What does Quality Childcare Look Like?

Written by Bailey Grogg. M.Sc Candidate Family Studies and Child Development, University of Central Oklahoma.


Placing your children in the care of somebody else can be incredibly daunting, especially if your child is young and you have never had to place a child in care before (read our article on stress and a baby's brain when starting daycare). In addition to investigating child care providers and early education facilities, there are a few other things you can look for or questions you can ask in order to ensure your child is going to receive the best childcare (or early learning programming as it is referred to in research) possible!

1. Family Involvement Programs

Family involvement programs ensure that your child’s childcare provider or early education teacher is willing to work in partnership with you rather than viewing the care of your child as an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. gig. These programs can take a number of different mediums, for instance some facilities have started offering live feeds to your child’s childcare classroom. Other forms may include home childcare providers that are willing to text or email a picture of your child during the day while they’re having fun (this is helpful at setting some parent’s minds at ease). Other programs may be open houses, parent teacher conferences, or celebrations like “Donuts with Dad” for Father’s Day. Any of these kinds of programs are indicative of quality programming, as best practice in Early Childhood highlights how important a strong partnership and open communication with the parent is to creating a good early care environment (Copple & Bredekamp, 2012). 

2. Play-Based Programming and Curriculum

A child’s most important work is play! We, here at Curious Neuron, are always reiterating how important play is in early childhood and a quality early care program should prioritize play as well. While touring a facility or potential early education program, don’t be afraid to ask questions about curriculum and programming. Ask to see the room where your child will be several hours per week and make an assessment on whether or not the room is set up for good, quality play. Quality childcare rooms that prioritize play will have several interest centers set up with plenty of toys should be available and at children’s height. Interest center should range from dramatic play to manipulatives and blocks to art. These interest centers should engage your child in play that targets development across several developmental spheres. (For instance, children will develop fine motor at the art area while learning to hold a paintbrush.) Additionally, ask to see a daily schedule (if one isn’t already posted) to make sure that ample amounts of time are left for children to engage in self-led exploration and play.

3. Continuing Education and Professional Development of Early Education Teachers

Early Education is a developing field with new and rapidly changing ideas on everything from types of curriculum to how to best handle challenging behaviour. Therefore, teachers and educators working in early care programs should be receiving regular training and professional development. Things like standards on safe sleep for infants can vary from year to year, just like CPR and First Aid recommendations change and evolve periodically. Your child’s early learning care provider should be up-to-date on the latest, empirically based information to ensure the best care for your child. Not to mention, better-trained and educated teacher have been linked to higher classroom quality (Phillips et al., 2000). So, don’t be afraid to ask how many times per year a program requires teachers to attend professional development trainings or what the requirements for level of education may be for hiring. 

4. Continuity of Care (or Turnover Rates) 

When visiting early care programs, ask what the turnover rate is like and whether or not teachers have been teaching for long periods of time. Teacher-child interactions are imperative; as children learn and develop within the interactions they have with their caregivers (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Therefore, consistency in childcare providers is important. An early learning program that works to keep turnover rates low will ensure that your child has a chance to form secure, positive attachments with their teacher, better enabling them to learn, grow, and thrive in their new environment. In addition, a program with several tenured early educators indicates that teachers are experienced and happy with their jobs, and that means they’re more likely to be happy in their classrooms!

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 Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2012). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Washington: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Phillips, D., Mekos, D., Scarr, S., Mccartney, K., & Abbott–Shim, M. (2000). Within and beyond the classroom door: Assessing quality in child care centers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15(4), 475-496.

Shonkoff, J.P., & Phillips, D.A. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods : The science of early child development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Get Your Kids to Listen By Saying ‘Yes’ More!


