- Describe how the environment influences a sense of self.
- Consider the importance of adult self-awareness as part of the environment.
- Consider unique challenges and opportunities affecting a sense of self for members of military communities.
- Recognize methods of self-care that will make family child care providers more effective.
Think about some of the memorable environments you experienced as a young child. Hopefully, you can think of many places that left you with happy memories, like your childhood home, schools, favorite vacation spot, or your neighborhood park. These environments bring back good memories because you felt safe and secure and had fun. Think about what else makes these environments memorable. Was it just the place itself, or was it also the people there with you? The people in a learning environment play a crucial role in making it positive. Now think about environments that you experienced that you would not consider as memorable. What was different about these environments that made them less memorable? Was it a feeling of uncertainty, fear, boredom, or anxiety? Was it a feeling of not being welcomed and encouraged? Was it unsupportive or emotionally unavailable adults? The environments we are in and the people we share our environments with help shape who we are. Our self-concepts are developed in our homes, schools, playgrounds and with our families, friends, child care providers and teachers. The learning environment that you create for children has an impact on the people they become.
Consider the situations below. These kinds of scenarios can happen in any family child care program.
- A family child care provider greets families as they enter the home. Three-year-old Hayden buries his head in his mom’s shoulder and peers out to smile at the baby who crawls over to see them. The provider laughs and says, “Look at you smiling at Francessca! Are you flirting? What a ladies’ man! You come here, buddy.” A few minutes later, Josie, also a 3-year-old, arrives with her mother. Like Hayden, Josie buries her head in her mother’s shoulder and smiles as she turns to glimpse at her provider. This time the provider says, “I wonder if you’re feeling a bit shy this morning? Do you need a few minutes to cuddle with Mom?”
- Clarice, a new mom, fills out the intake paperwork and developmental screeners for her infant. As she tries to answer questions about family history, she grows more frustrated. She adopted her son and does not know where or how to communicate that information.
What messages is each child receiving about his or her identity? What messages are the families receiving about what you or your program values? What messages are they receiving about the expectations you or your program have for them?
As you read the scenarios, perhaps you felt a pang of empathy for the children, families, or providers. Some individuals weren’t receiving positive messages about their identities. As a family child care provider, you are responsible for creating safe, nurturing, welcoming, and accepting environments for all children and families in your program. In doing so, you need to consider not only the physical space, but also social interactions and exchanges that take place within that space. Take a few moments to consider alternative ways family child care providers might have responded to the above scenarios:
- Three-year-old Hayden buries his head in his mom’s shoulder and peers out to smile at the baby who crawls over to see them. The provider laughs and says, “I can tell you’re so excited to see your friends.” A few minutes later, Josie arrives with her mother. Like Hayden, Josie buries her head in her mother’s shoulder and smiles as she turns to glimpse her provider. This time the provider says, “We’re so glad you’re here! Hayden and Mariah are playing with books. Would you like to come over?”
- Clarice, a new mom, fills out the intake paperwork and developmental screeners for her infant. She struggles to answer personal questions and is relieved to see a statement that she can skip any question or talk to the provider in person about the form.
Environments that Promote Children’s Sense of Self
Environments play a large part in identity formation and comprise many aspects. As discussed in the Family Child Care Learning Environments course, an environment is a combination of the physical space, appearance, resources, and contents, as well as the interactions, relationships, and sense of community within it.
As an adult, you may have several choices about where you get to spend your time. You can seek out places that you feel good in and you can avoid places that make you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Children don’t have this level of control about where and how they spend their time. In Lessons One and Two, you learned that children develop their sense of identity primarily as a result of the messages they receive from the significant adults in their lives. The children in your program will likely spend a large amount of their day with you. Therefore, every choice you make regarding the environment will send messages telling them if they are accepted, valued, and capable, or not.
Infants and toddlers in particular come to identify themselves by the images they hold and see of themselves within their caregiver’s eyes. Infants and toddlers come to learn about how they appear to others. According to J. Ronald Lally, an expert in infant-toddler development, infants and toddlers learn the following things from their caregivers that influence a sense of self:
- What to fear
- Which behaviors are appropriate
- How messages are received and acted upon
- How successful they are at getting their needs met by others
- What emotions and intensity level of emotions they can safely display
- How interesting they are
What messages do you want your family child care environment to send? How do you want children and their families to feel when they are in your space? What do you want them to learn about themselves?
