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Growing Concerns (10/12/2005)
By Dr. Martha Erickson

Question: I'm a university student and recently began working part-time at an infant/toddler child care center. I've noticed the people who care for the 1-year-olds make negative remarks about the kids who cry when their parents leave--things like, "That mom spoils that kid so bad!" or, to the child, "Why are you such a big crybaby?" The kids' behavior seems normal to me, but this child care staff seems cold and harsh. As a new employee, I'm unsure what to do, if anything.

Answer: You're absolutely right. The separation protest you see in the 1-year-olds is perfectly normal. And the children's separation anxiety is not likely to subside if the caregivers are cold and harsh. Although it may be awkward for you to take this on as a new employee, the well-being of the children may depend on it. Hopefully you can intervene in a way that seems he lpful rather than critical.

First, I suggest you talk to the director of the center and let her know you think it would be helpful for you and the rest of the staff to have some training on how to help 1-year-olds handle separation from their parents and make a smooth adjustment to childcare. Be sympathetic rather than critical when you approach the director. Point out that you see the kids struggling and how the staff feels frustrated and say that some training might make life easier for everyone.

If your own university has a child development department, perhaps a professor or graduate student would come to provide training. Most universities do significant outreach into their communities and many professors are eager to put their knowledge to work. Faculty could also recommend printed materials or videotapes that would be helpful to you and the other caregivers.

Beyond seeking special training for the staff, when you are on the job, make a special effort to comfort and connect with the babies who are upset. Suggest that mom or dad bring a favorite blanket or stuffed animal and use that to help comfort the baby. Speak in a soft voice and reassure the baby by saying, "Mom (or Dad) will be back later." Establish a ritual of reading a story or singing a playful song to help the baby make a smooth transition each day.

At this age babies are establishing a sense of trust that will be the foundation for later growth and development. They need plenty of time to learn that their parents always will return--and that others will take good care of them while Mom and Dad are away.

Hopefully your good example will help set a new tone for how separations are handled by all the staff at the center. However, if you don't see a change-and if the center director is unresponsive to your request for information and training-you may need to alert state authorities who monitor the quality of childcare. Hopefully that won't be necessary, but that would be better than to have young children suffer the consequences of insensitive care. 


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