How many times a day do we say the word ‘no’ to our kids? Probably way more than we would like to admit. So how can we turn some of those "no’s" into "yes’s", or at least say no a little less. What’s wrong with saying no so much in the first place? Here are a few tips to help get you on the right track:

1) Don’t Tempt Them

When you tell a child what not to do, instead of hearing what you want them to do, they are reminded of the behavior they shouldn’t be doing, and it is tempting. You know how you want that slice of cake even more when you just started a diet and you know you can’t have it? That is how children can feel when you tell them not to do something. Tell them the behavior you want from them so that they can remember it and deliver it.

2) Don’t Confuse Them

Telling a child what NOT to do instead of what TO DO can be confusing for young children. They have to first process what you are telling them NOT to do, then figure out what that means they SHOULD be doing, then DO  it.

If you express clearly and calmly what you want them to do, you’ll probably get better results quicker. Your child will hear exactly what you need from them and can process that message without any extra steps. For example, instead of saying “Don’t colour on the walls (or the table, or the floor, or your sister’s face…) you could try saying, “Use the markers to colour on paper.”

3) Encourage Rather than Discourage

Hearing no all the time is not fun. Children can get discouraged if all they are hearing is "no". Find opportunities to turn some of those "no’s" into "yes’s" so your children can feel encouraged.

For example, instead of “No, we are not having ice cream for dinner” you can try “That sounds yummy! How about I let you choose your favorite flavor and we can have some for dessert?’ Instead of “If your room is not clean, you are not going out to play”, try saying “When your room is clean, you can go play with your friends.”

The more you say yes (or avoid using the word no), the more positive the results, the happier everyone will be!

If you have any questions for I-yatah or any other Curious Neuron contributor, email us at info@curiousneuron.com. 

The Science Behind Tantrums: Information on Emotion Regulation

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of www.curiousneuron.com

Montreal, Canada. 


While babies depend on their parents to regulate their emotions, toddlers need to learn how to manage their emotions independently, know as "emotion-related self-regulation" or "emotion regulation”. Being the parent of a toddler also comes with its challenges. How can parents help their toddler better understand their emotions and possibly reduce the number or severity of emotional outbursts (tantrums)? The emergence of self-regulation is an important milestone in child development. Toddlers will eventually learn to calm themselves (self-regulate). However, they need some help to develop this skill. What is important is how parents and caregivers respond to their emotions and how they help them create strategies to manage their emotions. I found an amazing review paper by Eisenberg et al. in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology in 2010. I will summarize the major points of this article and focus on defining emotional-regulation and discussing some tips for parents.

The science of self-regulation. 

The development of emotion-regulation is related to several aspects of child development, including attention, executive functions, and effortful control. Many of the capacities involved in emotion regulation appear to have a temperamental basis (Eisnenberg et al. 2010). This means that a child's mood,  how they approach and react to a situation, their level of fear, sadness or frustration (all part of temperament) can influence their ability to regulate their emotions.  Emotion self-regulation is defined as the ability to control one’s behavior, cognition, attention, and emotion when challenged (Heatherton and Wagner 2011).

Effortful control: Managing your attention and behaviour.

Effortful control is one of the main aspects of emotion regulation. It is defined as the ability to voluntarily manage attention and inhibit or activate behavior as needed, to adapt to the environment (Rothbart & Bates 2006, Rothbart 2012). This is what allows a child to shift their attention from something that is causing a stir in their emotions (a sibling taking their toy away) and inhibit inappropriate behavior (hitting or yelling). However, this isn't simple. Let’s break it down and start with attention, the "manage attention" part of effortful control.

Attention is also important for emotion-regulation.

Focused attention (i.e. staying focused when making a puzzle or reading) slowly begins to develop at around 8 to 10 months. A baby begins to stay focused longer on something they are doing. As a child gets older, they are able to stay focused for longer periods of time (however, for small children you can expect sustained attention to be, in minutes, about their age). Having control over your attention is important when regulating emotions, for example, if a child takes your toy away you can shift your attention to another toy, otherwise staying focused feeds your frustration. Some studies have shown that parents can help their child learn an emotion regulation strategy known as "reorienting attention" (more on strategies in Part 2 of this article).

Inhibiting behaviour and emotion regulation.  

