- Describe how physical and social environments influence a sense of self.
- Describe how to promote self-care among staff members.
- Consider unique challenges and opportunities affecting members of military communities.
Consider the following scenarios:
- A staff member greets families as they enter the infant classroom. Hayden buries his head in his mom’s shoulder and peers out to smile at the baby who crawls over to see them. The teacher laughs and says, “Are you flirting? What a ladies’ man! You come here, buddy.” 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 teacher. This time the teacher says, “Are you feeling shy today? Do you need a few minutes to cuddle with Mom?”
- Two 3-year-old girls are pretending to be princesses. Zoe points to her friend’s Sleeping Beauty T-shirt and says, “I want hair like the princess.” The teacher replies, “You do have hair like a princess. It’s blond and curly just like the princess.”
- Josue, a 9-year-old in your school-age program, is working on his homework. As you walk through the program, you notice he has written the name “Joshua” on his assignment. When you ask him about it, he says, “That’s my name in English. It’s way better than my Spanish name and easier for kids to say.”
- 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 individual receiving (or has received) about his or her identity? What messages are the individuals receiving about what different programs value? What messages are the individuals receiving about the expectations a program has for them?
As you read the scenarios, perhaps you felt a pang of empathy for the children, families, or staff members. Some individuals weren't receiving positive messages about their identities. These kinds of scenarios can happen in any program. As a training and curriculum specialist, you can help all program staff think about how the physical and social environment of your program influence the sense of self. You can think critically about the messages families receive while completing forms or reading bulletin boards, you can listen and reflect with staff members about conversations you overhear between children or youth, and you can carefully observe and provide feedback to staff members about the ways their interactions promote healthy self concepts. By doing so, you can help children, families, and staff members feel confident and proud of their identities. This lesson will help you identify specific ways to meet this important goal. Take a few moments to consider alternative ways staff members might have responded to the scenarios that opened the lesson:
- Infant Hayden buries his head in his mom's shoulder and peers out to smile at the baby who crawls over to see them. The teacher 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 teacher. This time the teacher says, "We're so glad you're here! Hayden and Mariah are playing with books. Would you like to come over?"
- Zoe points to her friend's Sleeping Beauty T-shirt and says, "I want hair like the princess." The teacher replies, "What do you like about the princess's hair?" Zoe thinks for a minute and says, "She can hide her pet lizard in it!" The teacher smiles and says, "That would be fun. It's pretty amazing what all of our bodies can do."
- You hear Josue say the name Joshua is "way better" than his Spanish name. You pause and say, "You can choose what you like to be called here, and if you want to go by a nickname that is your right….but I'd like to learn about your name. Do you know the story of how you got your name? Do other people in your family have the name Josue?"
- 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 an administrator in person about the form.
Practices that Promote Children’s Healthy Development of Sense of Self
Being sensitive and responsive to individual needs supports children’s growing sense of self (Poole, Miller, & Church, 2014).
There are many ways your program promotes a healthy sense of self among children, families, and staff members. This section will introduce you to three promising ideas: embracing diversity, embracing character, and embracing families' experiences through special considerations for promoting a sense of self in children of military families.
It may be helpful to begin by reflecting on how children learn to see themselves and others . In the words of Louise Derman-Sparks (2010), "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" (p. 1). These are outcomes that most educators would agree are important, but it takes a great deal of intentionality to make them a reality. You can help staff members be mindful of the impact that media messages, choices of classroom materials, and responses to questions have on children's development of self. Help staff members plan experiences around four main goals (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010):
- Each child will demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities. 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 classroom, 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 and/or discriminatory actions.
We encourage you to explore the readings in the References and Resources section for practical ideas and reflections.
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:
- Trustworthiness. Be honest and loyal, and keep your promises.
- Respect. Act courteously. Accept others.
- Responsibility. Follow through on your actions and complete your tasks.
- Fairness. Treat people equitably.
- Caring. Show compassion and gratitude.
- Citizenship. Improve the well-being of others.
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 staff members around promoting a sense of self.
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 is intertwined. Consider these potential reasons:
- 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 a spouse, 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 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 that values their skill set. 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 (2006):
- Help a family to be realistic in their expectations of themselves and of each other. This applies to deployment, permanent change station, 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.
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 and self-esteem. 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 the program.
Collaborating with parents is very important to reach an understanding about the caregiving practices your staff uses to support children’s self-concept. There may be difficult situations where you will need to work with the program manager to explain to a parent why a staff member used a particular practice (e.g., allowing a 6 yr. old child to sit out during a large group game because she chose not to play that afternoon). In some cultures children are not allowed to refuse to participate in activities the adult tells them to do. You will need to build relationships with each family to understand their values and beliefs. Having written policies and classroom rules posted can assist parents in understanding the caregiving practices their children will encounter in your program. Demonstrating mutually respectful and trusting relationships for all families, staff, and children must always be your goal. Your positive leadership is critical to maintaining a warm, responsive environment where children feel safe to develop their sense of self.
