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Nurturing Your Sense Of Professionalism

It is important as a family child care provider to always grow in your professional knowledge and practices. In this lesson, you will learn how to maintain and nurture your sense of professionalism. You will also learn about the significance of self-care and explore resources for your professional growth.

  • Reflect on what it means to continue to nurture your sense of professionalism.
  • Learn about the importance of self-care.
  • Explore resources for professional growth.



As a family child care provider and business owner, you are a role model for the children, youth, and families in your program. You make an impact on the lives of the people in your care, so it’s important to reflect a positive, supportive, nurturing presence. You will have young, impressionable minds watching, listening, and learning from you. Working with children, youth, and families is an important endeavor and you are not alone. Families will be your partners throughout this process. You will also work with others (e.g., school personnel, agency staff, other providers, etc.) to provide high-quality care for children and families in your community. As a family child care provider you are faced with the challenge of providing high quality care to children and families and owning and operating a successful business. Maintaining and enhancing your professionalism will strengthen your work and will positively affect the lives of children and families with whom you interact.

The field of child care has grown tremendously over the past several years, and new information and research continues to support the significant role that adults play in children’s development. You can truly make a difference. The more skilled, committed, and knowledgeable you become, the more effective, meaningful, and long-lasting your influence will be on children’s and families’ lives. As a family child care provider, you want your practice to be continuously improving as you strive to make it the best that it can be for children and families. You should reflect a positive attitude and a sense of pride in creating positive, caring environments for children and families in your care. Be proactive in your professional development and seek out opportunities that will support you in your role. Your high standards and expectations for professional behavior will positively affect the quality of care you provide, as well as those around you.

Always Keep On Learning

You have read about the process and the path of becoming professional as well as the attributes, skills, and knowledge you need. No matter how experienced you are and how much you know, it is important to continue to pursue education and training to learn more about your field and to further grow as a professional. This is true for a number of reasons, as described by Koralek, Trister Dodge, and Pizzolongo (2013):

You care about children and their families.

To be successful, you need to care about the children and families you work with. This means that you want to improve your knowledge and skills, update what you know, and strive for practices that will positively affect development and outcomes for all children and families.

Think about working with children with special learning needs, for example. Because you care about what you do, you will approach working with children with diverse abilities as an opportunity to meaningfully engage them in experiences, and you may invite their families in your program to share their knowledge about how to best work with their children. Ultimately, you want to provide best practices for those you serve, and your love for what you do drives you to be the best in doing that.

Continuous learning allows you to recognize, evaluate, and improve your existing practices.

Self-awareness enables you to acknowledge strengths, talents, skills, and accomplishments, and at the same time it helps you recognize and identify competencies or skills you need to improve. Knowing who you are as a person and as a professional is empowering, as it enables you to engage in self-improvement and growth. You can do this by talking with other family child care providers through face-to-face group meetings or in an online group. Or you can review materials and resources that keep you updated with new ideas and research in your area of expertise. You should participate in professional organizations (e.g., the National Association for Family Child Care) and participate in training events and online webinars (e.g., Town Square).

You want to grow professionally.

Being committed to ongoing learning can improve your knowledge, skills, and performance. This learning will help you gain new skills and hone existing skills, and this may bring increased confidence.

There is always new information to be learned!

The Indian mystic Ramakrishna said, “As long as I live, so long do I learn,” and the Greek philosopher Socrates mused “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

All professionals need to keep up with new information, knowledge, and research in their fields. As a responsible and committed professional, you have an obligation to keep up with new information and use that in your practice with children and families.

Setting Limits and Professional Boundaries

Learning how to say “no” is a good skill to cultivate. It shows you know your limits and are able to put your needs first. Setting boundaries and limits are a part of being a professional. Setting boundaries to support your own needs demonstrates to families and fellow providers that you are a confident and competent caregiver.

When it comes to information sharing and vulnerability, there is often a power imbalance in the relationship between families and caregivers. Families must share sensitive information about their family’s medical, professional, and financial situations. Because of this power imbalance, establishing and honoring professional boundaries ensures that caregivers use their power appropriately. 

Families entrust you with their child during some of their most important years of growth. Sometimes the professional and personal lines can become blurred, especially in communities where families and caregivers may live in the same neighborhood and participate in the same community events. For example, you may provide care for a child and interact with them at the same church, neighborhood park, or community recreation center. The chart below shares the differences between professional relationships and personal relationships.