The "inhibitory control" aspect of effortful control. Inhibitory control starts to become more evident around 24 to 36 months (Gerardi-Caulton 2000). You can see it best when playing a game of "Simon Says" with toddlers/preschoolers. If they struggle with refraining from, for example, touching their nose if you do not say "Simon Says", this suggests that it might be beneficial for them to play it more often to practice inhibition. In research, inhibition control is studied via delayed gratification, which requires that a child sit in front of something sweet (cookie/marshmallow) without eating it. They are told that if they do not eat it after a specific number of minutes, then they will get an additional treat. Interestingly, studies have shown that the lower a child’s ability for inhibitory control, the more they externalize (aggression, defiance, delinquency) their problems (Hill et al, 2006, Spinrad et al, 2007). Click here to read an interesting study on inhibitory control and emotion regulation. 

Emotion Regulation and the Role of Caregivers/Parents

The environment also plays a huge role in the development of emotion regulation. A great deal of research has looked into the important role of parental socialization of emotion regulation/effortful control in children’s lives. Eisenberg et al. (1998) proposed that socialization of emotion regulation can occur in at least 3 ways 1) socializers’ reaction to children’s emotions, 2) socializers’ expression of emotion in the family or toward the child and 3) socializers’ discussion of emotion (the "socializer" is the parent or caregiver). Let's look at these 3 in more detail.

1)    Try your best to stay calm through the storm.

Parental reactions to children’s emotions have been extensively researched and findings have suggested that sensitive, responsive parenting is linked with lower negativity and more regulatory behavior (Propper & Moore 2006, Li-Grining 2007). In addition, this type of parenting has also been shown to lower cortisol response to emotional arousal in children (Blair et al. 2008). Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. Researchers refer to this as “maternal sensitivity” and an interesting study in 2007 (Belsky et al.) showed increased maternal sensitivity predicted better attention in first grade. Maternal interactions characterized by warmth and support are also thought to foster emotion-regulation skills.

Parenting styles have also been studied in relation to emotion regulation. Authoritarian (high on strict control and low on warmth), negative and punitive parenting has been associated with lower levels of effortful control (Xu et al. 2009). Researchers suggest that supportive responses along with emotion coaching may help children to reduce their negative emotions as well as help them understand the emotion while non-supportive may induce more negative emotions and dysregulation (Eisenberg et al. 2010).

A toddler’s emotional outbursts (aka temper tantrums) are difficult for both the child and parent. Janet Lansbury, a parenting expert says it best, “ I also know that staying calm and centered in the face of even the darkest of my children’s emotions is imperative to their well-being”. Her books and blog provide parents with important information including how parents can remain calm during a tantrum and how to calm an angry child

2)    Model emotions and behavior for your children.

One of my past Curious Neuron articles discussed the importance of refraining from arguing in front of babies. This remains true for toddlers. Research has shown that toddlers will learn emotions by imitating those found in their environment and use this to guide their own emotion regulation strategies (Morris et al. 2007). Given that parental expressivity guides a child’s emotions, parents need to be aware and mindful of their emotions (towards children and adults) around their children. 

3)    Discuss emotions with your children.

Talking to children about different emotions can help them understand their own emotions and help them self-regulate. Studies have shown that children whose parents discuss emotions with them tend to have higher levels of regulation. With children as young as 2, you can start introducing emotions through books, games, and play. For instance, you can use stuffed animals with younger toddlers to model certain emotions and behaviors during various scenarios such as getting a toy taken away by another child. The book Happy Hippo, Angry Duck was the first book I used to introduce emotions to my toddler. Throughout the day I would mimic the faces shown in the book and refer to the animals (each has a different emotion) when I was experiencing a certain emotion. With younger kids (5/6 and under) you can also leave emotion flash cards lying around the house. When they are experiencing an emotion you can link it to the picture and word to help them understand the various emotions. As she got older, I introduced the characters from the movie Inside out. There are a set of books for toddlers/preschoolers that are great for introducing emotions. After introducing my daughter to these books, we would refer to the characters throughout the day. For example, if we were outside I would ask “If you were Joy, how would you feel right now about all this snow” or “If you were sadness/fear how would you feel about all this snow”. I would then guide her about feeling happy there is snow, or sad that there is so much snow and that it is cold and not summer or afraid of all the snow, respectfully. With older children, you can use another Inside Out book that helps guide them through the thought process of why they used certain emotions in a situation and if they could have reacted differently. 

