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    • Describe how experiences and activities support a sense of self.
    • Discuss ways your interactions and experiences with families can influence sense of self.
    • Identify signs of stress in yourself and use techniques to reduce stress.




    Experiences and Activities that Promote Infant and Toddler Sense of Self

    As an infant and toddler caregiver, taking time to observe young children and wonder about what you see and hear helps you slow things down and capture moments of joy, surprise, wonder and learning. Observing infants and toddlers and reflecting on those observations can help you continue to promote secure and caring relationships, as well as an understanding of and appreciation for the growing development of self for each infant and toddler in your care. The thinking of infants and toddlers changes as they grow older and begin to develop an understanding of themselves in relationship to and separate from others. Therefore, observation continues to be an important strategy as you consider interactions and creating experiences and activities to support the developing sense of self for the infants and toddlers in your care.

    Consider the following as ways to continue to help the infants and toddlers in your care feel important, understood, confident and successful. In addition, take time to to visit the link,, and review the short joint position statement on Early Childhood Inclusion from the Division of Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

    1. Ensure environments have enough adults available to be close by and respond quickly to infants and toddlers. You can do this by:

      • Singing a favorite song.
      • Comforting and soothing crying infants and toddlers.
      • Smiling and talking with infants and toddlers.
    2. Support infants and toddlers who may be experiencing distress when separating from their parent. You can do this by:

      • Acknowledging that Infants 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 good-byes.
      • Supporting parents with saying “good-bye” and “I’m back!”
      • Providing mobile infants and toddlers with family photographs to carry around, or post them on the wall at their eye level.
    3. Support infant and toddler self-regulation. You can do this by:

      • Talking to, or singing quietly to an infant.
      • Comforting infants and toddlers 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 infants or toddlers you can help them with their strong emotions.
    4. Support infants and toddlers through responsive relationship experiences. You can do this by:

      • Talking with an infant or toddler about how you could understand what he or she was trying to tell you: “When you cry, I can tell something isn’t right and you need me.”
      • Communicating with infants’ and toddlers’ families about home experiences that support relationship building.
    5. Support infants and toddlers to learn about emotions. You can do this by:

      • Mirroring an infant’s facial expressions (e.g., smiling back at a smiling infant).
      • Thinking about the facial expressions you use during moments when mobile infants 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 toddlers.
    6. Let infants and toddlers know you enjoy being with them. You can do this by:

      • Using infant’s and toddler’s names during interactions and experiences throughout the day.
      • Letting an infant know you enjoy him or her, “I love watching and hearing you shake the rattle!”
      • Trying to understand the intentions of toddlers and put their intention into words for them.
    7. Support growing development and accomplishments. You can do this by:

      • Letting mobile infants know you are watching them while encouraging exploration—“I see you crawling so fast toward the toy!”
      • Exploring gender with toddlers and respecting the ways in which they are learning about gender and what it means within their family system and culture.
    8. Support infants and toddlers with temperament in mind. You can do this by:

      • Helping infants and toddlers who have irregular rhythms establish consistent routines for sleeping, feeding or eating, diapering, etc.
      • Helping infants and toddlers who are slow to warm up to people feel comfortable around new people and with new experiences.
      • Helping easily distracted mobile infants focus during play.

    Strengthening Families

    Families are critical partners in your programs. You have a commitment to respect families and to help each family feel proud of its identities and culture. Recall these family-centered practices that were introduced in the Families 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.

    • We learn about families’ ideas and preferences.
    • We provide choices in programming.
    • We involve families in program leadership.
    • We involve families in decision-making.

    Families are unique and their differences enrich our programs.

    • We honor and respect diversity.
    • We involve all the important people in a child’s life.
    • We engage and involve families.
    • We develop responsive and reciprocal relationships.
    • We represent families in our programs.

    Families are resilient. 

    • We learn about families’ strengths, needs, and circumstances. 
    • We connect families with resources.
    • We build families’ strengths.

    Families are central to development and learning.

    • We share information with families. 
    • We listen to families.
    • We view families as their child’s first teacher.
    • We respect families’ expertise about their child.

    Families are our partners.

    • We use respectful, responsive, and two-way communication.
    • We reach out to families.
    • We involve families in all aspects of our program.

