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Developing Your Sense Of Professionalism

This lesson will introduce you to practices that are associated with professionalism. You will learn about professional characteristics of effective family child care providers. 

  • Learn about characteristics of effective professional family child care providers.
  • Discuss the four developmental stages of teachers.
  • Identify practices that reflect professionalism in your work as a family child care provider.



Developing your sense of professionalism does not happen overnight. On the contrary, it is a process that involves a wide range of experiences. Just like when you are learning a new skill, you have to invest time and effort in getting information, practicing new things, and interacting with other individuals. Nurturing your professionalism requires ongoing work, energy, and commitment. In your daily interactions with children, youth, and families, you always bring who you are: your interests, your personality, your temperament, your background experiences, and your special abilities and talents. 

Characteristics of Effective Professional Family Child Care Providers

Professionals who work directly with children and their families have a special obligation to model positive interactions and present oneself in ways that benefit those they serve. According to the author of Professionalism in Early Childhood Education, Stephanie Feeney, values that are foundational to professions based on human relationships are kindness, compassion, empathy, respect for others, and trustworthiness. Effective early child care professionals above all are dedicated to serving the needs of children, youth, and families. As a family child care provider you should have a clear mission and philosophy that you can express and that you demonstrate each day through your professional behavior.

Essential elements of professional behavior include knowledge and skills about the field, communication and relationship skills, work ethic, moral and ethical behavior, accountability, equity, and passion. Each of these elements is further discussed below.

Knowledge and Skills

A family child care provider who wants to conduct themselves in a professional manner must acquire the skills and knowledge needed to work with children, youth, and families. Understanding children’s development across a variety of ages is absolutely essential in family child care. Individual courses within the Virtual Lab School provide extensive information on the specific topics you need to know in order to expand your knowledge and skills as a family child care provider.

You should refer to these courses for comprehensive information about child and youth development. Along with child and youth development, knowledge about topics such as safe environments, learning environments, healthy environments, positive guidance, child abuse, and family engagement will strengthen your competence and enable you to positively impact the lives of children and families with whome you engage. Optimal development is achieved when children and youth are healthy, emotionally secure, and socially connected. It is your job to make sure that:

  • Children are healthy and safe by keeping a clean environment and promoting healthy habits.
  • Children are emotionally secure by responding to their cues and addressing their needs in a nurturing and timely manner.
  • Children are socially connected by fostering relationships between them and others during daily and program routines.
  • Children’s families and home cultures are at the forefront of your work.

Communication and Relationships

Building and nurturing relationships with children, families, and colleagues is a critical aspect of your work as a family child care provider. Relationships form over time and require ongoing attention and commitment. Whether you are engaging with children, youth, families, or community members, nurturing those relationships early on is critical to your success. While working with others can present difficulties or challenges, it is your responsibility to maintain professional conduct. When faced with a challenging situation, it may help to process your experience by seeking advice or feedback from the Training & Curriculum Specialist, family child care coordinator, or other mentor.

Work Ethic

Being a family child care provider can be rewarding and challenging at the same time. It requires dedication, commitment, problem-solving skills, and a willingness to learn, change, and be flexible to address the multiple and often complex needs of the children in your care.

Moral and Ethical Behavior

You must present yourself with integrity in your daily interactions with children and families. Maintaining confidentiality is a crucial part of professionalism. This includes your presence on social networking sites. As a direct care staff member, you should respect and protect the privacy of ALL children and families in your program. In Lesson Three, you will learn about what it means to be an ethical provider, identify ethical practices when it comes to interacting with children and families, and learn how you can support your knowledge and implementation of ethical practices.

Accountability and Mentorship

Each of us comes into the field with different strengths and experiences.  Finding a mentor, such as another experienced provider, coach, or family child care coordinator, can help hold you accountable for your professional goals and encourage you to reflect and refine your practice of working with young children.  A mentor can provide support, be a sounding board, offer resources and challenge you to reflect on your practice as you expand your experience. 

Equitable Practices

Making it a priority to show representation of each child and family in your program is vital.  It’s important for children and families to feel valued for who they are as they enter a relationship with you as a caregiver.  Be intentional in your conversations with children and families to understand family preferences and cultural practices. Extending your learning in this area can go a long way in demonstrating respect for the diversity and individual differences in your program. 


Demonstrate passion for your work. Being a positive presence for children and families creates a safe environment. Your energy can be felt by those around you. We all have moments of frustration, but striving to show your passion while working with children can help remind you of the important work you are doing in those difficult moments. 

