- Define and understand anti-bias and character education and its role in the family child care learning environment and development of a positive sense of self.
- Describe experiences and activities that promote a sense of self.
- Discuss ways your interactions with families can affect sense of self.
- Describe how to promote your own self-care and wellness.
The factors that go into developing who we become are endless. Our family traditions, cultural beliefs, customs, environment, location, and economic status are some of the major factors that play a role in how we develop as individuals. It is important to remember that all children are individuals with varied backgrounds, family beliefs, and life experiences.
Children in your family child care program need daily opportunities in a safe and supportive environment to participate in experiences and activities that allow them to explore and celebrate the person they are growing to be. As you meaningfully engage children in this process of self-discovery and identity, you should provide them with ongoing, multiple opportunities to explore their interests, interact with exciting materials, try out new things, and learn. You may already have an “All About Me” or “My Family” corner in your family child care, and you may make time in your program to explore diversity, children’s interests, or unique talents. You should embed such opportunities for promoting a healthy sense of self and identity throughout every day in your program.
Experiences and Activities that Promote Children’s Sense of Self
Consider the following as ways to continue to help the children in your care feel important, understood, confident and successful. Also, take time to review the article, Supportive Care for Infants and Toddlers with Special Health Needs at http://www.spiritlakeconsulting.com/SLC/sharedfiles/library/books/NAEYC_health.pdf.
Ensure you are close by to children engaged in experiences and activities in order to respond quickly to children’s needs. You can do this by:
- Singing a favorite song.
- Comforting and soothing crying infants and toddlers.
- Smiling and talking with all children
Support children who may be experiencing distress when separating from a parent. You can do this by:
- Acknowledging that infants at around 7 months begin to understand that the people they rely on to keep them safe exist even when they cannot see them.
- Listening to and empathizing with a parent who is trying to understand what is happening.
- Creating and establishing rituals for hellos and goodbyes.
- Supporting parents with saying “goodbye” and “I’m back!”
- Providing children with family photographs to carry around, or post them on the wall at their eye level.
Support children’s self-regulation. You can do this by:
- Talking to or singing quietly to an infant.
- Comforting young children when they appear uncertain about a situation.
- Reflecting on your view of tantrums and whether you see them as a normal part of development—staying calm and reassuring children that you can help them with their strong emotions.
Support children through responsive relationship experiences. You can do this by:
- Talking with a young child about how you can understand what he or she is trying to tell you: “When you cry, I can tell something isn’t right and you need me.”
- Communicating with children’s families about home experiences that support relationship building.
Support children in learning about emotions. You can do this by:
- Mirroring a child’s facial expressions (e.g., smiling back at a smiling infant).
- Thinking about the facial expressions you use during moments when young children are checking in to determine the safety of a situation.
- Finding ways to make facial expressions and highlight different emotions while reading books and stories with children.
Let children know you enjoy being with them. You can do this by:
- Using children’s names during interactions and experiences throughout the day.
- Letting an older child know you enjoy him or her, “I love watching and hearing you dance and sing!”
- Trying to understand the intentions of young children and put their intentions into words for them.
Support growing development and accomplishments. You can do this by:
- Letting children know you are watching them while encouraging exploration—“I see you running so fast toward the ball!”
- Exploring gender with young children and respecting the ways in which they are learning about gender and what it means within their family system and culture.
Support children with temperament in mind. You can do this by:
- Helping young children who have irregular rhythms establish consistent routines for sleeping, feeding, or eating, diapering, etc.
- Helping children who are slow to warm up to people feel comfortable around new people and with new experiences.
- Helping easily distracted children focus during play.
To understand anti-bias education, it may be helpful to reflect on how an anti-bias program or environment helps children and others learn to see themselves. In the words of Louise Derman-Sparks (2010), “In the anti-bias classroom, children learn to be proud of themselves and their families, to respect human differences, to recognize bias, and to speak up for what is right.” These are outcomes that most educators would agree are important, but it takes a great deal of intentionality to make them a reality. Anti-bias educators are thoughtful every day of the subtle ways bias is embedded into systems and experiences. They are mindful of the impact that media messages, choices of program materials, and responses to questions have on children’s development of self. They plan experiences around four main goals of anti-bias education (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010):
- Each child will demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities. This is the foundation of anti-bias education and must be addressed before the other goals. Programs do this by making sure (a) all families and family structures are visible and respected in the program, (b) children see themselves in the materials and curriculum, and (c) children have experiences that let them explore race, culture, language, and economic differences.
