Caring for Infants & Young Children
Parents and caregivers can each benefit greatly by reaching a consensus on approaches for the important responsibility of caring for infants and children. In addition to providing physical comfort and care, infants thrive when provided certain other stimuli. Parents and caregivers need to know how to detect and manage possible developmental and behavioral problems. The increasing number of infants and children in the care of childcare providers calls for more training for caregivers. Caregivers need to competently address the necessary considerations for emotional, social, and cognitive child development for infants and toddlers in groups.
Keywords Caregiver; Childcare; Child Development; Child Safety; Early Childhood Teachers; Immunizations; Infant; Newborn; Toddler
Ever since the first baby entered the world, there's been continuous and contentious discussion over how to care for these unpredictable, defenseless creatures. Theories and ideas on child-raising have been changed over the years about as often as diapers. With advances in communication, the psychology of child development, health and medicine creating a profusion of information on child-raising, parents and caregivers can benefit through a consensus on how to care for and nurture infants and children.
From day one, caring for a newborn is a tremendous challenge for first-time parents. Feeding, bathing, sleeping, and wakeful times are all new experiences for the new family. In addition to physical care and comfort, babies thrive on additional stimuli, such as sights, sounds, touch, and love.
Through the first months, parents and caregivers face challenges of how to handle fussy infants. During the first years, parents and caregivers need to know how to detect and manage possible developmental and behavioral problems. Another important responsibility for parents and caregivers of small children is to take measures to protect their safety. These include ensuring a safe environment to prevent the growing child from injury, illness, danger, or accidental death.
With both parents working, infants and young children may be cared for out of the home, in group childcare facilities. Training for caregivers in these childcare facilities helps them to competently address the necessary considerations for emotional, social, and cognitive development of infants and toddlers in groups. As toddlers begin to develop the need to assert independence, caregivers can ease their journey through this developmental phase. By providing appropriate choices, the child can learn to feel a heightened level of autonomy and self-control.
Caring for Newborns
Caring for a newborn is a challenging responsibility for new parents or caregivers. An immediate consideration involves feeding the baby. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the mother should decide whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed before the baby is born. The AMA recommends feeding newborns on demand, usually "every 2 to 3 hours in the first month, and less frequently as he or she grows older" (quoted in Hwang, 1999, p. 1200). The AMA suggests tips for bathing a newborn, the proper environment and position for sleeping. It also cautions against smoking around the baby and or exposing the infant to excessive sunlight. The association also outlines a schedule for visiting a doctor. Regarding immunizations, the AMA says, "Your baby needs to get a number of vaccinations within the first year that protect against 10 major childhood diseases" (quoted in Hwang, 1999, p. 1200).
Part of the doctor's exam at birth is to check the baby's sensory reflexes to assure that the baby can see and hear, and later to determine that the sense of taste and smell are fine. Alice Honig (2005) presents the importance of touch as a crucial sense for babies. She writes, "Touch is a magical ingredient that promotes healthy growth," referring to research done with premature babies. "When nurses provide gentle massages to babies' bodies several times a day, those babies gain weight faster and are released from the hospital several days earlier than premies who had not been massaged. Further research also shows that "loving touch massages permit young children to fall asleep faster and more easily" (Honig, 2005, p. 25). Honig adds that some children have sensory-integration difficulties regarding the sense of touch, explaining that some babies become irritable if stroked too softly (Honig, 2005, p. 25).
Learning how to interpret a newborn's language is an acquired and individualized skill. Amy Dickinson (2001) reports how British nanny Tracy Hogg listens to babies and "reads" their language. Affirming that babies try to communicate their needs, she acknowledges that parents are often too tired or perhaps too close to figure out what the baby is trying to communicate. Hogg recommends backing off a bit, which allows the parent to watch and listen more objectively. To aid parents in learning the difference between a "hungry" cry and a "tired" cry, she suggests putting babies on a modified, "structured routine." She advocates a flexible schedule, based on "a baby's natural rhythms of eating, activity, napping and sleeping at night" (Dickinson, 2001, p. 78). She believes that establishing predictable routines, such as a soothing bedtime ritual, are likely to calm babies.
Over the years, child psychologists have offered varying views on what to do when an infant or toddler is fussy. Advice ranges from immediately picking up the child to letting the child cry it out to a variety of strategies in between. An article titled "Caring for Fussy Infants and Toddlers" points out several key guidelines pertinent to the group childcare setting. The guidelines for caring for infants include minimizing the number of persons caring for the baby, being empathic to help the baby anticipate changes, and using soothing tones and calm gestures to help the baby relax. Babies benefit when the caregiver takes adequate time to help the baby become familiar with the routines, sights, sounds, and play environments. Fussy babies adapt more calmly to their environment when the amount of stimulation is pared down. For toddlers, the advice is to be flexible and generous with time, provide ample large-motor equipment, especially for high-energy toddlers, watch for signs of emotional overload, use distractions to divert a toddler from behavioral conflicts, give toddlers words for emotions and help them vocalize such situations as "I want a turn," or "I need that block." Finally, when transitioning an irritable toddler to another activity, caregivers should move several of the child's friends at the same time (Early Childhood Today, 2005).
Many parents of infants and toddlers work alternative shifts, perhaps during the evening and night hours, and require childcare beyond the traditional daycare schedule. As a result, extended-hour and nighttime childcare centers help to care for children of parents working nonstandard hours. In their study, Moon, Weese-Mayer and Sylvestri (2003) recognized that 20% of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cases occur in childcare settings and that childcare providers may place infants in the more vulnerable prone position. Their study reported on the American Academy of Pediatrics' "Back to Sleep" educational campaign which dramatically decreased the incidence of SIDS. "Despite this remarkable progress in SIDS risk factor education and practice, a 1996 study revealed that 43% of licensed childcare centers lacked awareness of the association of SIDS and infant sleep position, and a follow-up study in 1999 documented that despite an increased awareness, 25% of licensed childcare centers continued to place infants prone to sleep" (Moon, Weese-Mayer & Sylvestri, 2003, p. 795). The primary reason...
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