In summary...

In part 2 of this topic, I will cover how creating an attachment with your child can help with their emotional-regulation, the importance of sleep and I will discuss some emotion regulation strategies. There is no magic potion to stop temper tantrums or to get a child to develop strong emotional regulation strategies. It takes time, hard work, patience, deep breaths, lots of love and more patience. When my daughter struggles with her emotions, I remind myself that she needs my guidance. I can't get upset at the fact that she is learning and needs my help (although lack of sleep thanks to my baby can make some days difficult to think this way!)

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How does bonding with our children affect their brain?

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of www.curiousneuron.com

Montreal, Canada.

Although my daughter is only 13 months, she has taught me so much about life. The most important thing she has taught me is to slow down and enjoy life. For as long as I could remember, all I did was work. I regretfully never had time for friends, family or my husband. During almost 9 years of graduate studies, I worked 7 days a week and reached 100+ hours a week way too often. When I got pregnant with my daughter I had 3 jobs, 2 of which were full-time. My life has always been all about work, but now, my life is her. Although I am running Curious Neuron, I am home with my daughter during the day. I work when she naps, at night and on weekends. My life can still get a little hectic at times. However, when I am with my daughter, nothing else matters. Regardless of the many deadlines I have, I learned not to think about these when I am with her. This has been a challenge and naturally, sometimes I have a little slip. Today was one of those days. 

I had lots to do today and as I was getting her ready for her nap I was mentally planning out everything I needed to get done during that nap and I was feeling overwhelmed. She fell asleep in my arms and as I lay her in her crib she woke up crying. I picked her up and walked around with her in my arms until she fell asleep again. This time, I waited a little longer to make sure she was in a deep sleep and I thought to myself, "Please, please sleep. I have so much work to do!!". However, as soon as I lay her down she woke up and cried. I tried once more but to no avail. 

I sat down in the chair next to her crib and started feeling anxious. I had so much work to do, but then I realized that I was missing out on this precious moment. My daughter still needs me to cuddle with her. Right now, she just wants to hear my heart beat and be with me. One day, she will be older and I will long for the days where she napped on me and I could just hold her and be in the moment, forgetting about everything else. By thinking of work at this moment, I was taking something away from it. So I stopped thinking of work, kissed her head and held her as she took her nap. When she woke about an hour later, she looked up and me and smiled. 

Bonding and the brain. 

This got me thinking about the importance of bonding with our children and how it impacts both the brain of both mother and child. There is a lot of research on the hormone that is released when we bond, called Oxytocin. This hormone is released when a mother gives birth, when a baby suckles on a mother's breast, when you hold your child, and even when you look into your baby's eyes (the release of this hormone also occurs in fathers...but I will post about this another time!). When oxytocin is released in the mom or child, their stress levels are reduced and the reward pathway of her brain is activated (this gives us the feeling of satisfaction). Oxytocin also enhances social behavior (social attention, prosocial behavior, sensitivity to gaze, and sensitivity to facial expression). When levels of oxytocin are increased infants, they are more socially engaged (they activity seek parental social interaction for soothing). Interestingly, current research is starting to look into administering oxytocin to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to improve social impairments. Disrupted levels of oxytocin in infants are also being discussed in research as possible links to this disorder. 

As parents, we always have something to do. Work, cleaning, laundry, and much more! However, sometimes a child just needs to be with their parent to feel close to them and boost those oxytocin levels, so let's be more aware of the importance of bonding and try to do it as often as we could! :)