Children are watching you and what they see is what they do. This was made all the more clear to me after watching this commercial from an Australian campaign called Child Friendly. I’ll warn you, it’s hard to watch, but has a powerful message for anyone who has young children in their lives.
Many of the adults in the commercial are stressed, and responding to stressful situations in a manner we would never think is appropriate for a child care setting. But let’s face it, sometimes caring for young children can be very stressful! I know there are many times when it’s hard to remain calm with an infant who won’t stop crying, but remember that children are always watching. Have a plan so you have some relief if you’re feeling stressed, like asking your director or another teacher to swap places with you even if it’s just for a few minutes.
There are some situations in the commercial that you wouldn’t find in a child care program. Even the scenes we wouldn’t think to find in a child care center, however, like a child care provider smoking in the presence of a child, are still important to consider. Have you ever taken your smoke break in plain sight of the children you care for? What kinds of messages are we sending when we make choices we would consider “bad” for children where they can witness them?
Try to model positive behaviors when you can. Show children how to be a caring person, and how to take care of themselves, each other and their environment. If you make a mistake, try to model attitudes and positive ways to approach problems. For example, “I wonder why that didn’t work?” Use feeling words to label children’s emotions, but more importantly, model empathy. If a child is sad, acknowledge the child’s feelings and offer a hug or ask what you can do to help.
I know we all make mistakes. I have been in the classroom and raised my voice when what I should have done was to walk over and engage that child. I know there have been times, too, when it was obvious from my voice that I was frustrated. Even the very best child care providers make mistakes, every day. But the very best child care providers also learn from their mistakes. That learning process is something that children can observe and learn from, as well. It is up to the child care provider to create a caring environment and model developmentally appropriate behavior. Remember that everything you do with children, not just the curriculum you implement or the activities you plan, matters.