A Developmental Perspective

When talking about professionalism, Dr. Lilian Katz identifies four developmental stages of those who care for and educate children. As you read the information below on each of these stages, think about where you are in your own journey toward professionalism as a family child care provider. For more information on the developmental stages of teachers you can visit:

Stage I: Survival

This stage generally refers to the first year or two of teaching, when an educator's primary concern is "surviving" in their role engaging with children and families. During this time, educators need support, guidance, and encouragement.

Stage II: Consolidation

With the completion of their initial years of teaching, educators come to see themselves as capable of managing their day-to-day responsibilities. Ongoing training and support on-site continue to be significant for their growth.

Stage III: Renewal

During this stage, teachers become interested in new developments in the field. They may benefit from joining professional organizations and participating in various professional development experiences such as conferences, or other professional meetings.

Stage IV: Maturity

It may take a few years after beginning to work with children and families for an educator to reach maturity. During this time educators feel confident about their own competence and begin to ask more complex questions about their practice. At this stage they also continue to benefit from participating in conferences or seminars, ongoing education or training, reading professional literature, and engaging with other educators.

Being an Effective Professional

Effective family child care providers enjoy their work and show it. They create safe, positive, welcoming environments for the children, youth, and families with whom they work. And they strive for excellence in their interactions with others and in the experiences they plan. Effective professional family child care providers value collaboration and acknowledge it is important to work with families, other family child care providers, supporting professionals (e.g., staff members from schools and agencies), and community members. They also know it is important to have fun and laugh, celebrate successes, and acknowledge their efforts and the efforts of others.

You may plan joyful events that build community among the children you care for and their families. Some examples are celebrating children’s birthdays and family life events with potluck suppers, attending a professional conference with parents in your program, organizing family events at a local park, or inviting families to share a skill or hobby with the children in your home setting.


Developing Your Sense of Professionalism

Watch this video to learn about developing your sense of professionalism.


Take time to review the practices listed below that highlight professionalism when working with children and families in your care:

  • Respect and support each child and family in your care and acknowledge diversity and individual differences in growth, background, values, and beliefs.
  • Build connections and demonstrate genuine interest in all children and families in your care.
  • Acknowledge that families know their children best and learn to view them as partners and collaborators in your practice. Reach out to them and invite their input.
  • Keep information about children and their families confidential.
  • Provide a variety of developmentally appropriate choices and experiences for children in your care.
  • Be knowledgeable and have developmentally appropriate expectations about children’s behaviors.
  • Honor individual differences in children and families and strive to address the unique needs of those you serve.
  • Recognize and share positive feedback with families on a frequent basis. Even though at times you may have to address topics of concern about children and youth with families, remind yourself to also highlight a child’s successes and positive attributes.


Learning about the values and philosophy of professionals you know and admire can be a powerful tool toward your own professional development. Use the questions in the Creating a Climate of Trust, Respect, and Safety activity to interview a family child care provider that you admire. Share and discuss your responses with a trusted colleague, mentor, or family child care administrator.

If you are a CDA candidate, use the CDA Competency Statement VI handout to reflect on your commitment to professionalism. This is a required item for the CDA Professional Portfolio.


Smartphones and social media have become a way of life for most of us. In your daily interactions with children or youth, you should be very careful about handling social media. Photographs or information about children and families in your family child care home should be carefully shared if using social media. For example, you should not post pictures without prior consent for families, and you should consult with your Service or licensing agent to understand the policies around using social media to communicate with families in your family child care program. You should always think about how new technologies can affect children and families and always maintain confidentiality. As a family child care provider, you are a direct reflection of your program. Sharing information about yourself or on sensitive topics may affect how families view you and your professionalism.

Read and review the Professionalism and Social Media activity. Take a few minutes to access and read the article, Smartphones and Social Media: Ethical Implications for Educators. After reading the article, reflect on the questions. Discuss your reflections with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


True or false? An important aspect of your work as a family child care provider is the relationships you create with children, youth, families, and community members.
According to Katz’s four developmental stages, in your first year of teaching you…
Which of the following practices reflect professionalism in your work as a family child care provider?
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.

Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education 2014.

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

Feeney, S. & Freeman N.K. (2015). Focus on ethics: A difficult working relationship: The response.

Katz, L. K. (1995). Talks with teachers of young children: A collection. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

National After School Association. Core knowledge and competencies for afterschool and youth development professionals

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2019). NAEYC professional standards and competencies for early childhood educators: A position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2019). Becoming your best: Building professional competencies. 

National Association for Family Child Care. (2017). Quality standards for NAFCC accreditation.

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.

Wisconsin Early Childhood Collaborating Partners. (2014). Wisconsin core competencies for professionals working with young children & their families. Retrieved from