Caregivers Need Self-care!!

A caregiver is defined as a person who gives of him or herself to help another person.

Based on this definition, anyone who works in the field of early childhood care and education, whether they work directly with young children or in some other capacity supporting children and families, is a caregiver! When working as a direct care provider and teacher you are giving by leading and supporting groups of children so they can develop to their full potential cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically. When working as an administrator you are working continuously to lead and support programs to be of high quality while remaining fiscally sound. As a mentor or coach you are leading and supporting other early childhood educators by observing and sharing your expertise to help them reach their full potential as a teacher and caregiver. Simply said, people who work in the field of early childhood care and education give a piece of their emotional, physical and cognitive self to the important work they do everyday.

Based on this understanding the question I pose is, how are you caring for yourself and replenishing what you give to others?

Taking care of ourselves is often a difficult concept for people who are caregivers. We see ourselves as nothing less than strong, capable, knowledgeable, and able to meet all challenges. We often choose to put our needs and mental health on the “back burner” so we can lead and support others.

As caregivers, we must come to understand we can not effectively care for others unless we are taking care of ourselves! When we are running on empty we can not be at our best. Just like the children with whom we work, we must be “refilled” on a regular basis. It is important to keep our own needs and happiness as a priority, so we can do our best to lead and support the children and adults we serve.

Summer, with the warm weather and long days, is a great time to reflect on what reenergizes and provides you with joy, and then to be sure those activities are regularly part of your life. Whether it is walking, gardening, reading, getting a manicure, taking a nap or the thousands of other things that make an individual happy, allow time for it to be a part of your life. Remember you can do more for the children and families when you replenish and care for yourself!

Reflections on Joy, Strengths and Being

I am just returning from New Orleans where I have been attending the 2015 NAEYC Institute for Professional Development. It was this year’s theme that drove me to attend The Early Childhood Profession We All Want: What Will It Take To Get Us There? As a person who is continually thinking about leadership and leadership development there are many ideas swirling in my head which will manifest themselves into various blog posts that I can share, but for today I want to keep it simple.

During one of the sessions I attended, the presenter recommended asking people what in their work gives them the most joy? She suggested, in their answer you will find their strengths. For me, my immediate answer was people and relationships. Later on I asked a group of colleagues I was talking with, “what gave them joy in their work?” As each person shared their answer, such as organizing, research, technology and building relationships, I began to see by using this simple tool; a leader could begin to build a collaborative team with diverse strengths. It also provides a natural opportunity for collective leadership allowing members of the team to lead a portion of the project using their strength. Knowing my strengths lay in relationship building and setting vision, a good organizer, researcher and technology lover would be necessary to lead other aspects of a project not in my skill set. Once again this demonstrates the sum of the parts of a team is exponentially greater then the individuals.

Perhaps even more importantly by using this tool to identify what gives a person joy in their work, they can make sure they are able to use that strength as much as possible in their daily efforts. Of course as a child care center director even though I was not crazy about creating a budget and number crunching, it was a necessary piece of my work. I could not get away from it. However, when the number crunching was starting to get me down I would remember to get up and go do a classroom visit so I could interact with the teacher and children, which always provided a little dose of joy.

Reflecting on this notion that using our strengths brings us joy, I am drawn to think about being. Being is defined as all the physical and mental qualities that make up a person. Our strengths are our most well developed qualities and part of our being. They are simply part of our authentic self and should be easily available. These qualities are not static. As part of our journey it is possible to add to and develop other qualities as we need them and they too will become part of our being. It seems logical then, when our best qualities are simply part of who we are and we are easily able to use them in our job, we are able to feel contentment and satisfaction in our work and life.

Consider then, what brings you joy in your daily work? Do you recognize it as one of your strengths? Can you add more of it throughout your workday? Is it part of your being? I hope you will take a moment to reflect on these questions. I know I plan to some more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking the EC Leadership Talk

Early Childhood Leaders speak out  for what they know is right for young children and families! 

