Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s description of professional is: relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill. Listening to a group of “professionals” recently had me reflecting on what exactly could be called professional about anything they were saying or for that matter, doing. In a “profession,” is it possible to be professional in some areas and not in others? Over the years I have come to realize there are many different definitions of what family child care providers call “quality, professional care” for children. Although I won’t even try to put a definition to “quality or professional care,” I have found there are different levels family child care providers go through to reach their own definition of professionalism.
Watching vs Intentionality
In the beginning, some providers start out “watching” someone else’s child/children in their home for various reasons; a friend, neighbor or relative needs someone to care for their child while they work, the provider needs an additional income, has no training and decides it would be easy to watch a couple of children, or the provider needs additional income, but wants to stay at home with her/his own children. Whatever the reason, two things usually happen: the provider becomes overwhelmed and chooses not to continue or the provider becomes “intentional” in what she/he does.
Intentionality isn’t something that just happens. Often we rely on things we learned through our own instincts or experiences – the way we respond to children or crisis situations and we all know when caring for children there are many “crisis moments” in their young minds. Think back on some of the ways your parents raised you, their responses to different things that happened, the rituals and routines. Do you sometimes find yourself seeing your parents in the things you do or say? This is where training and education make a difference in how professionals, based on the latest research, handle the day-to-day business of working with children. The more training and education you have in early childhood development, the easier you will find it to interact with the children in your care. Knowing what developmental stage a child is in and what is expected will provide you with the tools necessary to make your day and the children’s day run more smoothly.
Attitudes can and do make or break a child care provider. One of the things you must look at is your appearance. Do you wake up in the morning just before the doorbell rings, throw on a robe and run to the door? Although there are some days we would all like to do that regardless of the jobs we are in, would you go to the office dressed in your pajamas with your hair uncombed and eyes half-closed? This is not to say you should be dressed in “office-appropriate” clothing, but being dressed and well groomed before you open the door says a lot about who you are and how you feel about the job you are about to take on for the day.
Take a look in the mirror; what does your face say to the person you will be seeing? Does it say, “Hello! I’m glad you are here!” or does it say, “Oh, here you are again?” SMILE and notice what a difference it makes in what you are seeing in the mirror. Even when you don’t feel like doing so, do it anyway. We all have those “Fake it till you make it” days. Attitude is everything.
Another area to think about is the environment you provide for the children. Walk out the door and take a look around. Is this first impression an inviting one? Would someone be inclined to stop or keep on driving if they were seeing your home for the first time? Walk through the door pretending you are a potential client or child. Is this a welcoming, comfortable, safe place where children will want to come in and stay for an extended period of time? Are the materials you provide for the children well organized, clean and age-appropriate?
Your home is also where you and your family live; it doesn’t have to be set-up like a child care center, but you should have areas where the child care children know this is their place and they know what they can do and have as their own.
Dealing with burnout is something that happens in just about every profession; family child care providers may find themselves dealing with this more often than others because of the isolation/lack of adult interaction, especially if you work alone. Stop and think about what it is that is causing your burnout or stress. What is it? Is it something you can change? If not, how can you deal with what is happening? Sometimes we make things harder than they have to be simply because we are resistant to change or are afraid of what may happen if we try to make changes.
One of the greatest ways to deal with the stress or burn-out is by belonging to a group or organization that can relate to what you are feeling. Is there a family child care association in your area? Check with your licensing or regulating agency or the local child care resource and referral agency. They may know of such a group. If you can’t find one, seek out other family child care providers and begin your own group. Belonging to an association, whether formal or informal will often give you what you need in your chosen profession; learning valuable tips and gaining information to help you deal with the day to day life of a caregiver of young children and a small business owner.
Last, but one of the most important things to remember is this:
Take Care of YOU!
Professionally speaking, you cannot care for others if you don’t care for yourself first. Those who care for children tend to put everything above their own needs. Take time to do something you want or like to do. Learn to give back to yourself before you try to give to others.
"The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary”. By: Mark Sanborn, John C. Maxwell