- Each child will express comfort and joy with human diversity, accurate language for human differences, and deep, caring human connections. Programs do this by embracing and exploring the similarities and differences within each child’s environment, program, and—eventually—community. They help children learn about people as individuals.
- Each child will increasingly recognize unfairness, have language to describe unfairness, and understand that unfairness hurts.
- Each child will demonstrate empowerment and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice or discriminatory actions.
We encourage you to explore the readings in the References & Resources section for practical ideas and reflection on anti-bias education.
Embracing Multiple Social Identities
Children are beginning to develop a complex sense of self and learn that they can have multiple social identities. Each child in your program is much more than their gender, age, race, or physical features. While some children may be encouraged to strongly identify with these parts of their identities, it’s important to remind all children that they have many different identities. For example, you may have a child in your family child care program who thinks of herself as a daughter, sister, friend, helper, and dog-lover. Others may think of themselves as painters, singers, and future firefighters.
You can influence and expand how children see themselves by pointing out, in a positive and encouraging way, that they have many traits and interests. Encouraging children to embrace their multiple social identities develops their sense of self and helps them become more flexible when thinking about others’ identities. For example, flexible thinking about others’ could be observing a group of boys playing with trains and thinking of them as children who like to play with trains rather than thinking that only boys like to play with trains. Flexible thinking about others allows children to be more open and accepting of others’ interests and attributes.
Children who recognize their multiple identities may develop better problem-solving skills and a better ability to collaborate with others. This helps them come up with more and creative solutions to everyday problems. You likely have pretend play home living items such as dishes and food in your program environment, and it is likely that pieces go missing from time to time. A child who is a flexible and creative problem-solver may recognize that there are no more aprons in the kitchen and instead may fashion an “apron” out of a baby blanket.
As highlighted in Lesson One, our sense of self includes the roles, attributes, behaviors, and associations that we consider most important about ourselves (Ylvisaker, 2006). Character and personality traits are examples of elements that help us develop who we are as individuals; these are cultivated and nurtured through our interactions with others and shape our current and future lives.
Your program may use a formal character education curriculum. One example is the Character Counts curriculum by the Josephson Institute. This curriculum proposes six pillars of character. Whether you use this or any other character education curriculum, consider how these six pillars may influence the sense of self, positive relationships, and pride in one’s identity and culture:
You can learn more about the six pillars at https://charactercounts.org/program-overview/six-pillars/
How do these pillars guide or shape your work? How do they guide or shape your personal life? Take a few minutes to think about how embracing these six pillars can shape the work you do with children around promoting a sense of self.
Developing Children’s Interests
Biographies of athletes, musicians, or actors often indicate that they began their crafts as children. The activities and experiences that you plan for children are very important to the development of a sense of self. As older children develop a sense of self, they are trying out new activities and experiences to understand their personal interests, skills, and talents. According to the Council on Accreditation Standards for After School and Youth Development Programs, providers should:
- Recognize and support the range of interest and talents in children.
- Recognize and respond to the range of children’s feelings and temperaments.
- Demonstrate interest in and relate to children’s cultures and languages.
It is important to always include the needs and interests of children based upon your observations and documentation when creating activity plans. Children will enjoy helping you create plans, brainstorm activity ideas, and share their own ideas for activities and experiences. You can help support children’s interests in a variety of ways:
- Include a variety of activities that are always available, such as art, writing, reading, building, dramatic play, and discovery. Always allow for creative experiences to occur within the environment.
- Be flexible and attuned to the changing needs and interests of the children. Observe how children are using the materials, and encourage their creativity and imagination.
- Help children to become engaged and focused on an activity. Provide them with necessary time, space, materials, and direction to complete projects and activities.
- Observe and listen to children as they share their interests with you. Try to include the interests of the children whenever possible and appropriate.
- Let children showcase their talents and skills. Older school-aged children can provide demonstrations and lessons on a specific talent or interest that they can share with their peers and younger children.
Project-based learning helps to support children on their journeys of developing a positive sense of self. Projects encourage investigation, cooperation, focus, determination, discovery, and creativity. Projects can be used in the learning environment in a variety of ways. They can be child-led, where the children decide on the project and work to create the steps or phases needed to complete the goal. For this type of project, they may be completing a long-term art project, planning a talent show, or conducting experiments to test a scientific theory. Projects can also be created and directed by family or community members. These types of projects might be creating and maintaining a garden or working together to solve problems that affect all the children in your care. All projects have a goal that is being worked toward and typically have some sort of documentation that is completed along the way to show progress.
