Parents are a Child’s First Teachers

4C’s Debra Chin knows you want encourage the children in your care to be independent, but if you give them too much freedom, they may get confused, misuse the freedom or make the wrong choices.  On the other hand, if you use the benefit of your experience and make all their choices for them, you could compromise their ability to make their own decisions. Read on for Debra’s experience as a mother and educator! What’s yours? – Karen

Many times, people have told me that I should back off and let my child do everything for himself, that it would help my child to learn about responsibility and become an independent individual. There is no doubt about it, as a parent I want my child to become responsible and independent. Yet, as much as I appreciate parents advocating for children, this advice sometimes makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I question how I define responsibility and independence, how it is defined for my family. I can’t stop wondering if I am a potential obstacle to my child’s learning. For me and my family, true responsibility comes from humbly consulting with the experienced, respectfully taking input from unfamiliar perspectives and supporting each other’s needs as a group or as a family. In the process of coaching my child to become responsible and independent, am I training my child to consider only his opinions, or to learn from others’ perspectives, as well?

Thinking of how I communicate with other parents made me think of how we communicate with families in the early childhood field. I reflected on how I responded to parents when I saw them spoon feeding their child, helping their child get dressed or immediately providing a solution to the problem that their child encountered. Do I confront those parents? Because I am knowledgeable in the early childhood field, does that mean I am right? Do I say “Excuse me, I don’t baby children. I let them feed themselves, dress themselves and do many things by themselves. That’s developmentally appropriate practice!”

If I did say these things, how would those parents feel about the program or about me? Many families may not define independence the same way that I do, and some things may be more important in other families, like mutual helping, interdependence or obedience to elders. In my family, we believe that children won’t be able to develop a true sense of responsibility nor become a truly independent individual until they learn to work through conflicts collaboratively with others, to take care of others’ needs and knows how to serve as a helping and contributing member in a group. But that’s just us, and I need to remember that it’s different for every family, and every child.

Family is our children’s first group experience in their life. Honoring each family’s way of life and valuing each family member in each child’s life is essential to building positive relationships. From there we can begin to meaningfully support a child’s learning and development as a whole! Only through a positive relationship with families, who have built a foundation for the children in our care, can we call what we are doing developmentally appropriate practice.