    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, healthcare 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 his or her privacy.

    Supporting Yourself by Reducing Stress: Taking Care of Yourself while Taking Care of Others

    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 prioritize your needs. 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 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.
    • Finally, remember to breathe. As we get stressed out, we tend to breathe shallower. By taking a moment to take a few deep breaths we are not only taking time for ourselves, but helping to lower our stress levels.

    Common Signs of Stress in Adults

    • Aches and pains (headaches, neck or back pain, etc.)
    • Sleeplessness
    • Fatigue
    • More colds or illnesses
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Irritability
    • Lack of concentration
    • Anger
    • Short temper
    • Increase in alcohol or drug use
    • Eating more or less than usual
    • Overeating “comfort foods”

    When you see signs of stress in yourself, take action. You will find stress-busting resources in the Apply section. Another aspect of developing a strong self-concept and self-esteem is to learn to use self-care practices. Self-care is choosing to engage in activities 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 an infant and toddler caregiver, you could try:

    • Eating healthy and nutritious foods and snacks
    • Engaging in physical exercise (calming activities such as yoga)
    • Learning to use deep-breathing and stretching to calm anxiety

    Self-care practices can bring staff and families together, too. Parents may want to teach a cooking class or help with the program’s garden. Seek out resources in your community to bring self-care practices to your center. You may find some wonderful volunteers who are eager to share their expertise.

    Watch as these caregivers describe what they do for self-care and the importance of it in their work.

    The Caregiver's Sense of Self: Self-Care Practices

    Caregivers provide examples of how they practice self-are and why they believe it is important for young children.


    Watch as these caregivers provide experiences and activities that help children develop a positive sense of self. Reflect on the way they respond to challenges children face in their lives, the environment, or the materials, and how these reactions affect infants’ and toddlers’ self-image. In addition, pay attention to the suggestions offered on how to provide support to infants’ and toddlers’ in military families. How could you do these in your own program?

    Promoting Sense of Self: Experiences And Activities

    Watch as caregivers provide nurturing and responsive experiences and activities that help children develop a positive self-image, attention paid on how to support infants’ and toddlers’ in military families.


    Infants and toddlers experience stress as a normal part of development and learning. Stress can result from different experiences, positive and negative. Within Lesson Two, you watched a clip to learn more about stress, a young child’s brain, and the development of self. While you cannot shield all infants and toddlers from stressful experiences, your caring, safe, and predictable relationship with an infant and toddler can help protect them from the effects of stress. Consider the following strategies as you support infants and toddlers experiencing stress:

    • Stay close by infants and toddlers, reassure them, and let them know you are watching 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 picture together.”
    • Let infants and toddlers know when you are leaving and when you are coming back.
    • Help infants and toddlers put strong emotions into words.



    Review the following PowerPoint presentation at paying special attention to slides 23-25 which focus on Separation Anxiety: What To Do. Then use the activity, Easing the Separation Process for Infants, Toddlers and Families and reflect on strategies that you might use in your work to support infants and toddlers experiencing separation anxiety. Share and discuss your responses with a colleague, supervisor, trainer, or coach. Consider preparing a short article for your program newsletter informing families about separation anxiety.



    Use the attached resources to help you take steps to promote your own wellness. The first attachment includes a list of resources about stress management. Spend some time exploring the different websites for information and ideas about reducing stress and promoting wellness in your life. The second attachment shares ideas you can use when setting boundaries and preserving time for the people and events that fulfill you by learning to say “No”.




    You have been feeling “burned out” and stressed lately. What might you do to reduce your stress level?


    Seven-month-old Callie has recently started crying when her mom or dad drop her off to you. What can you do to make drop-off time a supportive experience for both Callie and her parents?


    True or False? Observing infants and toddlers can help you positively impact their sense of self.

    References & Resources

    DC Department of Behavioral Health, Prevention and Early Intervention Programs, Healthy Futures. (2016). Understanding Separation Anxiety in Infants and Young Children. Retrieved from

    Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

    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.

    Rath, T., & Clifton, D. O. (2005). How Full is your Bucket? Positive strategies for work and Life (Educator’s edition). 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.