While we sometimes struggle to maintain composure within our own family, childcare teachers seem to manage a room full of children with ease. Early childhood educator Miffy Welsh shares some of her insights.
Many a parent has watched in awe as their little rule-breaker “turned on their listening ears” and diligently followed instructions at daycare. It may seem magical, but there are some simple ways to encourage similar behaviour at home.
Acknowledge their growth
As parents, we can get very hung up on what we feel our children should be doing by certain ages. But, as Miffy Welsh explains, it’s best to avoid comparing your child with others. “While it’s tempting, (and something I see in my work, and can empathise with, being a mother of two and grandmother of three), this can create anxiety for both parents and children.” Instead of pinning progress on absolutes, Miffy says she enjoys seeing children grow through areas such as:
- Unfolding oneself. Developing who they are, their identity and building self-confidence, self-reliance, self-awareness and self-expression.
- Communication. Verbal and non-verbal. The pace of this stage varies from child to child. Being understood and treated as capable communicators goes a long way to reducing frustration. They love being able to “chat” and feel valued.
- Relationships. Developing friendships and learning to work alongside others.
Help them work things out for themselves
Miffy says it’s crucial to respect and treat our children as being capable of problem solving and able to make decisions for themselves. She says parents can help encourage independence and confidence at home by:
Making time for play. Play is serious learning and, as the early childhood saying goes, “Play is the work of childhood”. Children need time to experiment with objects and ideas and to develop their own working theories about the world around them.
Active listening. Give them time to ask questions then help them work out the answers for themselves through trial and error, investigation and, when they’re older, through media and technology sources.
Allowing and providing choice. The responsibility of choosing grows self-confidence and resilience.
Encouraging contribution in family life. Having their own “jobs” to do, no matter how small (fetching their own nappy or hat, putting their plate on the bench, baking, helping with dinner), reinforces that they have an important role in their family. Remember that they are children, not mini-adults, so be careful not to place your expectations too high.
Talking, singing, telling stories. Creating a language-rich environment helps to develop their skills in communication, conversation, listening, empathy and more.
Prepare for the tricky bits
Even the most laid-back little one can get the wobbles at drop-off. Miffy has some great strategies to help work through those anxious times.
“Knowing the child well provides the teaching team with good insight into making arrivals and departures less stressful for everyone (most importantly for the child).” With that in mind, develop a settling plan before you start a new childcare centre, so that the teachers have a clear picture of the individual needs for your child. What do you do to comfort at home? What are their favourite things, or things to do? How do they settle for sleeping, toileting and dressing themselves?
Discussing the plan for the day with your child before leaving home is really helpful. Let them be part of the discussion: who will take them? Who will pick them up? What fun things might they do that day? Talk about the friends they play with and special teachers they like to see. Making it into an adventure and being part of the adventure with them keeps it fun and exciting.
See your relationship with your centre as a partnership and involve yourself when time allows. Taking time to view the special things of interest to your child during that day sends a message that there is a real sense of belonging for them and that what they do really matters to you and your family.
Establish a clear routine at drop-off times, such as doing one activity together (e.g. reading a story, drawing a picture) then waving to you at the window and you waving back as you leave.
Be careful not to say you’re going and then hang around talking, as children can become apprehensive when they’ve prepared themselves for you to leave.
Don’t put expectations on them, such as “Be a good girl” (saying that sounds like you don’t trust her to be), “Don’t get dirty”, “Don’t wet your pants”. And try not to share your detachment worries with your child by saying things like, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay? I hate leaving you.” Children need the reassurance from you that there’s a loving, fun adventure in the day ahead.
Keep it real and take it outside
“It’s so important to have real life experiences as they are essential to brain development. A picture of ice on a television screen and ice in the hand are two very different experiences and concepts. Children need the real thing to form optimum brain connections.
“Regularly exposing children to new experiences and challenging them a little step beyond what they can already do offers them the very best brain connections.
“Get outdoors! There are copious developmental tasks that can be achieved outside. The experiences to be gained through exploration, risk-taking, discoveries and investigations all naturally provide opportunities for imagination, creativity and motor development. Adventures outside also provide for absorption of vast amounts of knowledge and skills. It is the most holistic learning environment we can offer our children. Haven’t some of your happiest memories from childhood been outdoors?”
Recognise the fleeting nature of childhood
Above all else, Miffy has an immense appreciation for the little people in her life.
“Early childhood is but a moment in time. The miracle of how much children learn and discover in that fraction of time is absolutely mind-boggling. To be present for those first discoveries, accomplishments and wonderment of the world around them is a real honour for both parents and teachers. It’s amazing to experience life alongside our little people – to anticipate it, remember it and enjoy being part of the adventure.”
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