Below is a letter to the editor I wrote concerning a possible zoning change that would limit the size of home based child care in my community.  It was published today in the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

To the Teton County Business Community and its leaders,

Child care is not just a family issue it is a community issue. Right along side housing and health care, child care is one of the most important segments of a community’s infrastructure. Without safe, affordable, child care options businesses suffer and our community suffers.

Businesses depend on their human resources to be productive and thrive. Research shows when employees lack adequate child care they can be distracted, tardy or absent, limiting them from functioning fully in the workplace.   This strain on the individual employee often produces more work and stress for their co-workers causing the entire workplace to be affected. Furthermore, lack of adequate child care often deters bright, experienced, hard working employees from returning to the workforce, causing unnecessary turnover, adding hiring and training costs to a business’s overhead, and limiting the talent available.

Let’s talk trickle down economics. Statistics show that an average annual child care tuition exceeds the annual tuition of a year at the University of Wyoming. When Teton County families, who are typically at the beginning of their earning trajectory, incur this tremendous monetary strain on their household budgets, it limits their consumption. In other words, the high cost of child care hits the bottom line of individual families, limits their discretionary spending and has repercussions for the economic growth and wellbeing of our community.

The Teton County Planning Commission is recommending a prohibition on certain home-based child care centers on high-density rural properties smaller then 10 acres. Currently, with a special use permit, these types of properties allow a home-based child care center to have up to 11 children in their care at a given time. The change would limit these small businesses to 6 children lowering the overall spaces available in Teton County. Furthermore, planning commission members stated in the May 13, 2015 Jackson Hole News and Guide article “Home Day Care Limits Loom”, day care centers are more appropriate in commercially zoned areas.

I would suggest if the proposed changes for home-based child care centers in Teton County occur, our business community will suffer. Existing home-based programs will be forced to down size, decreasing the number of child care spots available to working families as well as reducing the revenue of these important small businesses. The cost of child care will increase because home-based programs will be forced to increase rates to make up for lost revenue and potential new child care programs will be driven to pay impossibly high rents for space in commercial zones. Fewer adequate affordable child care options in Teton County will challenge our workforce and will be reflected throughout our business community.

I recommend all businesses, large and small, consider the adverse affect this proposed change will have on their employees and their ability to run successfully. Teton County’s child care needs already exceed the safe affordable spaces available. Allowing this proposal to move forward will exacerbate an already existing problem. Let’s do what is right for our community and stop this proposal from moving any further forward.

Betsy Carlin,  MS Early Childhood Studies

 

Shared Goals and Nonviolent Communication

Communication during conflict has a reputation of being aggressive and unproductive, however it does not have to be that way at all. In fact, working through opposing views using nonviolent communication (NVC) techniques can lead to overall stronger outcomes by weaving the best of all perspectives together. The Nonviolent Communication model is based on empathetically listening and honestly expressing (Center for Nonviolent Communication, 2013b). When a person listens with empathy, they observe the other person openly and without judgment, seeking to understand their feelings, needs, and motivation for their requests. When a person expresses honestly they openly share their observations, truthfully express their feelings and needs, and make their requests without demanding them.

By listening with empathy and expressing honestly, communicators and collaborators are embracing the 3 Rs of communication. They are participating in respectful, reciprocal, and responsive interactions. When listening with empathy and expressing with honesty an individual is being respectful to their communication partner by considering their unique perspective and needs. They are being reciprocal by continuously sharing ideas back and forth. They are being responsive by taking the time to understand the big picture and to come to a common solution. By using the 3 Rs a person is choosing to be a competent communicator.

When working in collaborative situations with a variety of stakeholders, everyone comes to the table with a set of goals. Often the goals are aligned, but the focus is skewed based on the needs and perspectives of the individual organization or contributor. When these organizations or individuals only focus on what will best move their work forward without considering what is best for all, then they are contributing to unproductive conflict.   When they take the time to observe and understand what they need and make a clear request, as they observe and understand the needs and requests of the other stakeholders focusing on the goals of the entire group, then they are committed to NVC.

