How Caregiver and Parent Roles Differ
Good caregivers have many of the qualities of good parents, and those qualities promote attachment (Katz, 1980). One vital quality is sensitivity. When a caregiver learns to read each infant’s signals, he or she can respond appropriately and in a timely fashion, that is, if the staff-child ratio is good. Infants learn that they can give messages. They can influence the people in their world. They have personal power. They become attached. The attachment grows out of the sensitivity and the ability of the infant-care teacher to communicate and also promotes further communication. Infants becomes better at sending signals when someone is trying to read theirs. The infant-care teacher gets better and better at reading signals as he or she grows to know the baby as an individual. A synchronous relationship results.
Good infant-care teachers and good parents have many similar behaviors and goals, but they also have some differences, which Lilian Katz, professor at the University of Illinois and a longtime leader in the field of early childhood education, wrote about. Katz (1980) says that the infant-care teacher’s attachment is necessarily short-term, and it’s important for him or her to remember that fact. This child care arrangement isn’t forever; the infant-care teacher has little control over the future. It’s the parents’ job to have a vision for the child’s future, just as they have the knowledge of the past. It’s the parents—the family—who connect the child in time, giving a sense of continuity. The child has a life beyond child care; that’s a fact that the infant-care teacher must keep in mind.
Parents and infant-care teachers differ in the degree of closeness that’s appropriate. The goal of parental attachment is to establish optimum closeness with the child; the infant care teacher’s goal is optimum distance. The child benefits from attachment to both, but it’s a different kind of attachment. The infant-care teacher must put limits on the degree of attachment; after all, the family may move out of town tomorrow. In addition, infant-care teachers usually have other children to consider; they can’t allow themselves to get completely wrapped up in just one to the neglect of the others. Strategy Box includes a summary of ideas for early educators when keeping their role separate from the roles of parents.
Fairness is another category in which parents and infant-care teachers differ. Parents can be advocates for their own children. They don’t have to be fair and consider all the children in the program. It’s appropriate for parents to focus on their own children. Infant-care teachers can’t afford to favor one child over another, but that doesn’t mean that they must treat all the children in their care alike. Similar treatment in the face of differing needs doesn’t create fairness.
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