Imagine a world where emotional well-being is not just a buzzword but a guiding principle, where we prioritize our youngest generation's inner strength and mental fortitude. It's a world where children are not just prepared for life's challenges but thrive in the face of adversity, nurturing the deep-rooted compassion that allows them to uplift those around them.
The Child Care Council of Orange County aims to create a world like this. They work diligently with families and childcare providers, with their primary purpose being to coordinate, assist, strengthen, and expand child care in Orange County for all children. In doing this, they are actively raising a generation that plants seeds of compassion, nurturing a world that thrives on empathy, understanding, and unity.
Meet Rosemarie Lawton
I had the pleasure of speaking with Rosemarie Lawton, the Director of Professional Development at The Child Care Council of Orange County and longtime GENM advocate. Their non-profit organization provides free referrals for families seeking childcare while working with providers looking to open childcare facilities or offer in-home childcare. Her specific department provides training, coaching, and technical assistance while helping them understand how theory and practice connect.
Deep-rooted passion for teaching
Lawton mentions that her love for teaching dates back to age five. She grew up always wanting to be a teacher, which led her to become an early childcare provider. She spent seven years working in a classroom before shifting her focus away from teaching directly to training other early childcare providers. Her goal for becoming a trainer was to help providers with their own mental health, avoid burnout, and be the best teacher possible. “It’s really rewarding and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she reported.
Collaborating to create change
The Child Care Council of Orange County has incorporated GENM products into its operations for a number of years while sharing them with the providers they collaborate with. “I couldn’t believe how aligned you all were with what we believe and what we’re passionate about.” said Lawton,” And how well it supports the work we’re already doing and advances it in other directions as well,”
Lawton explained how her team frequently enters childcare settings and finds that the large group (circle time) being taught is unsuitable for the children's developmental stage. She and her colleagues use their knowledge of age-appropriate early learning developmental milestones in combination with the time in toolkit’s lesson plans for ECC’s to lead childcare providers toward developmentally appropriate practice. They also assist the educators in incorporating responsive, positive discipline practices into the classroom, using GENM tools to introduce time-ins instead of punishment and time-outs when children act out.
Rather than isolating and punishing a child for misbehavior, positive discipline focuses on building a solid parent-child connection and fostering emotional growth. It emphasizes communication, empathy, and problem-solving, teaching children essential life skills such as self-regulation, empathy, and conflict resolution. By engaging in open dialogues with children and helping them understand the consequences of their actions, positive discipline encourages them to take responsibility for their behavior and make better choices.
Several years ago, Lawton started a program called “Caring Spaces” which introduces four key elements to early childhood classrooms. These elements are freedom of movement, using appropriate materials, preventing expulsion, and responsive caregiving.
Encouraging freedom of movement is crucial for a child's physical and cognitive development. It means allowing children to explore and move about safely, promoting gross and fine motor skills, spatial awareness, and a sense of autonomy. This freedom fosters independence and self-confidence as children learn through their own experiences and interactions with their surroundings.
Providing children with age-appropriate materials is essential for their learning and development. These materials should be engaging and safe, catering to their developmental stages. They encourage creativity, problem-solving, and exploration. Choosing toys and tools that match a child's cognitive and physical abilities can stimulate their intellectual growth and help them gain a better understanding of the world around them.
Preventing expulsion from early childhood education settings is vital for children's well-being and learning. Expulsion can have long-term negative effects on a child's development. It's essential to focus on alternatives, such as positive behavior management and early intervention, to address challenging behaviors and ensure every child has an opportunity to learn and grow in a supportive environment.
Responsive caregiving involves attuned and empathetic interactions between caregivers and children. This approach recognizes and addresses children's emotional and physical needs promptly, enhancing their sense of security and trust. Responsive caregiving lays the foundation for healthy social and emotional development, fostering secure attachments and positive relationships between children and their caregivers.
The program has been wildly successful to date, reaching a large audience of educators and caregivers. One of Lawton’s main goals is to help them understand the basic components of social and emotional learning and how to redirect unwanted behaviors. It has helped numerous parents and caregivers lean into their own traumas based on how they were raised, which often leads to self-reparenting for themselves.
Lawton is passionate about parents and caregivers taking the time to reparent themselves. This helps them heal their inner traumas based on their upbringing, which is sometimes reflected in their childcare provider duties. We might possess extensive training, but occasionally, that alone may not be enough. Embarking on the journey of self-reparenting may not be a straightforward endeavor, but it serves as a vital step towards healing our inner wounds. This process, in turn, enables us to breathe life into our personal growth and development.
That said, Lawton comments, “When we know better, we do better.” She advises parents and caregivers to give themselves grace when they make mistakes throughout the journey of reparenting themselves. Every day presents an opportunity to try something new and adopt a different approach, therefore, treat yourself with the same kindness you'd want someone to show your child.
Today’s most significant challenges in the world of childcare
I asked Lawton what some of the biggest challenges parents and childcare providers face. She continued by discussing how we reside in a fast-paced world with numerous responsibilities. Many adults experience feelings of inadequacy as they attempt to meet the needs of everyone around them. Yet, it's essential to acknowledge that juggling everything seamlessly is impossible, and making mistakes is inevitable. This mindset is widespread and significantly impacts people's mental well-being. She specifically said, “The pandemic hindered the ability to interact and caused tension. That has trickled down and impacted the way we interact with others.”
Children are facing the pandemic's impact, which is putting a dent in their social and emotional skills. For parents and caregivers who see this lack of social and emotional skills in children, Lawton advises that the best thing adults can do is to have patience and consistency. “We cannot go back and change what happened before, but we can move forward now. Provide them with lots of consistency, lots of repetition, and lots of turning back to the strategies we are trying to teach them. Constantly reinforcing what we want them to know, to learn, and how to respond.”
Communication Is The Key
Lawton reports that communication is the best tool to use to help families transform. Many of today’s adults grew up in a generation where social and emotional skills were not focused on, not because our parents did not want to communicate, but because very few people knew the importance of teaching those skills. Lawton says, “Gen Mindful provides a vehicle to be able to have the conversations. To have them in really productive, simple, yet effective ways. They really help to give the tools, the strategies, and everything you need in a nice, neat package.”
Demonstrating respect, appreciation, and recognition for our children is crucial. Sometimes, we overlook the fact that they are young individuals who can comprehend and express themselves effectively. However, we all require the right tools and strategies to communicate our emotions. By giving our children the gift of social and emotional skills, we are equipping them with qualities like compassion, empathy, and the necessary tools to navigate life's difficulties.