In the field of early childhood, it seems we often live in the silos of our particular interest, home care, for profit centers, non profit centers, Head Start, TANF, higher education, accreditation, QRIS, Strong Start and other special interest groups. Although we all have a common goal focused on creating programs, policies and practices that are in the best interest of all young children, their families and the professionals who work with them, we can become skewed by our particular focus and hold tight to our needs. As a field of practice, I would suggest, all facets of the field of early childhood care and education must embrace NVC techniques and use the 3Rs of communication so we can weave together the best of what each of our perspectives are and reach our shared goal.

 

References:

Center for Nonviolent Communication. (2013a). NVC Concepts. Retrieved from

http://www.cnvc.org/Training/NVC-Concepts

Cetner for Nonviolent Communication. (2013b) The NVC Model. Retrieved from:

http://www.cnvc.org/Training/the-nvc-model

 

4 Characteristics of a Leader

In June of 2012, after 20 years, I left the director position of a hospital affiliated early childhood center to pursue new ways to support the well being of young children and families through leadership development in the field of early childhood.   At this transition in my career, I paused to reflect on my leadership style and effectiveness. What characteristics did I have that motivated others to contribute their best? What were other essential leadership characteristics? Through an ongoing process of reflection and research I identified four essential characteristics I believe a leader must possess, the ability to build positive relationships, to develop and communicate a vision, to be collaborative, and to be adaptable.

A leader who can build respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships bound in good communication is able to create an environment of trust. When relationships are established in an environment of trust, connections are made that will support the growth and commitment of others. It creates an atmosphere where people are willing to take risks and contribute their best effort.

A vision is an aspiration for the future. It helps to predict a course, create a purpose, and motivate action. When a leader is able to affectively develop and communicate a vision, then other people begin to see how they might contribute to the process. They begin to understand what the future might hold when the vision is realized.   The vision of a leader, when developed and articulated well, becomes the common vision of the group, guiding them forward.

A leader who has the ability to be collaborative recognizes the collective is greater than the individual. They understand their personal strengths and weaknesses. They value other people’s abilities and sees how they add to the overall strength of a group. They appreciate diverse perspectives and opposing ideas, constructively weaving them together to achieve strong outcomes.

A leader who is adaptable and flexible takes things one-step at a time, building on each success and challenge.  They set a vision, but they know it will be a process to get there. They understand that what appeared to be the best way to proceed at the start might not be as the process unfolds. They are open to new ideas and the possibility of diverting from the course they have set.

Leaders in the field of early childhood, whether guiding a group of children in an early childhood classroom, working with a staff, or leading a team of adults in an advocacy project, can benefit by possessing these universal characteristics. When you develop trusting relationships with each member of the group, paint a clear picture of your hope for the future, recognize what each individual can contribute, and are flexible in your plan, your accomplishments will be endless.

Families Thrive with Routines and Sail Through Transitions

Here is a piece I recently wrote for submission to our local newspaper.  

During my almost 30 year career as an early childhood teacher and administrator some of the most common advice families ask from me is how to get their child to eat or to get dressed or go to bed on time without tears and tantrums. My answer always starts with a question, “can you tell me about your routine?” As a creature-of-habit myself, I know that I depend on my rhythm and routine each day to keep me moving forward and happy. Having a basic routine helps me manage my time, move from one activity to another and reach my goals. I have a sense of how my day or week might go and it keeps stress at bay.

For young children daily routines are especially important. Without them their lives can seem chaotic and out of control. Young children do not have the ability to tell time or understand minutes and hours so they use predictable events and routines in their day to understand what comes next and keep track of their progress. Having this ability allows them to feel secure and to become confident in themselves and the world around them. They can trust their needs are going to be met, allowing them to focus on growing and developing.

When routines are predictable for young children it makes transitions to and from activities such as meals, chores and bedtime easier. They know what to expect, how they are going to get there and that their participation is not optional. When the daily rhythm remains consistent there is less room for arguments and pushback.  The following are some strategies I have found to help make routine events predictable and easier to manage.

