Conquering My Fears: Working Beside Caregivers

Last week, I started my field placement at an early years centre. It was a very different experience compared to working in the traditional child care centre: caregivers are present with their child(ren) for the duration of their stay at the centre.

I felt awkward.

How was I going to hold decent conversations with caregivers? I’m not a small-talk person, so I had no idea what to say to them after the initial “How are you?” greetings. I also did not feel confident about my knowledge of child development to be saying anything to parents at this time. After all, they are the experts on their own children. What do I know? It was my first couple of days and I don’t even know anyone there.

I felt intimidated.

How was I going to interact with children while their caregivers are watching? It’s not like they’re in another part of the world watching us through a screen. Oh, no, not at all. They are physically nearby and could react (positively or negatively) to every little thing you do right then and there–intimidating. Some of them played with their own children (which they have a right to, of course); I did not want to interfere with their bonding moments. Others, I felt were watching me standing awkwardly or walking around the play area aimlessly, sticking out like a sore thumb.

I was afraid and anxious.

I did my best to observe and get to know the centre and the program. I tried to approach children who were not playing right beside their caregiver so that I did not feel intimidated, but there were few of them. I attempted to make conversations with parents and ask them about their children, but they may not have been ready to share anything with me. On my second day at the centre, I felt so anxious that I had to take a break and cry in the washroom for a moment before recomposing myself and going back out again.

My first week at the early years centre made me want to drop my field course.

The staff at the centre are all wonderful people. They also tried to reassure me that every one of them had had the same initial experience of trepidation. They told me that, in time, I will get used to it and feel more comfortable working alongside caregivers (literally).

Still, I felt super awkward, intimidated, and afraid.

On my third day (the next week), I got so anxious in the morning about the prospect of facing caregivers again, in a setting I was not comfortable with, that I missed that placement day.

So that evening I went up to one of my professors and asked for advice.

She was very understanding of my situation, but instead of giving me her perspective on the situation as an educator, she told me what caregivers may be thinking or feeling when they go to an early years centre. As a parent who has brought her child(ren) there, she told me that most caregivers do not want to be lectured, but that they are there to unwind while their children play. She said that most caregivers will not mind if an educator (or student-educator) played with their children. She also reassured me that the caregivers who drop in at early years centres are not there to be critical of me, especially when they know I am a student.

It really helped a lot to hear the perspective of a parent.

The next day, I gathered up my courage and pushed myself to attend Day 4 of placement.

It is said that “courage is not the absence of fear“. Rather, courage is doing something regardless of how much it may be frightening for one. And most often than not, courage pays off.

I felt much more at ease on Day 4. I still felt awkward and intimidated, but I felt brave enough to power through the day and interact with the families visiting the centre.

I am still in the process of conquering my fears, but I am beginning to like working in an early years centre and now look forward to my next days at placement. Will I improve? Will I feel better and better each day? Only time will tell.

How would you feel working alongside caregivers (geographically, literally) throughout the day?

Would you have felt the same as I did? Or would you welcome such an arrangement and thrive in this kind of environment right from the start?

What would you have done?

The Essence of Inclusion

Image via Instagram/ThePlayProcess

​I almost cried reading Andrea’s story.

This page shines a light on the importance of inclusion. It reminds me of the movie Rain Man wherein “separating [people with exceptionalities] from the majority of the population [further] makes it difficult for both parties to understand each other” (Amigleo, 2016).

I love that “being confined to a wheelchair was not one of Katie’s outstanding characteristics for [Andrea]” (Eileen Allen, et al., 2015, p.16) due largely to her inclusive learning environment.

I believe that inclusive early childhood programs truly create a benchmark for quality early childhood education for all children. In making sure that the early learning environment is inclusive and supportive of children with all kinds of abilities, it provides quality care for each unique child who enters the program. It shows the children that everyone is capable and unique in their own ways, yet each has the same needs to be loved, accepted, and cared for.

References

Amigleo, C. (2016). Rain Man: A journey to acceptance and understanding. In The play process. Retrieved from https://theplayprocess.com/rain-man-media-review/

Eileen Allen, K., et al. (2015). Inclusion in early childhood programs: Children with exceptionalities, 6th Canadian ed. Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd

Separation Anxiety: What to do?

Recently, a child started at the child care centre I volunteer at.

It seems as if she has had no previous experience being at a centre and away from her family. On Thursday, her fourth day without her parents at the centre, she cried for the whole day and asked “Where’s Mommy and Daddy?”

As soon as she came into the classroom, one of the educators took the child in her arms as the parents left and the child cried. The educator tried to distract her by introducing her to me, but the child only wanted to be held. She reached out her arms to me and the educator passed her on. (As a volunteer, I had more opportunity to spend one-on-one attention with the children because I was not counted for ratios and I had less responsibility with the overall class.) I attempted many times to get the child down and play throughout the morning, but she seemed to feel so miserable that nothing took her away from her sadness.

I took her to the window and we watched the toddlers play outside. The child continued to look for her parents through the window and pointed to a car that she thought was “Daddy’s car”. She still felt sad, but her crying has dwindled down. As I started to feel tired carrying her, we sat down at the book centre and I read her some books. She cried again. I tried to take her to different areas of the classroom to play, but she still refused to do anything but cry. Eventually, I was advised to ignore the child’s crying. So even as I held her at the book centre and rocked her a little bit, I turned my attention to another child and read a book with him. Soon, I had to leave her to get the children’s coats and to help everyone get ready for outdoor play.

Outside, I did what I could not to pay attention to her crying, but I did my best to coax her to play. As I ran around the playground with other children, she followed us and ran along. She also smiled as she went down the slide a few times, which she did only if I went with her to the slide structure. She followed me as I walked around the perimeter and interacted with different children. She also showed me a purple ball outside the fence and asked if we could get it. Later, she played with a small hopper ball before asking if I can help her get on the large one. For a moment, she seemed to have forgotten her woes: she stopped crying and she engaged in play.

However, it was short-lived. As soon as the class headed back inside, she cried again. She continued to do so throughout lunch, nap time, and part of work time. She only hushed when an educator sat with her in the circle and reminded her saying, “I’m here.” Then, as soon as she saw her grandmother at the door, she bolted and hugged her.

Throughout this whole incident, I was not sure what to do.

I wanted to comfort the child, but I did not know how, considering my attempts at explaining to her that her parents will be back for her, I assume, were not understood. She also did not take well to having her attention diverted while inside the classroom. I thought that following the advice given to me was best. Or at least, I hoped that ignoring the child’s crying would help her stop the behaviour since only outdoor play has done it for her and I had no authority to take her or the whole class out for a longer period. I felt the child’s sadness but did not know how to make her feel better.

Miller (2016) says, “Children need caregivers’ patient emotional support to get them through the ordeal of separation anxiety” (p. 61), but I still wonder how I could provide this emotional support. Is ignoring the child’s crying appropriate at any point? Does giving her attention coddle her? In what other ways can I communicate to her that the child care centre is a safe place for her and that she will see her parents again soon?

I want to give her the extra attention she needs, but how do I do that without stepping on anyone’s toes (i.e. those of the educators’, who are in charge of the classroom)? What if she gets used to getting the extra care but the time comes that I am unable to give her that? What happens when I’m not around—would I be one of those people she cries for when she feels anxious or will she look for that extra attention from the other educators?

Each child is different and each educator is equally unique. I just hope that I could follow through what I think is right for the children when time comes that I have my own classroom to manage.

References

Miller, D.F. (2016). Positive child guidance, 8th ed. Massachusetts: Cengage Learning.