Globe and Mail

What makes a good caregiver?

The Globe and Mail
Friday, October 22, 1999

Your child drops and breaks a glass. What does his caregiver do?
(a) Punish: "You klutzy kid, I told you to take the plastic one. Go sit in the corner right now." (Message: When you have a problem, you are a problem.)
(b) Rescue: "It's all right. Don't touch the glass, you will hurt yourself. I shouldn't have let you have the glass. Have some chocolate milk while I clean up the mess." (Message: When you have a problem, it is someone else's fault.)
(c) Discipline: "Whoa, you have a problem. Run get me a bag." Three-year-olds can't pick up glass, but they can hold a bag and help wipe the floor after the caregiver picks up the pieces of glass. Then comes the question: "Which of these two plastic glasses would you like to use?" (Message: You have a problem, you can handle it, and I'll be here for you if you need my help.)

Hopefully, the answer is "c." Discipline does four things that rescuing and punishing cannot do: It shows kids what they have done wrong, gives them ownership of the problem, gives them ways to solve it and, most important, leaves their dignity intact.

It is the only one of the above examples that is a part of a climate that helps your child grow into a self-disciplined, responsible, resourceful, resilient, compassionate human being.

Other things to look for:

When children mess up, are they given a second opportunity to try again, after they experience reasonable, simple, valuable and practical consequences for blowing it the first time? The young graffiti artist gets to scrub her scribbling off the wall and is allowed to use the markers later to draw a picture on an easel. If children are isolated, humiliated or threatened with brute force, don't bother with the rest of this checklist. Cross this caregiver off your list and look for a new one.

Do children get the opportunity to make lots of decisions and assume responsibilities that are age-appropriate? "Do you want to go to bed now with your red pajamas or your blue pajamas?" is an appropriate question to ask a two-year-old. "Do you want to go to bed or not?" is not.

Does learning take place in an atmosphere of acceptance and high expectation? Are children given time to learn and master new skills without fear of ridicule or embarrassment?

Do children receive lots of smiles, hugs and humour? Are all three given freely and without conditions attached?

Is the caregiver empathetic and emotionally available, modelling appropriate ways to express the full range of emotions so that children can learn to accept their own feelings and to act responsibly on those feelings?

Are children taught how to think? Are they encouraged to be spontaneous, to be creative in thoughts and actions and to reason through problems? Are they spoken with, not to; listened to, not ignored? Are they given a thirst for knowledge of the old and a spirit of curiosity to discover the new?

Are children taught to resolve their conflicts non-violently? Is the caregiver present to mediate and moderate, not to solve the inevitable squabbles?

Every day offers opportunities for caregivers to practise the keys to good parenting: treating kids with respect; giving them a sense of positive power in their own lives; giving them opportunities to make decisions, take responsibility for their own actions and learn from their successes and mistakes.

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