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From time to time we can let our emotions get the better of us. However, those who work with children know our emotions can cause things different than we intend. During times of high stress, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself so you can provide the best environment for children in your care. Children are sponges and can easily pick up on your emotions. When you feel anxious, try practicing a few things to relax before it overwhelms you. Here are a few strategies to help de-stress in times of high tension.

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Register for one of our many online courses to help support your emotional well-being as an early childhood professional.

Mindful Breathing

Find a quiet place alone in your daily routine to take five minutes to focus on your breathing and focus on nothing else. If you are with children, ask them to join you for daily quiet time on the floor. Focusing on one sensation helps reduce blood pressure, as well as stress. If the concentrated breathing is not enough to reduce your tension after a few sessions, you may want to consider adding progressive relaxation techniques to your mindful sessions. It is essential that you care for yourself and your well-being first, so that you can be your best for children in your care. You can find more activities to focus on mindfulness for both you and the children in your care on our Pinterest board.

Yoga

There are many apps and free videos online for simple yoga poses, as well as simple and calming yoga poses for children. All it takes is 15 minutes a day for yoga to decrease stress and improve your concentration and memory. This is a time to focus on your physical and emotional sensations, being mindful of everything you feel. A small bit of exercise never hurts, either!

Free Virtual Workouts

There are many health benefits to exercise other than just aerobic capacity and muscle size. Exercising regularly can have a dramatic positive effect on depression, anxiety and more. Research has shown that even modest amounts can make a difference. Try to focus on activities you enjoy, anything that gets you moving counts. Now, more than ever, connecting with others is important. Thankfully, there are a variety of free virtual workouts available to keep your mind and body active without going to the gym.

Feeding children while in care can be one of the biggest responsibilitiesthat a provider faces each day. Menu planning, grocery shopping and meeting requirements are just some of those responsibilities. We also know providers strive to do what’s best for the children in their care and use best practices whenever they can in their programs. The 4-C Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) believes that serving meals and snacks family style incorporates best practices into feeding children while in care.

Along with information on family style dining, we will look at serving sizes and how serving family style gives children a choice as to what and how much they choose to eat. We in turn have asked providers who are currently serving Family Style Dining to share how they got started, share their challenges, their accomplishments and overall outcomes with the process.

Why Should You Serve Family Style?

Family Style Dining encourages learning and development not only at the table, but away from mealtime as well. Children learn independence, social skills and other important habits that will last them throughoutadulthood.

Types of Meal Service

Meals can be served either Pre-portioned or Family Style.

  • Pre-portioned – means that the minimal requirement (or more) of food for each required component is prepared by an adult and given to each child on plate or tray. All food must be served at the same time, including milk.
  • Family Style Dining – means that the food is placed on each table for each child to help him/herself. Children may then select the foods they want and the amount of each food they want. Providers should offer foods to children at different times during the meal to assure children are offered an opportunity to taste all foods and ensure minimum portions are available for each child. Providers also sit with children during the meal service to model positive meal time behavior, assist with serving food and encourage social development that goes along with feeding and sitting down to enjoy a meal.

The Science Behind Family Style Dining

A University of Illinois College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environment Sciences (ACES) studied the feeding practices of two-to-five year olds in 118 child-care centers. They found that given the opportunity children who serve themselves are better able to regulate their intake of food by innately tuning into their own body’s cues for hunger and satiety (fullness), than when food was pre-plated. The study stated that adults have a tendency to overestimate how much a child wants to eat, instead of serving what is a more appropriate serving for the age of that child.

How do providers set children up for success when introducing Family Style Dining?

  • Denise – set up the environment for children to help with the setting of the table. During the meal children serve themselves and pass foods to one another. Children clean up their own placemat and put dishes into a tub and one child is responsible for washing the table. Denise plans her meal ahead of time, featuring Family Style vegetarian meals, made from scratch.
  • Emily – take the time to find the appropriate serving dishes and utensils, such as tongs young children can operate, bowls small enough to pass, and milk serving containers with lids (such as a syrup pitcher).
  • Lisa – I start out by putting food in the center of the table and serve the kids, from there they gradually gain the confidence to serve themselves.
  • Emily - teach children how to prep food by peeling bananas, oranges and hardboiled egg or use a small butter knife to spread and slice soft foods like peanut butter and cheese. Prep some of the food at the table - it teaches them children the whole parts of the food, exploring textures and appearance of peels, stems and seeds and counting the slices and talking about how the food was grown.
  • Nancy – Allow children to do what they’re developmentally able to do, but realize thatyounger children may need assistance. For example, put milk or dish out food for children age two and under. Also, the older kids can help the younger kids by getting them more servings, and the older kids feel proud of helping.
  • Emily - Involve the children in meal planning for the following week. Share information with the children about meal planning during conversations, but planning meals could also involve using photos, felt pieces of foods or store fliers to select foods. She also gardens with the children, so food can come straight from their garden, from the farmer’s market or on occasion from a field trip taken together at the grocery store.

