Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Be Safe - Don't Wait - No One Deserves to Be Belittled, Berated, or Banged Around

I remember the emergency room nurse handing me the business card. Written on it were familiar words - SAAFE HOUSE, Women's Shelter. I knew of the SAAFE house, I had donated items there on occasion. It was a safe haven for women and their children in the midst of an abusive situation. I smiled and thanked her as I shoved the card into my back pocket. I wouldn't need them. I have a nice home and three children under the age of eight who deserve to stay in their stable surroundings.

My husband was arrested that evening on charges of domestic abuse for hitting me in the back of the head with his fist after an argument where I lost my temper threw his briefcase across the room and jumped on it repeatedly.

Lucky for me, I turned my head or it could have been my right eye embedded with plastic particles from my eyeglasses.

We had argued most of the afternoon about my desires for a divorce and the custody of our children. My husband is an alcoholic, a man of hot temper. It was later found that he was a drug user and most likely coming off some drug when he hit me. This finding was a shock for me, as drugs and alcohol are not part of my social circle. But, reasons don't matter. No one deserves to be hit.

Upon arriving home, my caller ID and answering machine had several noted messages from the local sheriff's department. Verbally abusive messages from my husband of his intent to harm me if I did not have him released from jail immediately.

By morning, my In-laws had made the necessary arrangements for his release. I spent one very scared day driving out of my rearview mirror feeling as if he were following me. I no longer felt safe. I had no family nearby and very little money. I had just started work as a medical assistant in a local doctor office. While I was at work, I felt safe, but once the girls were picked up from daycare the insecure feelings crept back in.

I never dreamed I would be calling a hotline number for a women's shelter. It was not an easy call to make, but a necessary one. The woman on the other end of the phone was very warm and understanding. She gave me directions to a gas station near the SAAFE house dormitory. Once there, I was to call for further directions.

By the time I packed my car with our clothes and very few precious toys the girls would not leave behind, we left our home. The drive was quiet. It was already dark outside. The girls were asleep in the backseat. I couldn't cry. I had been taught that crying isn't being brave and now I had to be brave for my children's sake.

I found the specified gas station without any trouble and phoned the shelter as directed. In order to ensure the safety of everyone staying in the shelter, I had to promise to keep their location secret. I agreed, and although the remaining directions were not difficult, I don’t believe I could have located them without their added directions. This gave me an instant feeling of security.

I had always pictured these shelters as being run down, dirty, and roach infested. To my surprise, I found a very clean and professionally run shelter.

The lady in the office appeared to be in her late fifties and fashionably dressed. She was very kind and understanding of my present situation. Upon arrival, she gave each of my children a stuffed animal. This aided in keeping them busy while I filled out the necessary papers and agreed to abide by their rules

One of the rules for statrying at the shelter was to agree to attend counseling sessions in-groups while your child(ren) played in the adjoining toy room. I was amazed at what abusive acts brought each of us to this shelter. Domestic abuse is the most common. This ranges from yelling to hitting. Yelling and name-calling paves the way to verbal abuse. Sexual abuse is also very common. People tend to think of sexual abuse in the form of rape only, but is goes beyond that. It is when bad touch goes to worse touch. Abuse is most often accompanied with threats and out of fear women, children, and even an occasion man feel they have no way out but to accept what their abuser gives.

Within the hour, we were led down a narrow hall, much like that of a motel, with room doors on either side. There was a large bulletin board on the far wall with newspaper clippings for jobs, mothers offering to watch your children while you work or just for a break, and flyers telling of upcoming counseling sessions.

Our room was small. Just enough space for the two bunk beds and a nine-drawer dresser. Luckily, the closet was spacious. It didn't matter how many beds there were. I knew the four of us would sleep together for added security. There was a small bathroom situated between our room and the room next door. At first, I felt a little uneasy sharing a bathroom with a complete stranger, but in no time at all we had settled into a routine.

There were roughly twenty people, including children, sharing this facility. My children enjoyed playing games and Barbie with the other children in the toy room. The toy room was a magnificent idea. This enclosed room was situated off the main living area and allowed children to be noisy without bothering a family who might be at dinner.

Each family was assigned a cabinet for their food and dishes. Part of settling in that first night included a trip to the kitchen and pantry where I was given food for my family. Each family agreed to clean up after themselves and a chore list was posted on the dining room wall showing each family's turn in cleaning the common area.

This was a very humbling experience. I had a hard time accepting the food I felt had been donated to the needy. I was still in denial to the fact that at that very moment my children and I were the needy. Thank you, Mom, for knowing that from so many miles away.

We stayed only three days. This was an experience I certainly didn't enjoy; however, I feel I can help those in need because I have been there. I know, I understand, and I care.