Projects help support independence because they encourage:
- Self-instruction: Projects allow children to experience self-motivated learning. Instead of having an adult driving their progress, they are the ones taking the steps to move the project forward. They then can experience the success of hard work and what it takes to make their project flourish.
- Deep investigation: Projects allow children to think creatively and scientifically. You encourage the process, not the product, and allow children to discover, investigate and collect information and experiences.
- Child initiation: In most educational processes, adults are leading the way, preparing children for proficiency exams and determining the path the learning must take. Projects allow children to take the reins to lead their learning. They can decide on topics, phases, methods of documentation and goals.
- Curiosity: The innocence and passion found in children is demonstrated by their avid curiosity for the world around them. Children are naturally curious about their world. They want to take information in and find a way to understand what it means to them. Projects are a way to harness this curiosity in a productive and creative way. Children can ask questions, determine the learning process, and work toward new goals.
Role Models and Relationships
Most life experiences involve other people. We cannot get far into our daily routine without encountering others. Think about the relationships you have with others. You have strong bonds with family and friends. You have professional relationships. You also have informal relationships with people you consider acquaintances. Children are learning how to establish and maintain healthy relationships. They have friendships that are being based on more than proximity or convenience and more on common interests and goals. They are becoming independent and experiencing other adults outside of the home, such as providers, teachers, tutors, coaches, etc.
As a family child care provider, you have the opportunity to help children learn how to establish and maintain healthy relationships. You will do this through modeling, encouragement and guidance. According to the Council on Accreditation Standards for After School and Youth Development Programs, providers should engage with children and interact with them in positive ways to:
- Help children feel welcome, comfortable, and supported
- Recognize positive accomplishments
- Treat all children with respect
- Listen to what children say and respond to them with interest, acceptance, and appreciation
- Be consistent and follow through on what you say you will do
Embracing Culturally Responsive Experiences
Culturally responsive experiences are those that help children see themselves represented in your program. This may mean opportunities for self-reflection and expression. It may also mean broad exposure to people, ideas, and experiences from around the world. Exposure to the world around them sparks curiosity and creative thinking in children. You should provide experiences that help children define a sense of self and a sense of the world around them. This may include racial or ethnic identity, but it can also include identities related to family values, beliefs, or experiences. For example, children may explore the culture of living on a military installation, being an only child, or transitioning to kindergarten.
Families are critical partners in your programs. You have a commitment to respect families and to help each family feel proud of its identity and culture. Recall these family-centered practices that were introduced in the Family Engagement course:
Family-Centered Practice - Family-centered practice is a set of beliefs and actions that influence how we engage families.
Families are the most important decision-makers in a child’s life.
Families are unique and their differences enrich our programs.
Families are resilient.
Families are central to development and learning.
Families are our partners.
These practices help families feel respected and valued. They also help families gain confidence and a sense of their role in your program.
Families everywhere go through times in their lives when they need help accessing information to help them navigate the circumstances they are dealing with. And you may be just the person they come to for help. A family member may have a question or concern, and you may be asked to provide information, suggestions, or recommendations about a variety of topics, such as child development, challenging behavior, literacy, in- and out-of-school activities, community connections, health-care providers, and so forth. Sometimes you may have answers, and sometimes you may have to look for answers. Above all, if a family member shares a need or concern with you, respect their privacy.
Communicating with Families about Their Child’s Development of a Sense of Self
Cultural practices deeply influence how adults support children’s development of self. All children develop in the context of their cultural background and their family’s values. It is important that you demonstrate respect for each family and child enrolled in your program.
Collaborating with family members is a significant aspect of your work in family child care. You will need to build relationships with each family to understand their values and beliefs. Having written policies and program rules posted can assist family members in understanding the caregiving practices their children will encounter in your family child care program.
Demonstrating mutually respectful and trusting relationships for all children and families must always be your goal. Your role is critical to maintaining a warm, responsive environment where children feel safe to develop their sense of self.
Reducing Stress: Taking Care of Yourself while Taking Care of Others
As highlighted in Lesson Three, taking care of yourself and thinking about your own wellness is as significant as taking care and providing for those around you. It is important to be able to acknowledge signs of stress in yourself and others. The table below identifies signs of stress in adults.