Defining Self-Care Practices for Children and Adults
Another aspect of developing a strong self-concept and self-esteem is to learn to use self-care practices. Caregivers who are aware of self-care practices can model them for children. 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 the program manager you can create an environment that supports the staff and children to engage in self-care. Your own self care practices can be a starting place to demonstrate the importance of self-care for staff and children. Children love to imitate the caring adults in their lives. You and the staff can serve as models and teach the children self-care practices. These are just a few examples:
- Eating healthy and nutritious foods/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 and point out to the children how cooking and gardening are ways to relax and manage stressful events. 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.
Your Role in Promoting a Sense of Self and Self-Care
The environments in which we work can have a significant influence on our well-being and on our level of self-care. Your role is to equip staff members with the strategies they need to be successful in their jobs. Individuals who work in a supportive and caring environment may have a better outlook on life and feel better about coming to work every day, even if the work is challenging at times. Those working in a high-stress environment with little support may be more likely to experience the effects of burnout. According to child-care professional Jeff Johnson (2007), most burnout comes from the environments in which we operate but don't really have much control over. Think of a teacher who has a classroom of young children and is constantly getting more new children, but no additional classroom support. Or think of an emergency room doctor who is working in one of the busiest trauma hospitals in the country. Although both of these individuals may love their jobs, it is likely they are going to become overwhelmed because their work environments make it almost impossible for them to do as good of a job as they may wish. Directors and other supervisory staff commonly personalize their burnout and blame themselves for their condition, according to Johnson. This can happen to even the best employees: We want to do a good job, but simply cannot due to our environmental circumstances.
Building a staff-member-friendly environment can help to reduce the stress of staff members. Johnson (2010) has the following suggestions relevant to training and curriculum specialists:
Provide clear expectations and feedback:
Turnover at child development and school-age programs can be high, but it is very important to make sure everyone is well-prepared and supported in their work.
- Affirm the program's missions, goals, and philosophy with new staff members. Explain that the trainings they will complete in their first few months on the job are designed to help them keep children safe and healthy. Your role is to support them as they learn to provide excellent interactions, environments, and experiences.
- Encourage experienced staff members to mentor and support new staff members. During conversations with new staff members, suggest that they observe in the classrooms or programs of more experienced staff.
- Be intentional in giving feedback. Be specific and positive: "I noticed you having a really deep conversation with Tyra in the school-age program about her guitar lessons; it's great to see you making connections with the youth about their interests." Try to avoid general or contradictory statements like, "You're doing a great job with the toddlers, but try to be a little neater during snack time."
- Express appreciation to staff members and celebrate their success.
Help staff members set goals:
Help staff members develop a list of long- and short-term goals. One staff member may set a goal to finish the CDA program; another might set a goal to use two new stress reduction strategies. A third might set a goal to tell a joke to the kindergartners every day. When people start to get burned out, it is easy to lose sight of dreams and ambitions and things that make you happy. Whenever possible, ask staff members what kinds of training they would like, rather than deciding for them. When staff members are forced to attend trainings they find useless or unmotivating they are not developing professionally.
Nurture professional relationships
Staff members do not have to be best friends or even like each other, but they do need to work with each other in a professional manner. As a training and curriculum specialist, it is important to model the behavior you want to see in others. Slow down and make the time to connect with staff members. It will help strengthen relationships and make you more approachable in the future.
Additionally, celebrating victories, great or small, with your staff members can help demonstrate a level of appreciation and support. The Apply section has a list of ideas for celebrations and rituals that help build a sense of wellness in your program.
Watch this video for additional ideas about ways to reduce stress in your program.
Along with the director, you are a leader in your program. How does your self-concept fit with your role as a leader? What are your strengths and weaknesses as a leader? Learning about your leadership skills may allow you to set goals and develop an action plan for improving those leadership skills for which you feel less confident and competent. The attached questionnaire is included for you to help you explore your strengths and challenges as a leader. You may want to share your results with your supervisor and set goals for improvement.
The environments in which we work can have a significant influence on our well-being and on our level of self-care. Individuals who work in a supportive and caring environment may generally have a better outlook on life and feel better about coming to work every day, even if the work is challenging at times. Use the Celebrating Staff Members' Success guide for ideas to help you celebrate with staff members and reduce stress. Try one new idea each week and reflect on its effect among the staff.
|Self-care||The World Health Organization defines this as "activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health”|
|Self-concept||The set of attributes, abilities, attitudes, and values that an individual believes defines who he or she is|
|Self-esteem||The aspect of self-concept that involves judgments about one’s own worth and the feelings associated with those judgments|
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.
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.
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? New York: 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.