Today, divorced and solely supporting my children, I add to my grocery list, a bag of food to donate to a local shelter. This is my way of saying thanks because a shelter was there when my family needed a safe place to stay. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Preparing for a New Sibling

Thanks MacKenzie for this week's question - do you have any tips for preparing a 2 year old for a new sibling. She's finally responding positively when we talk about it (as opposed to yelling No, no baby! when we bring up the idea like she did the first few months) but I'm still worried about those first few weeks of sharing mommy.

It is tough on everyone to have a new member added to the family. Everyone has to figure out where they fit all over again. I'd say you've already got a good start.

 Talking about it and the benefits it will bring to her, such as being the BIG SISTER. Reminding her of all the things the new baby will need to learn that her BIG SISTER already knows and can teach her.

Does your hospital have a program for siblings where they take a tour, see the nursery, and encourage the BIG SISTER to be Mommy and Daddy's helper?

One thing I have seen that works well is to be sure that when you come home with the new baby, BIG SISTER has a new doll to come home, too.  Set things up at home so she can do things like change her baby's diaper, bathe her baby, feed her baby, rock her baby just like Mommy.

She will adjust, but you should expect some reversion of behaviors. She will be more clingy at first because she needs to be assured that the new baby hasn't replaced her. If she has been sleeping through the night, she may begin to wake up again. If she is making potty training progress, she may revert to the point of needing diapers again. Don't make a big deal of these things, and they will soon pass.

It will be stressful, but then, have one child in the house has been to. Congratulations to all of you. Let me know if these ideas are useful!

If anyone else has good ideas that worked for them, add your comments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Approaches to Infant and Toddler Programs

The good care approach emphasizes providing for development and personal growth during the course of caring for infants and toddlers. This responsive care approach focuses on overall developmental growth tied to the principles of affectionate, protective, responsive care.

The needs approach centers on the needs of developing infants and toddlers as a foundation for planning and implementation. The list of needs varies but usually includes a safe environment, adequate nutrition, frequent adult contact that is responsive, positive emotional climate, respect for individual differences, optimal need gratification, a moderate pace of progress from dependence to independence, sensory and exploratory experiences in the context of appropriate materials and peer contact.

Language, positive social-emotional input and task involvement of staff is the emphasis in the adult roles approach. In this approach the development of the adult, teacher or caregiver is directly tied to the quality of a child’s experience in the program.

The play-learning approach is an essential feature of the traditional interactive preschool program in which the adult serves as planner and facilitator and the child engages in play unaware of the learning that is taking place.

Maria Montessori’s program is probably the best example of the settings approach which highlights the role of objects and physical arrangements in assuring that infants and toddlers have appropriate, developmentally valuable experiences in which adults are encouraged to participate.

The developmental tasks approach is a systematic set of sequential activities designed to move a child from one developmental milestone to the next. Early childhood intervention and special education Individualized Educational Plans are normally based in this orientation to infant and toddler care.

The management of infant and toddler programs requires the establishment of the policies and procedures, forms and record-keeping systems, and the design of setting and scheduling that is indicative of the administrative approach.

Clarifying issues, building understanding and making good decisions are hallmarks of the issues approach to infant and toddler care. This approach focuses on early intervention, mother-infant interaction, parent relations, and early learning theory.

In the group program for infants and toddlers the parent-home approach is useful primarily in the development of the caregivers’ and teachers’ knowledge and skills with babies since this approach emphasizes both parent and child as learners.

In order to assure that the baby receives appropriate programming, the assessment-curriculum approach emphasizes using a system of diagnosis, curriculum and assessment.

The parent education approach highlights programming aimed at improving the parent-child relationship, the home environment, and the child’s development.

The medical-health approach centers on early identification of developmental delays, provision of preventive information, and treatment of early problems.

Specific skill training is an approach used especially in early intervention programs to provide physical therapy and skill-building. An excellent example of this approach can be found clearly delineated in Bricker (1993) and Cripe, Slentz, and Bricker (1993).

The symbolic languages approach of Reggio Emilia involves doing, reflecting and redoing. It looks for depth through observation and re-observation, representation and re-representation. (Gandini, Forman and Edwards, 1993; Edwards, Shallcross, and Maloney, 1991)

Cataldo (1983) adds to these the interpersonal-environmental approach which emphasizes that adults’ interactions, stimulation, mediation, planning, and follow-up shape much of the learning and personal growth of children. It also highlights the role of the environment of organized space and procedures, toys and materials, activities, and peer experiences in facilitating learning and development.

The highest quality program for young children must incorporate all of these approaches.

Bricker, D. ed. (1993). AEPS curriculum for birth to three years. Volume1. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Cataldo, C. Z. (1983). Infant and toddler programs: a guide to very early childhood education. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
Cripe, J., Slentz, K, and Bricker, D., ed. (1993) AEPS curriculum for birth to three years. Volume 2. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Edwards, C. P., Shallcross, D. J. and Maloney, J. Enhancing creativity in a graduate class on creativity: entering the time and space of the young child. The Journal of Creative Behavior 25(4) 304-10.
Gandini, F. L., Forman, G. and Edwards, C. (1993). The hundred languages of children: the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Dr. J. Ronald Lally has identified seven “gifts” we can offer babies and very young children. Nurturance, support and security let children know they can count on being cared for by adults who love them. Predictability, focus, encouragement and expansion facilitate the young child’s intellectual development.