We all want to provide children with environments that are safe, welcoming, and responsive. For school-aged children, intentional planning and design can help ensure your family child care home is a special place for the children and families in your care. Your family child care environment should be a nurturing and supportive space that encourages children of all ages to be who they are with you and explore new ideas. It should be safe, stimulating and developmentally appropriate, and it should validate children’s thoughts and feelings and provide them with numerous opportunities to practice skills and experience success. Ongoing attention to many aspects of your environment—for example, the social, verbal, physical, and academic dimensions—is key to creating a high-quality space that promotes learning, exploration, and respect for individual differences.
Environments tell a story and should reflect the different cultures, personalities, needs, interests, strengths and development of the infants, toddlers, families and caregivers who spend time there.
- Clean, safe and properly lighted environments to support young children’s exploration
- Calm environment to support young children’s abilities to focus on their caregivers, each other and the materials they are exploring
- Child-sized furniture to enable young children to reach materials on low shelves and take part in daily routines
- Family child care provider nearby to interact with children and encourage and support social experiences for children of varying stages of development
- Cozy area for children to support relaxation, comfort, and ongoing nurturing
- Adaptive materials and equipment such as special seating for body positioning, adapted utensils for eating or toys that become activated in response to sounds
Addressing the Needs of Diverse Learners and Families
As highlighted in Lesson Two, no two children or families will ever be the same in your program, and it is your responsibility to be sensitive and responsive to each child’s and family’s needs. This becomes crucial when it comes to how you organize and plan your family child care environment to ensure that all children will be successful. For example, while some children in your program may be able to thrive in busy, crowded, and even loud surroundings, others may require quiet, less crowded, and less busy spaces.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children states that in order to support children in developing a positive sense of self, providers should begin all practices with a foundation of nurturing and responsive caretaking. Responsive family child care environments need to be dynamic to meet the diverse and ever-changing needs of every child in your care. You will have to:
- Modify your family child care environment to meet the needs of individual children in your program
- Adjust for differences in individual children throughout the day or day-to-day as circumstances change and events occur
- Provide modifications as children grow and their needs change
- Make accommodations to include the multiple ages or developmental stages of the children you serve in each activity and learning setting
Embracing Family Experiences: Considerations for Programs Serving Military Families
Think about the military families you know or serve. How are their identities shaped by the experience of being military families? For many families, military service and personal identity can be intertwined. Consider these potential influences:
- Living on a military installation: Many families, military and civilian alike, base their identities in some part on where they live. Where a family lives sends messages about their lifestyles, preferences, and experiences. For military families, living on an installation can build a strong sense of community. This helps shape how the family sees itself in relation to others.
- Deployment: Deployment is one of the most stressful events a family can experience. Families must learn to adapt to changing circumstances before, during, and after a deployment. The service member’s sense of self may change drastically as a result of experiences during deployment. Family members, particularly spouses, can also experience changes in how they perceive themselves after long periods of independence or single parenthood.
- Frequent moves: A permanent change of station can cause a great deal of stress for families as children adjust to new child care settings, schools, programs, and friends. Children or family members may reinvent themselves in a new location, or they may struggle to define themselves in a new school or community.
- Work hours: Military family members may also work unconventional or long hours when they are home.
- Retirement and return to civilian life: Many individuals who retire from military service are young and find themselves ready for a second career. This can be a difficult transition. Service members may have a difficult time finding new employment in which their skills are valued. They may feel a sense of loss as they leave the active-duty community and may struggle to develop their civilian identity.
- Remember that issues that affect civilian families affect military families, too: Divorce or marital conflict, unemployment for a spouse or partner, and health-care needs are just a few of the events that can shape a family’s identity.
Military life is not all about challenges, though. Military families have a variety of supports that you can help families maximize. Military families are often part of a strong military community. They may live on an installation with other military families, and they may have a group of friends in similar circumstances. They also have access to health-care, mental-health, and advocacy resources through their service or installation. These can be valuable assets for families as they work to define themselves. Finally, they have access to you—military child care. You understand the families’ contexts and can be a valuable source of social support.