Professional relationship Social and personal relationships
Take place during "paid" time Take place during "non-paid" time
Involve meeting designated job responsibilities Not based on responsibilities
Service-oriented Not intended to provide a service
Focused on serving the child and family Focused on shared interests
Goal-directed Not generally focused on a goal
Time limited - they exist for the length of time a service is provided Time unlimited - they can go on for as much (or as little time) as the people involved choose
Source: Feeney, S., Freeman, N., & Morarvcik, E. (2020, December). Focus on Ethics. Professional Boundaries in Early Childhood Education. Young Children.

Let’s take a look at some situations of boundary crossing (inadvertent, non-exploitative blur of professional lines) or boundary violations (exploitative, unfair, and potentially harmful crossing of lines) so that you will be better prepared when establishing your professional and personal boundaries.

Boundary crossing:

  • Attending a birthday party of a family in your program
  • Agreeing to or offering to babysit for a family in your care
  • Breaching confidentiality (sharing personal information about a child or family with another family in your care)
  • Oversharing personal information
  • Sharing your personal views on politics, religion, or other sensitive topics verbally, digitally, or in your professional dress (I.e. Political candidate t-shirt)
  • Asking a parent for a favor or help (professional advice)

Boundary violations:

  • Demonstrating favoritism of a child or family or treating them differently than other families in your care
  • Approaching families to participate in a side profession that you may have and could seek financial gain from (ex. inviting a family to a direct sales party for a clothing company)
  • Accepting large gifts
  • Inappropriate behavior with a family member

To establish your boundaries and limits use the following chart called “The Zone of Helpfulness” (Kemp 2014). Set up a meeting to discuss with your mentor or coach if you are feeling challenged about where to place a boundary within the continuum. Remember, as the caregiver you are the one with more power in this relationship and it is your responsibility to set the boundary. As a family child care provider, it can be tricky setting limits with families with whom you have such close relationships. You may feel families bump up against your limits and take advantage of pick up or drop off times. As part of the relationship building process, they may feel like you are more of a friend than a classroom leader. Setting limits and rules from the beginning will demonstrate your role as a caregiver and professional and help parents to respect your boundaries.

Zone of Under-Involvement

Disinterested/uncaring - not in the best interest of child/family

Zone of Helpfulness

Caring/helpful - in the best interests of the child/family

Zone of Over-Involvement

Inappropriate engagement with family - not in the best interest of child/family

Experiences and Resources for Professional Growth

There are many excellent resources on professionalism. Educator Fran Simon (2015) provides a list of suggestions:

  • Be open to what is possible, not held back by what you think is impossible.
  • Join professional associations, attend conferences, volunteer.
  • Be curious and ask questions.
  • Value and work to establish and maintain relationships in your daily practice.
  • Make time to learn, connect, and network.
  • Be authentic and open with the people you meet along the way, even if you do not share their viewpoints.
  • Participate in live and virtual professional learning networks.
  • Share your ideas with other family child care providers.
  • Engage in formal professional, career, and leadership development.
  • Find a mentor. Everybody needs inspirational people in their lives.
  • Build a library on leadership and related topics.
  • Subscribe to email and print newsletters and professional journals from a variety of sources.

Considering your Own Wellness

Self-awareness is very important for your own professional growth and learning. Educators Donna Wittmer and Sandy Petersen highlight that, “Knowing ourselves involves exploring our strengths and vulnerabilities. We need to wonder about, and try to understand the meaning of, our reactions, our frustrations, and the parts of our job that bring us joy. This exploration can sometimes be difficult or uncomfortable” (2013, p. 409). Another way to think about this is the “care” that is behind “caregiving.”

All of us can find ourselves struggling to make sense of situations and relationships involving children and families. As you likely learned in other courses, observation is one of our best strategies. Observation can help you get to know and understand a child in your program better, which in turn can change your feelings.