Nurturance is giving. Human babies are helpless for a very long time. Infants depend on adults for warmth, feeding, and protection. Because infants are so different from each other, nurturance for one child may look very different from the nurturance of another baby even in the same home, or even each one in multiple births. As the baby feels the caregiver’s understanding and availability and experiences the comfort of connection, a strong attachment forms. Nurturance is important throughout the earliest years, although its form changes as the child grows. The immediate response appropriate to a very young infant (one can’t spoil a baby in the first year) may be replaced by the message, “I’m here if you want me.” As the infant becomes mobile, and then a toddler individualized, responsive nurturance means allowing a timid child the time and space to move slowly, while making sure that the active child has a place to be exuberant.

Support helps the child achieve the three important shifts in development that occur in the first three years. The young infant, not yet crawling, needs nurturance to develop trust in their world and the people who inhabit it. Mobile infants, from the time they begin to crawl until about 15 months, need a safe and interesting environment, respect for their growing urge to explore, and the knowledge that a trusted adult is available when needed. Toddlers, beginning at 17-19 months, need support in learning about themselves in relation to others. Adults offer these supports by acknowledging young children’s powerful feelings, encouraging curiosity and independence, and, at the same time, teaching and enforcing the rules that allow children and adults to live in harmony.
Security is closely related to nurturance and support. Infants, toddlers, and adults all need a “safe haven for development, growth, and learning. The baby or young child needs to be in a space where he can feel, “Everything’s ok. Nothing bad will happen here. There are no monsters under my bed, or in my closet” Security happens in an infant’s world when she is offered reliable nurturance and support. For toddlers, the rules of “no hitting, no destruction of property,” taught and enforced consistently, fairly and appropriately will maintain a child’s sense of security.

Predictability is a “gift” that is central to a child’s fundamental sense of security as well as critical to development.. Predictability is social (people I know will be there for me) and spatial (I know where to find the puzzles and where I can ride the tricycle). Predictability avoids both chaos and rigidity. For infants and toddlers, predictability involves rituals and rhythms throughout the day that follow sequences (nap, snack, play) rather than the clock. Nurturance, support, security, and predictability are gifts that every young child needs. Not surprisingly, nurturance, support, security, and predictability are also basic components in treatment approaches designed for young children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Before young children can explore their environment purposefully, and develop their full potential, they must feel safe. Once they find security, they can seek challenges.

Focus supports the infant or toddler’s attention in the learning environment. A young child’s attention span will increase if it is not interfered with, but it is hard for an infant or toddler to focus if there are too many people in too little space, too many toys scattered about, too much noise (including “background” music), or too many interruptions of the subtle give-and-take between child and meaningful adult. We can make it easy for young children to focus on meaningful activities by paying attention to what fascinates each child, by protecting the child from too much stimulation, and, always, by offering the calm, reliable presence that frees the child’s energy for learning.

Encouragement says to the infant or toddler, “I have confidence in your growing competence.” The wise adult understands the lessons very young children are learning as they figure out the world through imitation, using tools, and experimenting with cause and effect. We know at least half of infants and toddlers learning come from the child’s own interest and initiation. Encouragement reflects adult grounding in the science of care. The knowledgeable parent or caregiver understands how much of an accomplishment it really is when a baby succeeds in pulling a ball out from under a slide, or turns a knob that activates a music box. The adult will respond with legitimate, specific enthusiasm rather than general cheerleading or coaching.

Expansion of the young child’s learning involves “bathing the child in language.” As always, the goal is to watch the child’s cues and build on the child’s own interests, commenting on what the child is doing, talking along with the child, and encouraging the child to use words to guide himself through activities (what child development experts call “self-talk”). Another way we can
expand the child’s learning is through taking a part in the child’s play – taking on the role of the family dog in the fantasy play of two-year-olds, turning a puzzle ever so slightly so that a frustrated toddler can see the solution more easily, or adding an unexpected twist to a familiar game to challenge the imagination.

The home or child care setting (Sunday morning nursery or day care for working parents) that offers these seven gifts – nurturance, support, security, predictability, focus, encouragement, and expansion – to infants and toddlers is a good one, says Lally. The ability to offer children these gifts stands on the structural elements of quality – small groups, high staff-to-child ratios, one-on-one play with each child, and continuity of care from responsive, knowledgeable adults who are well trained and feel supported by their colleagues and work environments. The quest for quality in infant/toddler child care, Dr. Lally and others suggest, is an expedition that must engage the whole society.


The Art and Science of Child Care