Just as you have been seeing examples of professionals partnering with toddlers, so have you been provided examples of how to partner with parents. Janis Keyser (2007) wrote a popular book on how to partner with parents. See Strategy Box 3.2 for more ideas of how to work with parents in a partnership way.

Working with Families Around Issues of Identity Development Carol Brunson Day writes about how very young children in child care are developing an identity, which she defines as a “set of organized beliefs about themselves that influ- ences how they behave in social settings.” The toddler program is a social setting. Day

Figure 3.3 Helping children cope with loss and separation in child care

• Make the first visits short • Support parents to be patient with the separation process • Encourage parents to make time for a slow departure, not a prolonged one, but

time enough for the child to settle in and then say good-bye • Help parents create a predictable good-bye routine, that never includes sneaking out • Acknowledge and accept feeling, rather than distracting a child from them • Allow the child to have a transitional object from home to hold on to during good-bye • Allow children to play out their feelings • Recognize that children may resist sleep at nap time because it means giving up


Check Your Understanding 3.3

Click here to check your understanding of Coping with Loss and Separation.

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Supporting Families with Autonomy-Seeking Youngsters 67

goes on to say that very young children in child care may also be learning that they belong to a particular group. How that group is regarded by others can impact their feelings about themselves. Their feelings are also influenced by how they perceive the other family mem- bers regard their own identity (Brunson Day, 2010, p2).

In other words, toddlers are busy figuring out who they are and where they belong. They are developing a sense of self. The goal of the toddler program should be to grow a relationship with families, a relationship in which you can discuss sensitively, with the each one, their ideas about what their toddler needs in terms of identity development. Part of this discussion may include the practices in your program. It may also include expectations for the toddler’s behavior in that setting.

A word of caution here: If you are well-educated in child development and/or early care and education, you may not see how European-American culture is im- bedded in what you have learned—in spite of the fact that child development theory is based on research. You may be the authority in your program, but all families may not regard the standard practices of the program as appropriate for their toddler. Of course, some may be very pleased that their child is learning to behave as others do in what is sometimes called “the mainstream culture.” But others may have had the experience of children turning their back on the home culture (and language as well) as they enter the mainstream of the society. Most early childhood professionals who have been in the field for a long time know families where the children can no longer communicate with some family members because they have lost their home language. You may have had that experience yourself. To put it sim- ply: Maintaining their children’s ethnic identity and home language can be a struggle for some families. It is our job as professionals to recognize that is- sue and do what we can to understand just what each family in our programs wants for its children.

As you work to form partnerships with parents and other family mem- bers, it’s important to understand perspectives that may be different from yours. For example, you may be allowing toddlers to express their feelings to you— an accepted practice in early childhood education. Parents may see that behavior as disrespectful to an elder. Here’s another example: you may assume that the parent who brings the child is in charge of that child. That may be a wrong assumption. It may not be clear just who is in charge in any particular family. It may be a grandpar- ent or other elder. Respecting varying degrees of status can be very important in the communication involved in developing relationships with family members.



Culture matters! The challenge for professionals in toddler programs is to help each child develop in ways that keep him or her attached to their family and culture. On the other hand, the family may see the program as a way of helping the child fit into the mainstream culture. They may see that it’s their responsibility to insure that the child maintains and grows in the home culture. Only by developing a relation- ship with family members, can the professional understand who they are and what they want for their child.

Broadening Perspectives While you are broadening your perspective in order to understand each family and its child’s behavior, there are also lots of opportunities to help a parent broaden his or her perspective. Take the parent who thinks her child’s personality is warped because the child is displaying a good deal of defiance and other kinds of nega- tive behavior. You can offer up the information that you have about the stage of autonomy, which may help the parent see the behaviors in a slightly different light. If this is a first-time parent, she may not realize that children aren’t toddlers forever. You can lend perspective the parent may not have. On the other hand, you may won- der why this child crawled under the table and refused to come out when the nurse came to give eye exams. The parent might tell you something you didn’t know about the child’s medical history and the painful procedures he had to go through for a long time. Maybe you didn’t know that he had been hospitalized periodically. With this knowledge the extreme reaction makes more sense. In this case your perspective is broadened.

In conclusion, although you might have entered the early care and edu- cation profession because you love children, there is more to it! It’s very im- portant that, as a professional, you broaden your focus to embrace the family as well. You don’t have to love them, but you do need to respect them as the most important people in their children’s lives! For more information about supporting children and families, go to the website for the Early Head Start National Resource Center.

Creating Partnerships with Families ◆◆ Work hard to create and maintain a relationship with each family. Part of it is

everyday behavior—greeting family members by name every time you see them. Squeeze in conversations wherever you can.

◆◆ Recognize that demonstration is a strong teacher. This chapter offered examples of how early educators and other professionals can model behaviors for families to give them insights and expand their repertory of guidance approaches.

◆◆ Recognize that you can also learn from observing. If you encourage the parents to demonstrate for you how they do things, you may also gain insights and expand your knowledge and skills.

◆◆ Find ways to share power with the families even though you may have many barriers in the way, such as funding requirements, regulations, and other kinds of mandates.

Check Your Understanding 3.4

Click here to check your understanding of Partnering with Families of Toddlers.

St ra

t e g y

Box 3.2

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Supporting Families with Autonomy-Seeking Youngsters 69

SUMMARY This chapter explored the variety of behaviors that toddlers show when they are de- veloping autonomy. It gave signs of developing autonomy and offered ideas of how to work with parents around the issues that arise in this stage of development. Deal- ing with issues of power and control, what those behaviors look like, and what adults can do to work with the child was also explored. Coping with loss and separation can be a painful part of toddlerhood and again, information about how adults can help was included. An ongoing theme throughout the chapter was partnering with parents to support them and help them see that the toddler behaviors that may be considered difficult are part of an important developmental stage.

QUIZ Click here to check your understanding of Chapter 3, “Supporting Families with Autonomy-Seeking Youngsters.”

FOR DISCUSSION 1. Do you agree that negativity, exploration, self-help skills, and a sense of posses-

sion are indeed signs of developing autonomy? What are some examples? Can you think of other signs?

2. Have you ever known a family that valued interdependence over independence? Which parts of this chapter would not pertain to them? Which parts would?

3. How much do you help a child who is struggling to do something on his or her own? What experience do you have in teaching self-help skills? Do you agree that children should be given opportunities to do things on their own, or do you feel better about helping children, especially when they are struggling? Which was stressed more when you were growing up—independence or interdependence?

4. How does typical toddler behavior relate to power issues? Can you give an example of how an adult can empower a toddler? Does everyone agree that toddlers need to feel powerful? How are power and autonomy related?

5. Saying good-bye can be hard for some children. What experience do you have with helping children cope with separation issues? What advice would you have for a parent who is leaving his or her child in child care for the first time? What advice would you have for the teacher/caregiver or family child care provider of that child?

Child Welfare Child Welfare is a government organization with the goal of protecting children and strengthening families.

Parent Services Project The Parent Services Project focuses on parent leadership training, community outreach, and early childhood profes- sional development to support partnering with families.

Let the Children Play This website is an inspirational resource full of images and ideas for creating beautiful learning environments for children.

Zero to Three Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families is for parents and professionals. A leading


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