Building Relationships in Infant & Toddler
For most American schools, this is the beginning of the new school year. And for most Infant and Toddler classrooms, that means the beginning of a whole host of new relationships: children with each other, teachers and children, parents and teachers, and so on. For children in the earliest Plane of Development, building relationships is about testing the world around them. Children may show a curiosity and interest in other children, but they aren't creating "friendships" in the same way that they'll be able to at a later point in their development. Instead, the other people around them help children to understand whether they are safe, whether their needs will be met and whether they can influence the environment. You'll see children move toward and away from peers, sometimes preferring the company of a peer who is particularly engaging to them.
For parents and teachers, though, this is a critical time of year for relationship-building. Let's acknowledge some things first: you're probably both a little nervous. You probably both want the other to know that you're capable and attentive, that you're kind and that you love the children. You want the other to trust you. And so, often, we spend this time of the year putting on competent hats and demonstrating our expertise. But here's something else you have in common: you're both probably scared. You might not know how to say that out loud.
Hooray! I just did it for you! Band-Aid is off!
Infant-Toddler teachers and parents partner for the care and nurture of children who have complicated, complex needs, driven by dynamic growth across multiple domains, and lacking the cognitive or linguistic ability to communicate them reliably themselves. That partnership is best propelled when both sides acknowledge how hard the work is to do, and how much of it is our very best guess about what the child needs. And this time of year, when we are trying to build relationships with the other caregivers in the child's life, we are also juggling all the logistics of the beginning of school, the forms and storage supplies, the children's transitions, the stress of arrivals and dismissals and all the bits in between. You don't have a lot of time for eye contact and meaningful conversation, at exactly the time when those connections are most formative.
In the midst of the juggling, even if you can't quite find the time (yet) for the connection you want to make with parents and teachers, find the grace for yourself and for them in the meantime. This is a time to offer each other patience and a smile- two things that don't take any time at all away from the children! If you've got the chance to say, "I'm happy to see you," instead of the standard, "Good morning," to personalize and connect in the few little chances we have to interact as adults right now, even better. If you are in such a luxurious position of time to have face time with other adults in Back-to-School nights or pre-school parent conferences, be sure to use that time to get to know each other better, for eye contact and real conversation, and not just for the distribution of forms and sign-up lists. When things go wrong, or your needs are miscommunicated or misunderstood, remember that this is a multi person juggling act... a little forgiveness and understanding at this time of year will help to establish the warmth you will inevitably need between you later.
And you will need it later. Together, you are caring for children whose development is sure to bring new questions and new challenges. Things will unfold in unpredictable ways. And when they do, you are both better in your work if you already know the other person is capable, attentive, kind, competent and loving. You both already are.