Here are some additional ways to support military families, based on recommendations from families surveyed in the National Military Family Association Report on the Cycles of Deployment (2005):
- Help a family to be realistic in their expectations of themselves and of each other. This applies to deployment, permanent change of station (PCS), retirement, and other major life transitions. Help families open lines of communication with one another about their expectations, fears, and excitement.
- Provide families with information about what they can expect before, during, and after deployment or other transitions. Recognize that every child’s response may be different on the basis of age, developmental stage, and temperament.
- Offer ongoing discussions and support to families with regard to return and reunion challenges.
- Remember that families—even those with experience—do not always have the information and support they need.
Considering your Own Sense of Self
As a provider, you are a direct part of the family child care environment. Wittmer and 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” (Wittmer and Petersen, 2013). 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 relationship building at particular times with some children and families. As you have likely learned, observations are one of our best strategies as family child care providers. Observations can help you get to know and understand a child in your program better, which in turn can change your feelings or thoughts about incidents or interactions.
Another strategy you can use is visualization. See yourself interacting positively with a child in your program. If he or she displays behaviors that seem to disrupt your teaching approach, try seeing this young child without those behaviors and you responding in a caring way.
Supporting Yourself by Reducing Stress: Taking Care of Yourself while Taking Care of Others
Self-care is a very active and powerful choice to engage in the activities that are required to gain or 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 to engage in self-care. Your own self-care practices can be a starting place to demonstrate the importance of self-care. Learning to use self-care practices is an indication of developing a strong self-concept. Providers who are aware of self-care practices can act as positive role models for children.
Many of us are accustomed to saying “yes” to everything that is asked of us for fear of appearing weak or uncooperative. Learning how to say “no” is a good skill to cultivate, and it shows you know your limits and are able to put your needs first, which will make you a better family child care provider and caregiver. 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 be 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 breath more shallowly. By taking a moment to take a few deep breaths, we take time for ourselves and lower our stress levels.
According to child care professional Jeff Johnson (2010), your attitude can help make changes in your life and your program. Johnson has six suggestions:
- Positive outlook: Thinking positively about situations and people can help 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 breath, 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 in life.
- 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 sometimes it is going to have to be good enough.
As you see these examples of supportive environments within family child care programs, reflect on how your program builds a supportive environment for children. Consider how you specifically help support military families and children’s sense of self.
Within safe, nurturing, responsive and accepting environments, children can develop a sense of self and self-confidence that says, “I matter,” “I am deserving,” “I can make things happen.” However, within unpredictable, less-responsive and unwelcoming environments, they may come to feel fearful and anxious while seeing the world as unsafe.
In your daily interactions and your family child care environment, you support a developing sense of self for the children in your care when you:
- Get to know and respect each child in your program as an individual.
- Show interest and be actively involved in what children are doing in your program.
- Respond to and meet children’s individual needs in a timely manner.
- Respond positively as each child develops new skills or accomplishes tasks.
- Organize materials in a way that enables all children in your care to actively participate.
- Respond in a similar fashion to boys and girls in your family child care. Check your program materials (e.g., books, posters, other learning materials) for bias or misconceptions regarding individuals from different groups).
- Plan activities that enable children to express themselves and explore their sense of self and others (e.g., ask them to draw pictures of themselves or their family and friends, trace their bodies on paper on the floor, share their favorite foods, toys, places of interest, books, etc.).
What types of spaces helped you feel safe, valued, confident, understood and successful while you were growing up? Which of these characteristics or qualities do you want to try to recreate within your family child care setting? Read and review the Self-Reflection: Environments activity. Take a few minutes to respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach or family child care administrator.
In this lesson, we introduced the idea of self-care and its importance in your work as a family child care provider. Self-care is actually discussed in many different caring professions, including nursing and social work. Read the following attachment, What is Self-Care?, and take the Self-Care Assessment to identify strategies you currently use to help promote your own resilience and strategies you might wish to incorporate into your self-care plan (resources from http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/search?q=self-care). Work to develop a self-care plan that is balanced in the different areas: physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual and professional. Try to form habits that span these different areas of self-care.
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