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Make your New Year’s resolutions count!

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced the sudden burst of motivation that comes in early January, as holiday indulgences make their way to the waistline and New Year’s resolutions force a new look at the figure we see in the mirror.  “This is the year,” so the resolution goes, “that I vow to lose ten pounds and keep it off.”  Other common variations include goals to get back to one’s “true” weight, to fit into a smaller size, etc.  And worthy resolutions they are.  Sadly, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously short-lived, if not completely forgotten by February.

Make your new year's resolutions count!

So, let’s talk about how we can make one big resolution for the New Year: How can you be more positive? How can you impact the children and families you serve?  It’s easy to complain—everyone does it sometimes.  But what if you don’t complain, or at least try not to?  Being positive does not mean overlooking issues in your program that need addressing.  It’s important to point out problems in a professional way and solve them as team.  You might have said things like, “I don’t like the food” or “The paper towels aren’t very soft,” “The pay is low,” and “Some parents don’t appreciate us.”  All of those statements may be true, but do they really matter?  If they matter enough, work to change them.

It’s easier to have a good attitude when you direct attention away from yourself and focus on the needs of others.  No more complaining or “poor me” attitudes allowed.  You took a position in early childhood education to help young children, but contrary to what most people think, it’s not the responsibility of your employer or your supervisor or anyone else to make you happy –that’s your job.  Your employers don’t owe you; you owe them.  Now, don’t misunderstand, you should never be treated with disrespect or work in an environment that is physically or emotionally unsafe for the children or you.  But we tend to focus on our own needs rather than the needs of others.  Keep your focus on the children, and you’re likely to have a better attitude.

Now, let’s take this one more step.  Not only are you going to be positive and professional, you are going to help others be positive and professional.  When you hear someone say something negative, say something positive.  I realize that being overtly positive might not be a part of your natural tendency or personality, and it takes you out of your comfort zone.  Push yourself.  Make being positive a habit.

I suggest a few more steps:  Choose the right resolution, for the right reasons.  Create a plan and stick to it.  Stay on track.  With a good plan, making significant progress toward your goal may require very little discipline and you can make great strides by following the original plan.  My final piece of advice, remain flexible and keep on going!  Build in flexibility into your expectations; we can simply adjust things as we go.  Make the New Year a happy and productive one for your children, families and co-workers.  On behalf of our 4C staff, we wish all of you a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2014.

When tragedy affects children in your care

Helping children deal with loss

Image courtesy of

This is a hard topic for me to write about, but it’s one that has been quietly asking to be written for several months. Everyone has had an experience with loss in some way, including children in our care. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. Different children handle it in different ways.

Some children may get very distraught over a death, some may cry, get angry or be distant for a while, and some may not show any outward signs of sadness. In my former middle school after-school program, one of the children had been in a car accident. I arrived at the school the next day, greeted by two children running up to me announcing “Lydia’s DEAD.” It was such a blunt, unemotional statement that I didn’t believe them at first. They were doing what they could to cope at the time, and they probably had as much difficulty believing it themselves. When a loss occurs that affects a child in your program, whether it’s a pet or significant person in their lives, some children need lots of support; others need lots of space. It’s important to pay attention to know which, and it may change at a moment’s notice.

2. Acknowledge the children’s feelings.

Allowing children to express their feelings without fear of being dismissed or disregarded is critical in their grieving process. They need a safe space—it may be difficult for them to express their feelings at home if others are grieving themselves. Be a figure of stability in the child’s life, which may be in a state of confusion and disarray. You may also have to be there for the families as well, and acknowledge their feelings, too. I attended the funeral of the child who had been in the car accident. It was important to me to show my support to the family.

3. You may not be able to empathize with a child’s situation. That’s ok.

Empathy means that you have been in the position before, and have a first-hand understanding of what the children are going through. If you have never had a pet before and a child grew up with a dog that passes away, it wouldn’t be easy to understand why the child has such strong emotions about it. Even if you have been to funerals of great-uncles or third cousins, a child who experiences the death of a sibling or parent is going to have a very different level of grief. Sympathy is always appropriate—to feel sadness or concern for someone going through a hard time. Express sympathy to let them know you care; they’re going to need to know that you will listen even if that’s all you can do.

4. It may take the children days, weeks, months or years to come to terms with it.

Death gets easier to manage with time. The amount of time differs from child to child. When I was teaching in a school where several of my cousins attended, one of their teachers approached me early in the school year. It was the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s death and my young cousin had arrived at school crying. I was able to console her, as she knew I was having similar feelings. You may have children in your program who, weeks after a death occurred, are still bringing it up. You may have children (or parents) who share that it is the anniversary of a death that unearths feelings of grief. Just because it wasn’t a recent event doesn’t mean it isn’t a big deal to them.

While I know this may be a hard topic for you as well, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Marketing 101: Boosting Enrollment in Your Child Care Program

“All the marketing in the world is not going to help if you do not offer a quality program.”

