Reflect on what it means to be a professional family child-care provider.
  • Describe practices that are associated with professionalism.
  • Describe the significance of professionalism when working with children and families.



“Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.”- Chinese Proverb


Take a moment to jot down a few words or phrases that come to mind when you hear the word “professionalism.” Is it knowledge about a field or a set of skills? Is it personal characteristics, qualities, or character traits? What do you expect from a person who is called a professional? You may have responded this this question with reference to some of the many roles you, or others you know, assume, such as demonstrating knowledge and sharing information or interacting with children and families. All of your descriptions offer a window into your sense of professionalism.

Consider the following definitions that different dictionaries provide about professionalism: The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines professionalism as “the high standard that you expect from a person who is well trained in a particular job,” and “great skill and competence.”  Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well” and “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.”  How do these definitions compare to your own definitions of professionalism?

This course will help you better understand the concept of professionalism and how it relates to your own competence, confidence, commitment, and awareness as a professional. This course will also help you learn how you can develop a sense of professionalism and what this means to you as a family child care provider.

What is Professionalism in Family Child Care?

For many years, much of the general public has viewed early care and education providers (including those who provide care to school-age children) as babysitters. To counter that thinking, the field of early care and education, through several professional organizations, has developed professional standards that describe the competencies of an early care and education professional. These competencies include professionalism. Interacting with children and families must always be done in a professional manner. Therefore, it is critical to be knowledgeable about and model professional behavior.

Families rely on you to be much more than a babysitter for their children. In your daily work, you make conscious, intentional decisions about how to interact with children and parents. You may also be faced with difficult ethical situations. Ethics is the study of right and wrong, duty and obligation. Following an ethical code can help with those decisions. With guidance from mentors or family child care administrators, you should strive to set and maintain positive examples of professionalism in your daily interactions with children and families.

Professional organizations and state agencies that work on behalf of children, families, caregivers, and teachers have created standards and competencies to guide child and youth professionals. Each professional organization includes standards that address professional behaviors. Professional organizations and state agencies rely on research-based principles and bring together highly respected experts to draft and verify the standards and competencies for the field. For example, the National Association for the Education of Young children (NAEYC), the largest professional organization in the field of early care and education, has developed the Code of Ethical Conduct to guide professional behavior ( The National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) has developed professional competencies for professionals caring for children in family child care homes ( and

When you review the various organizations’ sets of standards and competencies, you will find many similarities when it comes to professionalism. This indicates a common understanding that engaging in professional behavior is important for those working with young children, youth, and families.

 An Example: 

One state’s commitment to professionalism may be found in Minnesota’s Knowledge and Competency Framework for Early Childhood Professionals: Working with Family Child Care. This document is an example of how family child care providers can reflect on their skills and knowledge about caring for children and youth. Your state may have a similar document. Check with your state’s Child Care Resource and Referral agency to learn more about your state’s framework for early-childhood professionals.

What Does it Mean to Be a Professional?

Family child care providers play powerful roles in children’s lives, and your encounters with children and their families leave lasting impressions. Children’s growth takes place over time, and each experience affects development. Who children become has everything to do with the experiences they have early in their lives, and the experiences they have when in your care. Outside of their families, you might be the person they spend the most time with during these critical years of development. Optimum development is strengthened when children engage in meaningful interactions with adults who maintain high-quality professional standards.

As an individual working with children and families, you engage in numerous activities that require you to maintain high-quality professional standards. In your daily work as a professional, you interact with children, engage with family members, and interact with community partners. Establishing and maintaining high-quality professional standards are important to every task you accomplish every day. This process continues to evolve and develop as you encounter new situations.

The work you do with children, youth, and their families lays the foundation for healthy development, growth, and success in school and life. Recognition of the significance of the early years on children’s development strengthens a desire to strive for excellence in your work. This course will help you understand how your professionalism contributes to the growth and development of children and families you serve.

As a family child care provider, you are likely to encounter children and families from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. It is important for you to understand the significance of always striving for high-quality practices while acknowledging diversity and individual differences. A child’s family may not share the same values with you when it comes to topics such as sleeping, toilet training, or completing work independently. You may need to use your sense of professionalism in order to provide children and their families with culturally and developmentally sensitive care to help them become successful now and in the years ahead. 


It is important to think about your own sense of professionalism. Watch this video to hear a family child care provider share what being professional means to them.

Professionalism: An Introduction

Hear family child care providers share what being professional means to them.


In the field of early-childhood education, professionalism encompasses many specific behaviors and skills that address how individuals present themselves to children and other adults. Take time to review the following traits identified by Schweikert (2012) as they contribute to professionalism in the field of early care and education:

  • How you present yourself to others through your appearance and communication
  • Knowledge of the field of early care and education
  • The quality of your work
  • Relationships with others (children, families, your own family members)
  • Your work ethic
  • Your determination and dedication
  • Most important, your attitude

By including a focus on professional behaviors (appearance, communication, attitude, interpersonal relationships, orientation to learning, etc.) you will enhance the quality of your home-based child care for children and families.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course, the Professionalism Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Family Child Care Professionalism Course Guide.

Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Family child care providers should be held to high standards and expectations for professional behavior. Your licensing representative may prescribe the professional attitudes and behaviors that you are expected to uphold.

How might a trusted fellow family child care provider rate you on professional behaviors? Are there areas of your professionalism that you want to improve? What goals do you set for improving your professionalism? What professional atmosphere do you want to set for the children and families you serve?

Review the Standards of Professionalism attachment. Take a few minutes to read and respond to these questions. You may want to share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


Write a brief paragraph about your definition of a professional. Use the characteristics listed in the attachment to help you complete your definition. Then share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


Ability to do something, especially measured against a standard
A theory or set of moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behaviors
The conduct, aims, or principles that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person


True or false? When striving for professionalism in your practice with children, youth, and families, you do not need to consider diversity or individual differences in beliefs, values, or growth.
What are the traits that contribute to professionalism in your work as a family child care provider?
A friend, also a family child-care provider, mentions that she feels more like "a babysitter” than a professional. How do you respond?
References & Resources

Allred, K. W., & Hancock, C. L. (2015). Reconciling Leadership and Partnership: Strategies to empower professionals and families. Young Children 70(2), 46-53.

Bloom, P. J., Hentschel, A., & Bella, J. (2013). Inspiring Peak Performance: Competence, commitment, and collaboration. The Director’s Toolbox Management Series. Lake Forest, IL: New Horizons.

Child Care Aware of America. (2017). Retrieved from

Feeney, S. (2012). Professionalism in Early Childhood Education: Doing our best for young children. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Illinois Gateways ECE Credential Level 1 Module 6: Personal and Professional Development. (2017). Retrieved from:

Minnesota Department of Education. Minnesota’s Knowledge and Competency Framework for Early Childhood Professionals: Working with family child care. Retrieved from

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation: A position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from

Schweikert, G. (2012). Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals: Being a professional. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Simon, F. (2015). Look Up and Out to Lead: 20/20 vision for effective leadership. Young Children, 70(2), 18-24.

Sullivan, D.R. (2010). Learning to Lead: Effective leadership skills for teachers of young children (2nd ed.). St. Paul MN: Redleaf Press.