Infancy is a unique and wondrous time of life. Those of us who work with babies enjoy the rapid growth that occurs during the child's earliest years and form deep, affectionate bonds with each infant in our care. This unit focuses on providing consistent, one-on-one relationships with infants and toddlers in group settings.
Group care for infants requires a commitment to sustain caring relationships with each baby and her family. In infant care settings, it is the quality of relationships that determines the quality of care. It takes time and consistent contact for babies to intimately know and trust caregivers outside the family circle. In order for this kind of meaningful relationship and bonding to develop, it's important that infant/toddler group sizes remain small. A small group size (1 adult to 3 children) ensures that we are available to satisfy each infant's need for attention and affection, not to mention the need for such routine care as feeding, bathing and changing.
Babies come into the world ready for relationships. They tell us how they feel and what they need through their expressions, body movements and by cooing, babbling and crying. They cry to tell us that they want or need something to happen - a diaper change, a bottle, a nap, a hug. Each baby has his own personality and style of communication. Just as each baby's personality and temperament varies, so must our responses.
Routine Care in the Nursery
Routine caregiving tasks such as feeding, diaper changing and toilet training provide opportunities for affectionate one-to-one contact with each child. In addition, infants need an atmosphere of peace and tranquility in order to thrive. Too much stimulation, such as bright lights, too many children in a group or constant noise, overwhelms infants.
It's important to feed, nap and change infants as needed, not as dictated by a schedule. Be sure to hold each baby during bottle-feeding. Sanitizing measures and handwashing are essential before and after feeding, diapering and toileting. Follow strict universal precautions when touching or handling bodily fluids.
Babies in group care tend to get sick more often than they would at home. Their immunities to infectious disease are just beginning to build, and they are in close contact with other infants and adults who pass on germs. Infant and toddler teachers must follow stringent health and safety measures. Remember to disinfect toys and surfaces on a daily basis; make sure adults and children wash hands frequently, and establish clear illness policies that keep contagious children and adults away from the nursery.
Communicating with Families
Building strong relationships with each child's family is especially important during these very early years. Daily communication is the foundation for a trusting relationship between teachers and family. To build truly solid relationships with the children in our care, it's important to learn from the experiences, knowledge, culture and child-rearing beliefs of the family. Effective communication can be maintained through day-to-day contact during arrival and departure times, written notes, telephone calls and scheduled meetings.
Infants with Disabilities
Our approach to working with infants with disabilities is essentially the same as with other babies. Our goal is to recognize the abilities and meet the individual needs of every youngster. For children with special needs, this may involve careful supervision of daily routines such as adapting for a child with severe allergies or using a special nipple for a child whose cleft palate is undergoing repair. Always be sure to get correct medical information from knowledgeable specialists and family members.
Talking with Infants
Babies love to hear language and respond by cooing, babbling and making sounds that gradually resemble adult speech. Throughout the first two years, children are attaching meaning to words and understanding a lot more than they can say. The more attention we pay to children's speech, the more we can understand, repeat and use words from their own language. We can also give them new words to expand their language, thus building a richer, more expressive vocabulary in later years.
Young infants need many opportunities to explore their world through the senses of sight, sound, smell and touch. As infants begin to crawl and then walk, they seem to get into everything. That's why a safe environment is essential. From the child's perspective, if it's in view, it's interesting; and if it's in reach, it will be investigated. Potential dangers include unlocked cabinets, uncovered electrical outlets, medicines and cleaning supplies, small objects that can be put into the child's mouth and more. With these things in mind, conduct daily room and outdoor area inspections.
Independence, self-assertion and control are central issues for toddlers. Toddlers often insist on having their own way and when a toddler wants something, he typically wants it intensely and immediately. We can help reduce the amount of conflict by looking at our program through the eyes of the child:
When toddlers don't get what they want, tempers often flair and emotions run high. Children can be frightened by their own feelings and actions, and they rely on us to remain calm. We can help toddlers work through problems if we remember to stay calm. In simple language, say what the limits are and what will happen if the rules are not followed. Let them know you're there to help them work through these intense emotions. Make sure each child is kept out of harm's way. Be sure to offer simple opportunities for appropriate choices.
- Are there enough materials and equipment to go around?
- Does each child have enough time and space to fully explore?
- Are there many small appropriate opportunities for him to make choices and decisions?
(see It's the Little Things)
Separation and Stranger Anxieties
As infants develop intense, loving attachments with their family members and caregivers at the child care center, two related developments occur: a fear of separating from loved ones and a new fear of strangers. It is not uncommon for babies at this stage of development to become distraught and miserable when their parents or caregivers leave the room or apprehensive when a stranger approaches.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with separation and stranger anxiety:
- Try to avoid enrolling a new infant into a group program when she is at the peak of her anxiety.
- Arrange for the child to visit before spending the whole day.
- Encourage the parent to stay until the child feels comfortable. Reassure the child's family that separation anxiety is typical and indicates healthy development. Encourage parents to telephone if they are concerned.
- Develop a ritual for separation with each family, so the infant comes to understand that separation is a part of each day that is predicable and manageable.
- Use a special blanket, stuffed animal or other object from home as a "transitional object" to comfort the infant while separated from loved ones.
- Support the child's feelings and use soothing words to reassure her that her loved one will return.
- Tell the baby with your words and behavior that you will take good care of him while his family is away or while in the presence of a stranger.
- Make sure your center is comfortable and comforting for infants, and that there are plenty of interesting activities and materials for the baby to engage in once she has calmed down.