Meals and eating can be a problematic time for young children and families. It has been well established that children need fuel in the form of healthy food to develop and learn. We also know children can be picky, choosing to eat little at meals and holding out for unhealthy snacks when they are hungry. This can be quite frustrating and worrisome for families. To help children become healthy eaters, responsible for taking care of their bodies, mealtime expectations must remain consistent. To do this the important adults in a child’s life should set meal and snack time routines that include when meals take place, where meals take place and what food is being offered. The children then become responsible for if and how much they choose to eat.   By making mealtimes predictable and eliminating on demand snacking, children learn to eat when food is served, to try new things and if they choose not to eat, they know when the next meal or snack will be served reducing the potential for argument.

Enforceable statements are an excellent tool to help children move from one activity to another, especially when the appeal of one exceeds the other. For example, when it is time to get dressed for the day, but the child would rather play with a favorite toy, an enforceable statement would be, “when you have your cloths on then you can play with the toy”. Or when it is time to clean up before going outside the enforceable statement would be “when your toys are put away then we will head outside”. The key to enforceable statements is not just saying them, but to mean what you say by following through while remaining calm. When children experience adults using enforceable statements routinely, they quickly learn to take the adult at their word and know what is expected of them.

Bedtime can be another challenging time of the day for families. The best way to eliminate much of the bedtime challenge is to develop rituals and routines that occur in the same order each night. Include activities such as taking a warm bath or reading bedtime stories to create a sense of calm and comfort. (Avoid using television or other electronics as a calming technique as they have been found to stimulate the brain). Use each step of the routine to cue the next, for example you can say “after we get your PJs on what happens next”? A great item to include as part of the bedtime routine is talking together about the day; what happened, what they enjoyed, and any frustrations they may have had. It is also a great time to discuss the events of the next day setting up expectations and preparing for any changes in routine.

Children thrive and are able to become more independent when they have the consistency and limits that are available through a predictable routine, but we all know that life happens and unexpected changes are also important for growth. Occasional unpredictability helps children learn to be flexible and resilient, especially when they know they can count on an adult to support them.  These changes help them learn to face and work through life’s problems as they occur.

In today’s world we are all juggling many things that make a consistent routine daunting, however it can also make life run a little easier. Start small, adding predictability where it may already be and don’t give in to pushback. Who knows by adding some rhythm and routine you may find everyone has a little more time for fun!

And it begins….

In June of 1992 I took a position at St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, Wyoming, as the Director of their yet unopened “day care” center, a position for which I was unprepared other than I had taught kindergarten and had been the assistant manager of the Jackson Hole ski area seasonal child care center.  I did have a K-8 teaching certificate, a BA in psychology and an enthusiasm for the work.  During the next 20 years I developed and managed a highly regarded early childhood center through the school of hard knocks, gut instinct, and a whole lot of professional development.  I also had a knack for hiring good people and had high expectations for their performance.  My ability to develop strong relationships with each member of the staff created a safe environment where they could learn and grow.   I treated everyone as a professional no matter where they were in their educational and professional journey, and in return they aspired to be professionals.

In about 2010, I began to feel antsy in my position at St. John’s.  I had become involved with WYECA my state NAEYC affiliate  and then the NAEYC Affiliate Council in various leadership roles.  Through these experiences I was beginning to recognize I had strengths as a leader.  I wanted to understand and use these strengths to contribute further to the field of early childhood care and education.  It took two more  years, but I decided I would leave my position at the St. John’s Child Care Center, I would go back to school so I could become more adept  at articulating what I had learned during my tenure as a program administrator, and  I would see where it would lead.

Today I find myself with a MS in Early Childhood Studies with a specialty in advocacy and public policy, a personal vision that all children and families will have access to affordable high quality early childhood programs, and a belief it is the field of early childhood care and education’s calling to lead the way.  Currently, research shows the field of early childhood care and education lacks the leadership capacity to effectively meet this call.  My mission for EC Consulting is to focus my career on building the leadership capacity of the field of early childhood care and education, at all levels, so we can lead the way to great things for all young children and families.