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The first twelve years of a child’s life are pivotal when it comes to physical growth and mental development. Due to this rapid growth period, it is incredibly important to ensure that children receive the nutrients they need to establish healthy habits, and grow strong bones and muscles. With over 13.7 million children experiencing obesity in America, it has never been more important to emphasize the importance of a healthy diet to our children. But sometimes getting kids to eat healthy foods can be a major challenge, with roadblocks around each turn. At 4-C, we believe that teaching children healthy eating habits doesn’t have to be a losing battle. That’s why we have developed a few helpful tips to get your child excited about nutrition.

We encourage parents and guardians to include their children in meal preparations. Spending time in the kitchen and cooking new or old recipes allows children to develop a positive connection to a variety of foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. By creating a positive experience with healthy foods, you can enable your child to establish a foundation for good nutrition that will carry on to their adult life. In addition, cooking can provide your child with practical experience with many basic academic skills, like reading, following instructions, and measuring. This can even help them develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and early concepts of math and science.

Gardening has also been shown to help kids get more interested in eating fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that when children help grow fruits and vegetables, they are likely to consume more produce, and are more willing to try different varieties. Including children in the growing process can not only help improve their nutrition, but also help engage their curiosity and resourcefulness. Not to mention, this gives kids the opportunity to spend time outdoors and get physical exercise. If your home or apartment does not have a yard, or if you are unable to plant in the ground, pots and window-boxes are excellent alternatives!

In order to make nutrition affordable for child care providers, 4-C also recommends joining the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). This program, aimed at reducing childhood obesity in the United States, is sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and provides providers with financial reimbursement for serving nutritious meals and snacks to children in care. Children between the ages of 0 and 12 enrolled in child care are eligible to participate in this program. This program also provides valuable nutrition education and consultation from CACFP staff.

If you are a child care provider and would like additional information on the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or would like additional information about childhood nutrition, visit this link.

A sometimes overlooked aspect of a child’s development is their social development. A child’s social and emotional skills are just as important to their growth as mental and physical ones. Read our tips for making sure that children in your care are able to meet these necessary developmental milestones.

What Is Social Development In Children

Social development refers to a child learning to interact with the adults and other children around them. As they grow, children identify and develop their sense of “self'' within their community. As they do so, they acquire the skills to communicate with others and process their reactions.

What Are Social-Emotional Learning Skills

Social-emotional skills include a child’s knowledge, attitudes, and ability to recognize and control their emotions and actions. These also relate to a child’s ability to set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

What Are Some Examples of Social-Emotional Learning Skills

Eight common social-emotional skills include:

  • Self-Awareness - a child’s ability to understand their strengths and limitations.
  • Self-Management - a child’s ability to control their emotions, actions, and complete tasks in new or challenging situations.
  • Social-Awareness - a child’s ability to display empathy for those around them.
  • Relationship Skills - a child’s ability to consistently make socially acceptable decisions that build positive connections with others.
  • Goal-Directed Behavior - a child’s ability to complete tasks of varying difficulty
  • Personal Responsibility - a child’s ability to be careful about their actions and contribute to group activities.
  • Decision Making - how a child solves a problem that involves learning from various sources and accepting responsibility for their actions.
  • Optimistic Thinking - a child’s attitude of confidence and positive thinking regarding themselves and others.

How Do You Develop A Child’s Social-Emotional Skills

4-C’s recommended strategy for developing social-emotional skills in children is through the Pyramid Model. The way that the Pyramid Model works is that child care providers make use of a three-tiered approach to promoting these skills.

  • Tier 1: Universal Promotion - At this tier, the focus is on providing high-quality, supportive environments while working with children to build nurturing and responsive relationships with the provider and their peers.
  • Tier 2: Secondary Prevention - This tier is focused on preventing problems within the child care environment. Providers should use instruction and support to establish clear boundaries with children to prevent challenging behavior before it can appear.
  • Tier 3: Tertiary Intervention - This tier is focused on providing individualized intensive guidance to children in order to address persistent challenges. This should be more rare, with only a small number of children requiring intervention.

Through this method, child care providers are able to provide a universal level of support to all children, targeted services to those who need more support, and intensive services to those who need them.

4-C provides child care providers with a wide range of resources and support that they can use to enhance their level of care. If you have any questions about the Pyramid Model, or early child care and education as a whole, check out the 4-C Resource Room has a variety of materials and resources that child care providers can use to enhance the care and education they provide.

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