When you see signs of stress in yourself, take action. You will find “stress busting” resources in the Apply section.
As you develop your skill at managing your own stress, you should also observe the children in your program for signs of stress. The first steps in responding to stress are to recognize when there is a problem and to help access resources. Look for these signs of stress in children:
Watch as these providers describe what they do for self-care and the importance of it in their work.
Young children experience stress as a normal part of development and learning. Stress can result from different experiences, positive and negative. While you cannot shield all children from stressful experiences, your caring, safe, and predictable relationship with a young child can help protect them from the effects of stress. Consider the following strategies as you support children experiencing stress:
- Stay close to young children in your care, reassure them, and let them know you are there as they move away and explore.
- Provide simple explanations for stressful experiences using a calm, soothing voice. (“You miss your daddy. He is thinking about you and will come after nap and his job is done. Let’s look at his photograph together.”)
- Help children put strong emotions into words.
- Encourage children to use their words to express their wants and needs with you and with their peers.
- Engage with children’s families and learn about what is going on in their lives.
Read and review the Supporting a Positive Self-Concept activity. Read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ key characteristics that are important to developing a healthy sense of self-esteem. Then, brainstorm ways you can support children in developing a healthy sense of self-esteem within your family child care learning environment. When finished, share your responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.
Explanations of the characteristics contained in the Supporting a Positive Self-Concept activity are available at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/Pages/Helping-Your-Child-Develop-A-Healthy-Sense-of-Self-Esteem.aspx
Take steps to promote your own wellness. Spend some time exploring the websites below for information and ideas about reducing stress and promoting wellness in your life. Then read and review The Power of "No" activity below to share ideas you can use when setting boundaries and preserving time for the people and events that fulfill you by learning to say “no.” Attachment adapted from Christine Carter’s “21 Ways to ‘Give Good No,’” from the website, Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/21_ways_to_give_good_no
Stress Management Resources
When you see signs of stress in yourself, you need to take action. Use the resources below to learn more about ways to manage stress and promote wellness in your life. You may also want to share some of these resources with families of children in your care.
- Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School: 10 simple steps to help de-stress
- Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation: Relaxation Exercises
- MindTools: Managing Stress
- Mayo Clinic: Stress relievers: Tips to tame stress
- HelpGuide: Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief
- Vanderbilt University: Health & Wellness
Bisson, J. (1997). Celebrate! An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays in Early Childhood Programs. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, Division of Resources for Child Caring.
Derman-Sparks, L. & Edwards, J. O. (2010). Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Derman-Sparks, L., & Ramsey, P. G. (2011). What if All the Kids are White?: Anti-bias multicultural education with young children and families. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.
Egertson, H. A. (2006). In Praise of Butterflies: Linking Self-Esteem and Learning. Young Children on the Web.
Fox, L., & Lentini, R. H. (2006) “You got it!" Teaching social and emotional skills. Young Children, 61(6), 36-42.
Gaither, S.E., Fan, S.P., Kinzler, K.D. (2019). Thinking about multiple identities boosts children’s flexible thinking. Developmental Science. doi: 10.1111/desc.12871
Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-116. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0022487102053002003.
Johnson, J. (2007). Finding Your Smile Again: A child care professional's guide to reducing stress and avoiding burnout. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Johnson, J. (2010). Keeping Your Smile: Caring for children with joy, love, and intention. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Jones, V. L., Higgins, K., Brandon, R. R., Cote, D. L., & Dobbins, N. (2013). A Focus on Resiliency: Young Children with Disabilities. Young Exceptional Children, 16, 3-16.
Pawlina, S. (2011). Preschoolers Grow Their Brains: Shifting Mindsets for Greater Resiliency and Better Problem Solving. Young Children.
Ramsey, P. G. (2004). Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural education for young children (Vol. 93). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Rath, T., & Clifton, D. (2011). How Full is Your Bucket? Washington, D.C.: Gallup Press.
Skovholt, T. M., & Trotter-Mathison, M. J. (2014). The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout prevention and self-care strategies for counselors, therapists, teachers, and health professionals. New York, NY: Routledge.
Ylvisaker, M. (2006). What is Sense of Self? Learnet. Retrieved from http://www.projectlearnet.org/tutorials/sense_of_self_personal_identity.html.