I often get asked, “What are the best ways to build enrollment in my early childhood program?”  There’s no easy answer. As a matter of fact, a good marketing program coupled with a mediocre early childhood program will actually lead to declining enrollment. Why? Because a good marketing program means that people will learn sooner rather than later of the program’s poor quality. Parents are smart consumers. You can bring them in with smooth talking and glitzy marketing, but if the program is not high quality, parents will not stay. Parents will also not refer their friends, family, co-workers or neighbors unless you offer a top quality program that meets their needs and their children’s needs.

Want to boost enrollment in your child care program? We can help!

There are many good evaluation tools and checklists you can use to assess your program’s quality. My favorites include the booklets published by NAEYC’s National Academy of Early Childhood Programs and the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales. I encourage all directors to take a look at your program and make any necessary changes before beginning a full scale marketing program.

You already know that it is important to know how many young children and families live in your area. However, you also need to know something about the families you want to attract to your program. What benefits and features of an early childhood program appeal to them? What is the average size of these families? How old are the children? Where do the parents live and work? Why would they want to come to your center? When you know some of these answers, you will know what types of written materials to develop for them, how to reach them when you promote your program and what to talk about when they call and visit.

Once you know your parents a little better, plan how you’ll appeal to them. Do you have a brochure? How about a logo? Are you advertising in places that reach your potential parents? I was once taught the 5 P’s that may help: PRICE, PROGRAM, PLACE, PROMOTION and PARENTS. All 5 should be working together. For example, the price should be one the parents you are trying to attract can afford, and your program should be consistent with the needs in your neighborhood. And remember: what you’re marketing should be reflected in the quality of care the children in your center are receiving.

Know what makes your program special. What makes your program different from, and better than, all the other early childhood programs in your area? Why do parents come to your center rather than the one down the street?  However you answer this – your staff/child ratios, extracurricular programs, price or teacher qualifications – becomes your competitive advantage.  It should become the foundation of your marketing efforts.

Know your competition. Visit them, not just once, but periodically during the year. Find out tuition prices, their services, the kinds of families they attract and what makes them special. When you know your competition, you know what you are doing better. This becomes the focus for everything you do to build enrollment. Be careful how you define your competition. Don’t limit yourself to other programs just like yours. For example, if you are an all day child care center, are family child care homes competing with you for children? How about public school programs? It is important to look at all programs that offer services to children in your area.

The last step is to develop a strategy for action. Make no mistake about it: a center without an action plan will not succeed in building enrollment. There are too many distractions in your job as director to keep you from building enrollment. So when you’re ready to get started, be realistic, be patient, remain committed, do some delegating and have fun. Action plans and knowing your target audience will get you enrollment and happy customers.

Every Day is Awareness Day

Mark this on your calendars: August 13, National Left-Handers Awareness Day! No need to engage the marching bands and plan the parade, but to some of us (about 10 percent of the population) this is some exciting news. Who knew? I’ve been a proud member of this club since birth (full disclosure – some time ago) and never knew we had our own day!

Now, we don’t really need much research to know that many children face lots greater issues and challenges than left-handedness. The important point here is awareness; awareness that every child is an individual, and has his unique characteristics and needs. It starts with awareness, and THEN our challenge is to continually find ways to best meet those needs.

I think most of us know by now that it is not appropriate to try to change handedness. I’ll give my parents and teachers credit, even “way back then” they didn’t make any efforts to do that (although it often happened). Still, in retrospect, a little more awareness and effort to support some of the unique needs of left-handedness would have helped. Honestly, we’re all not just clumsy and awkward! For example, many of us struggle to find our own way of gripping the pencil, bending our wrists, twisting in our chair, turning the paper, etc. to write from left to right. As we do this we can’t really see what we are writing, and our hand or arm often smear or blur the pencil or the ink. I guess I’ve spent most of my life with print residue on the sides of my left hand and fingers! And, regardless of politics, I think most left-handers feel some bond with our President when we see him officially signing a document, arm and hand bent around the pen so as not to smear the ink. Then of course there are the scissors, the computer mouse, spiral notebooks and ringed binders. The list goes on.

“Opposite-handed” teachers and parents can innocently create some confusion for young children, as well. For example, my husband and I are both left-handed, and it took us a while to figure out there were some skills we needed to teach in a “mirror-image” sort of way. Fortunately our two right-handed children are in their forties and have been tying their own shoes for some time now.

The left-handed challenge is not all bad. A little research shows that we are a resilient and resourceful bunch. I like being in the company of Beethoven, Einstein and Oprah!

Meet the Bloggers!

Spring is a season of change, and Growing Children welcomes four new bloggers: Christine Fields, infant/toddler specialist; Angie Good, infant/toddler specialist; Karen Middendorf, veteran blogger at our blog for parents, “Blink–and They’re Grown,” and director of professional development; and Stephannie Kennedy, professional development coordinator.

Julie and Janine will continue blogging, and we hope to keep giving you the best in conversations from the field of early education and care!