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Friday, August 26, 2011

Being 'in the zone' with babies: an accidental 'tummy time' story

Caring for lots of babies at once, as happens in any long day care centre, can be extremely challenging at times. Our ratio in Australia is one carer to a maximum of four babies; all very well in theory, but when one carer is completely involved in (say) cool-bathing a baby who's developed a raging fever and the other is left with up to seven unsettled bubs at once, with three of them crying for their mothers, things can get a little 'interesting'. (Yep, that was my morning today.)

At times it's very hard to feel that you're giving each baby the sort of consideration that he or she deserves. I admit that I'm not a fan of putting very young babies in care, but it's a fact of life in these days of mortgages and financial desperation. It's so important not to let frustration take over your day, and to stay calm even when there's chaos all around you.  Some days you just have to do the best you can, prioritising, moving from baby to baby offering calming words as you put out the most pressing emotional fires.

If you can stay calm, the moment of stress will invariably pass and make way for something better.  I treasure the moments when I can snatch a little time with an individual baby and witness something beautiful- as I did later on in my day today.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

No danger money: dealing with violent preschoolers

Meet 'Talon', aged 5. He's had a truly horrendous childhood. It's involved all sorts of abusive parenting and inappropriate modelling. He's the sort of kid who would be instantly labelled as 'violent' or 'aggressive' (see Teacher Tom's splendid post about this) by those who haven't thought about it very hard.

Talon will strike out the moment he's frustrated, and he's big enough to hurt you, even if you're a teacher. And so most teachers (and many of the children) keep a certain amount of distance from him, especially when his fuse has been lit.  But of course teachers need to intervene before he flattens the child who just took 'his' bike- the one he had over there, for when he wanted to ride it again- or the one who has hold of the toy he wants right now. And many of them still try to keep their distance, though fortunately a few of them have discovered the same safe and effective method that I'm about to let you in on.

Because I'm a casual, most other staff members tend to assume that I haven't a clue about Talon. A few weeks ago he was beating up on another child (actually he was about to strangle them with a skipping rope, though I'm sure he had no idea that this would be the result of what he was doing), and when I rushed over to intervene, a few of these staff members saw me and tried to rush over themselves to warn me not to get too close. Talon had landed one blow on me before they got there, but I was expecting that and had braced myself; you don't get danger money for working in childcare, but sometimes you have to expect to get punched if you're doing your job properly.

You could almost hear their brakes squealing as they watched what happened next.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bert, Ernie and homophobia in childcare- is it an issue?

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've probably already worked out where I stand on discrimination issues. (If not, you need to read this, and this, and maybe even this, and certainly this.)

I aim not only to educate about these issues, which are often accompanied by frenzied media hype, strong opinions and a poor standard of research-backed evidence, but to stand up and shout about them when necessary. Sadly I had to do that last night, when one of my 'favourite' play-based learning pages on Facebook posted some homophobic comments.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Katie bit me

Ah, the child who bites. It's a constant problem in childcare centres. It's a terrible worry for parents.

You can read all you like about biting just being a phase, the result of frustration, an attempt to communicate emotions the child can't deal with... all that doesn't make it easier when a child actually bites you, or when the teacher has to tell you that your child bit someone today.

That is so, SO hard for a parent. And so, SO challenging for a carer.

When the child is nearly 5 years old and that bite can pack a real punch... well, it ups the ante. And 'Katie', who bit me yesterday, is nearly 5. She was in a wild rage, her teeth got into the skin on my wrist, I felt the pressure increase, and just before she jammed her jaw shut...

...I managed to stop her in her tracks.  How on earth did that happen?

It was instinctive for me, what I did. I didn't have time to think about it. But I'm thinking about it now. If your child bites, or you have a biter in your centre, this might be interesting to you- possibly VERY interesting.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A letter to Chris Bowen regarding the 'Malaysian solution'

The following is the text of a letter I wrote to the Australian Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, regarding the intention to send newly arrived 'boat people' (illegal immigrants) to Malaysia for 'processing'. These immigrants include unaccompanied children as well as families with children.

Please feel free to use the text of this letter in your own submissions- copyright is waived. There is a link on my Facebook page which will allow you to send your own letter.


Dear Minister,

I have worked with children all my life. The 'Malaysian solution' makes me ashamed ever to have voted for your party and ashamed to be identified as an Australian.

I am not immune to the logic of the idea on paper; I realise that at some level it has been designed as a deterrent to people-smugglers and that this may even work in the longer term. But I cannot and will not accept that the end justifies the means. It is morally reprehensible to sacrifice vulnerable children at the altar of political gain. Face it, Alan Jones et al would immediately find something else to moan about even if this strategy were to make a difference.

And for this momentary- MOMENTARY- political gain, you are prepared to risk the lives and the innocence of small children.

Would you do this to your own children? If you wouldn't, if you cringe at the thought of your own children in the care of the Malaysian government, how do you sleep at night as you inflict this fate on other children?

These children are no less human than yours. They are no less vulnerable than yours. They are no less human than yours. They have faces.  They have smiles. They have tears. They feel pain and they feel fear. They come from a place where their parents decided that paying their life savings and putting their children into a leaky boat was a better option than staying where they were; parents do not take such decisions lightly, and you should not delude yourself that these parents are somehow morally inferior to you. Australia represented hope to these parents, and a better future for their beloved children.

By sending these children to Malaysia, you extinguish both innocence and hope. Shame on you.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Coping with toddlers joyfully

I know, I know. If you've actually GOT a toddler of your own, you're shaking your head with a cynical mouth and saying 'yeah, RIGHT!'

Toddlers can be incredibly trying. I've been reminded of that by the last two weeks. I've been working full-time in a toddlers' room in long day care, and now here it is Saturday and I'm exhausted! Pity the poor mum and dad who don't get weekends away from Toddlerland.

The best I can do is pass on some stories from the last fortnight, to explain why I'm smiling with joy  through my exhaustion, rather than 'shaking my head with a cynical mouth'.