When a small child’s physical and emotional needs are tended to and responded to in a timely manner, they are given a sense of safety and security.
A responsive, loving and consistent caregiver helps to provide the child with a sense of trust in their environment and the people in their lives. With this security, children are then able to expand their understanding of self and their place in the world around them in a healthy and positive manner.
The program the children are attending is often replacing the nuclear family’s daily role in providing a healthy and safe atmosphere which supports children’s inherent need to be loved and cared for.
More and more young children are now being placed in non-relative childcare situations and ensuring that these children are given the necessary care and tools they need to develop into whole human beings is crucial.
Nurturing young children can often be looked at as three-fold: head (thinking), heart (feeling) and hands (physical body). When a child is nurtured and cared for head, heart and hands they are provided with a balanced foundation that will later assist the child to successfully cope and find his or her place in the world around them.
Here are some ways in which we can help our children discover a true sense of self and pride in their accomplishments:
Promote a Positive Outlook
When we embrace life and our experiences positively we are modeling this outlook for our children. Children are watching how we, as caregivers, respond to the individuals and situations that come into our lives.
Young children learn primarily through imitation. Caregivers and parents must work hard to ensure that the children in their care are surrounded by people, actions and activities that are worthy of being imitated.
Luckily, we can choose our thoughts and reactions at any given moment. Over time, a positive outlook can become second nature. Focusing on the positive helps children to know that the world truly is a good place
There are many ways you can promote a positive outlook in your childcare or family setting:
One Good Thing
At dinner time, ask each family member to talk about one good thing that has happened to them during the day. This activity can be adjusted for an early childhood program by asking children during circle time to talk about one good thing in their lives.
I’m Special’ Treasure Box
Have children write one nice thing about themselves on a piece of paper each day. Put the paper inside a special box and when your child is having a bad day, have them sit and look at all of their special qualities and blessings.
Use positive affirmations. Teach yourself and children to use positive self talk especially in times of difficulty. Statements such as “I am beautiful”, “I have family that loves me” and “I am a good girl” can be very affirming to children when repeated over and over again.
It can help to write these down in a special book and add to it frequently. Have children choose a few to read aloud and think about daily. Parents and caregivers can benefit deeply by doing this exercise daily in their own journals as a tool to change their attitude to a more positive one.
Create a Nurturing Environment
In my childcare space, we take great care in creating a natural, nurturing, home-like environment that stimulates children’s bodies, spirits and souls.
Most play materials are kept simple and usually made of all-natural materials such as wool, wood, cotton and silk. Loud electronics or constant background noise is kept to a minimum. We have chosen a paint color in a soft pink hue to create a peaceful feeling in our playroom. The childcare room is kept organized and tidy as best as possible and children are taught where items belong and how to care for our things. We garden with the children and spend a lot of time outdoors to help them to learn the magic of the natural world around them.
Caring for Children Physically
When children are cared for physically with love and care, it also feeds them spiritually. Young children should be kept warm and dressed appropriately. In our childcare program, we often wear slippers indoors to keep the children’s feet warm. We promote healthy and wholesome foods from home and prepare nourishing homemade snacks that the children often help prepare themselves. Another important part of physical care is making sure children are getting enough rest in the evenings and taking time out during the day to rest and be in silence.
In addition, children need loving physical touch. Caregivers who cuddle, hug, rock and display loving physical gestures are letting children know that they are loved and special. Diapering and bottle feeding is done with gentleness and care as we remind ourselves that these times are also bonding experiences for the very little ones. During nap time, we often rub the children’s backs individually for a few minutes to help them to feel safe and loved before going to sleep.
Maintaining a Healthy Rhythm and Routine
Children thrive when they are provided with a healthy flow and rhythm to their day. A consistent and predictable routine is of great comfort to small children. At Little Acorn Learning, we work hard to have established times for various activities that the children can depend on. Here is an example of our daily and weekly routine:
8:30 Arrival – Free Play – Coloring
9:00 Morning Circle – Fingerplays – Songs
9:30 – Scheduled Activity -(Monday: Baking/Cooking, Tuesday: Painting, Wednesday: Coloring, Thursday: Crafting/Games, Friday: Housework)
10:00 – Healthy Snack
10:30 Nature Walk – Outdoor Play
12:00 – Eat Lunch Family Style (Outdoors in Nice Weather)
1:00 – Storytime/Quiet Music or Songs
1:30 – Nap/Rest Time
3:30 – Wake – Wash Up – Bathroom/Diapers
3:30-4:30 – Free Play Indoors or Outdoors
4:30 – Dismissal
In our experience, a healthy routine accompanied by a good night’s sleep has also made a huge difference in the behavior of many children who were struggling in a childcare setting.
Provide Opportunity for Open Ended Play
It is important for us to allow children to have playthings that allow endless possible scenarios so children are allowed to work from their own imagination creating something out of nothing.
This sense of accomplishment will encourage the child to expand upon his own creativity and trust his abilities as he or she grows. It is also important to remember that when working with very young children, it is the process that is most important, not the finished product.
Open-ended creative activities such as watercolor painting, clay modeling or block building where children are creating something out of their own imagination help show the child that they are capable of creation.
Practical Life Skills
Young children can gain a sense of pride in their abilities by accomplishing small practical life tasks such as buttoning, zipping, putting on shoes, setting the table or helping to cook a meal.
Even more difficult jobs, such as shoveling, organizing, laundry and home improvements can be shared with young children. Oftentimes, it can seem easier for adults to just complete the tasks that need to be done on their own; however; allowing the children to work along side of you helps to build positive self-esteem and also occupies the children when caregivers and parents have tasks to complete.
Spending Time and Being Fully Present
Of course, one of the best ways to show your child that they are valuable and special is to spend time with them. Spending true focused time with children shows them that they are important. Taking the time to make eye contact with the children and truly participate in the current moment is so very important to a child’s development of a healthy self-esteem.
In our very busy lives, we often turn to electronics and media to occupy our children. Even more often, we, ourselves, are preoccupied and half-listening to our children while focused on our own work or tasks. Your time is one of the most precious gifts you can give the children in your life. It is important for us to show them that they are special enough to have our undivided attention.
While most of us know the correct way to handle situations and the many things we should do, we oftentimes make poor choices. Raising and caring for children is hard work and none of us should be expected to do it flawlessly.
When we find that we have handled a situation (or many situations) poorly, it is important to let our children know that we have made a mistake. This shows children that when they make a mistake they are worthy of their own forgiveness as well.
No matter where you are in your journey of caring for young children, you are able to start again and make positive changes to do better. When we are able to love and forgive ourselves and our imperfections openly, we are able to move forward with a passion and positively influence the lives of those children who cross our path.
Eileen is a work-at-home mother to four daughters. She writes and publishes monthly nature guides for parents and caregivers of young children at Little Acorn Learning and has many ideas and activities for parents on her blog at Eileen’s Place