Another strategy you can use is visualization. As a family child care provider, you are likely to encounter children and families from a variety of backgrounds. It is important for you to understand the complexity of culture’s influence on identity and equally important to understand individual differences. For example, a family member who has had a lifetime of encouragement, praise, and support may have a very different parenting style or needs from a family member who has experienced extensive criticism, doubt, and isolation. To practice visualization, you should see yourself interacting positively with each child or family. If the child is displaying behaviors that seem disruptive, try seeing this child without those behaviors and you responding in a caring way. If the family has views that are different from your own views (e.g., when it comes to eating independently or providing assistance with tasks), try to understand the family’s point of view and respond in a respectful and caring way. You will need to be able to provide children and their families with culturally and developmentally sensitive care to help them be successful.

As professionals responsible for taking care of the needs of others, it is also vital to take care of our own needs. Practicing self-care is not selfish. It is an active and powerful way to support and maintain an optimal level of overall health. This includes not just the physical, but the psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual components of an individual’s well-being. In your role as a family child care provider, you can create an environment that supports children’s well-being as well as your own. Modeling your own self-care practices can be a starting place to demonstrate the importance of self-care.

It is also important that you learn to let go of stress. Here are a few tips:

  • Consider keeping a journal. It can be therapeutic to write the day’s events and your perspectives on paper. You might also consider keeping a gratitude journal to help you stay mindful about the positive aspects of your life.
  • Make connections. Reach out to friends, family, and acquaintances. Go out for lunch or for a cup of coffee with a friend. Speak to the person in front of you in line at the grocery store. These small moments can help you feel connected and supported.
  • Even a little regular exercise can help you feel better, sleep better, and cope better with life’s daily stressors. Healthful eating can make a difference, too.
  • Remember to breathe. As we get stressed out, we tend to breathe more shallowly. By taking a moment to take a few deep breaths, we are taking time for ourselves and lowering our stress levels.


Nurturing Your Sense of Professionalism

Watch providers reflect on the significance of ongoing learning for developing your practice.


According to child care expert Jeff Johnson (2010), your attitude can help you make changes in your life. Johnson has six suggestions:

  • Positive outlook: Thinking positively about situations and people can help you bring about beneficial outcomes. Your personal outlook on life plays a critical role in your level of self-care.
  • Self-awareness: Knowing who you are includes being aware of your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts, and your relationships. Start by taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Examine your life, past and present. Notice how far you’ve come and the skills you possess that got you to this point.
  • Healthy selfishness: It’s important to recognize your own needs as valid and do what is necessary to meet them.
  • Relinquish control: Allowing yourself to relax and see things as gray instead of black and white can allow you to see more options and opportunities.
  • Playful attitude: Changing your mindset requires playfulness, curiosity, and excitement. Try exploring life through the eyes of a child and see how different things seem.
  • Thoughtful choices: As life gets busy, slow down and make sure you are making thoughtful choices. Reconcile with yourself that you may never master a task perfectly and that sometimes it is going to have to be good enough.


Watch this video to learn about the importance of self-care.


How do you plan to work toward your ongoing professional development? Identify the professional development goals that you would like to work on and the strategies and resources that will help you achieve these goals in the Ongoing Professional Goals activity. You may want to review the Quality Standards for NAFCC Accreditation to help you set professional development goals.

Read the article What Do Early Childhood Professionals Do? Then, complete the questions in Characteristics of a Professional activity.


Use the resources in this section to learn more about continuing to pursue your own professional development.


You can continue to learn more about early care and education by…
True or false? Self-care practices such as keeping a gratitude journal or exercising regularly can help you serve as a positive role model for children, youth, and families.
Visualization is a strategy to use...
References & Resources

Bruno, H. E. & Copeland, T. (2012). Managing legal risks in early childhood programs. New York: Teachers College Press.

Feeney, S. (2010). Ethics today in early care and education: Review, reflection, and the future. Young Children, 65(2), 72-77.

Feeney, S., Freeman, N.K., & Pizzolongo, P. (2012). Ethics and the early childhood educator: Using the NAEYC code (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Johnson, J. (2010). Keeping your smile: Caring for children with joy, love, and intention. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Koralek, D. G., Dodge, D. T., & Pizzolongo, P. J. (2004). Caring for preschool children (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc.

National After School Association (2009). National After School Association code of ethics

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment.

National Association of the Education of Young Children (2020). Focus on ethics. Professional boundaries in early childhood education.

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

Porath, C. (2018). Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business. TEDxUniversityofNevada.

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

Wittmer, D. S., & Petersen, S. H. (2013). Infant and Toddler Development and Responsive Program Planning—A relationship-based approach (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice-Hall.