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Setting Boundaries and Putting Out Fires In Early Childhood

Experience matters.

Do you care for infants, toddlers, and/or preschoolers? If you do I hope that you're having a good experience doing so because it only makes sense that if your experience is good, theirs will be too.

And if your experiences are excellent, you'll be able to help provide more of what very young children need which are nurturing, responsive relationships with caring adults.

If your experiences caring for young children are poor due to financial stress, lack of support, disorganization, and/or lack of positive communication, it only stands to reason that their experiences will suffer, too.

That's why early childhood teachers and parents should never feel like they're putting out fires at work. But I know that they do.

And parents of young children should never feel super stressed about their lives. But I know that they are.

Early childhood scholars, developmental experts like those at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, and many professional early childhood teachers know how to build empathy in infants toddlers, and preschoolers. We have researched and proven methods for doing so such as, "serve and return".

I wish I could report that empathy is actually thriving in most of our homes and our early childhood education centers, but I can't. Financial stress, too much high-intensity work, lack of respect, and poor environmental conditions all play a role in the lack of empathy afforded to young children and their caregivers.

It's really hard to nurture empathy when you're so overworked you feel like you're putting out fires. Building empathy requires listening carefully to young children and validating their feelings as well as their learning.

Those things are impossible to do in certain situations.

Common obstacles to high-quality care:

  • Working parents spend around 30% of their income on childcare. This creates stress and tension.

  • Only about 10% of childcare is excellent.

  • Childcare providers make less than dog groomers or parking lot attendants

  • During unannounced visits, less than 20% of licensed centers were in compliance with ratios in infant and toddler rooms.

  • Stay-at-home parents earn less than childcare workers.

  • Childcare turnover rates are soaring. That impacts our entire society.

The United States needs to collectively address this problem. there is a huge gap in our entire economic system when it comes to the care and education of the very young.

According to brain science, infancy, and early childhood are the worst possible times to neglect children and also the biggest opportunity to enhance their learning.

Experience matters.

Professional early childhood educators know how to set boundaries with empathy for the very young. Let's support them, respect them, and learn from them.

Caring parents of the very young know their own children better than anyone else in the world and will do anything to help them thrive. Let's support them, respect them, and learn from them, too.

If we want to live in a society where people care for each other, we have to change the way we care for our youngest and change the way we care for our caregivers.

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood education at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2010. She has presented at state and national early childhood conferences.

She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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