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The earlier that we can start to help our children understand their emotions, the better the outcome in raising kind, empathetic children. Brain scientists, educators, economists and public health experts all agree that building a good foundation for healthy relationships begins at birth. The earlier that your child can adapt and develop key social-emotional skills—like attentiveness, persistence and impulse control—the sooner they can begin engaging in healthy social interactions with peers.

Young children aren’t necessarily born with the skills to engage in healthy relationships; they are born with the potential to develop them. With young children, it’s important that parents teach empathy by being the example. Show empathy daily to your children, family, and others in your community during your day. When empathy is shown by the parent, talk that through with your child by being attentive to their feelings. Use language like “I know that was hard for you, you seemed sad but you’re safe and loved.” This language will help children to be aware of their own emotions and feelings, in turn helping them be empathic to others.

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Tips for Parents:

  1. Explore your child’s emotions together and engage them in imaginative play to learn how to express those feelings so that they can better manage their emotions before starting preschool.
  2. Teach your child that it’s okay to have whatever feeling they are having: anger, frustration, embarrassment, fear, even rage, but that it is not acceptable for their actions to cross over and affect someone else negatively.
  3. Teach your child that it’s good to try to understand why someone else is having negative feelings. There may be a very good reason for their friend or acquaintance to be feeling angry or afraid.
  4. Teach your child that it’s never okay for them or anyone else to use their feelings as an excuse to verbally attack someone. And that when someone does this, it is time to get an adult into the situation.

You as a parent play an important role along with your child’s teachers in laying a strong foundation for social-emotional skills that will help your child to form healthy relationships. It is important for the adults in your child’s life to model positive behaviors and set clear rules.


Here are 2 activities that you can do at home with your little one to help teach them about empathy:

Conscious Discipline Kindness Tree

Make a Kindness Tree

The Kindness Tree is a symbolic way to record kind and helpful actions. Family members place leaves or notes on the tree to represent kind and helpful acts. Parents can notice these acts by saying, “You __(describe the action)__ so __(describe how it impacted others)__. That was helpful/kind!” For example, “Shubert helped Sophie get dressed so we would be on time for our library playdate. That was helpful!”

The Kindness Tree can also grow with families who have children of mixed ages. Initially, young children simply put a leaf on the tree to represent kind and helpful acts. As children grow and learn to write, the ritual evolves to include writing the kind acts down on leaves or sticky notes. Start your own Kindness Tree with this template.

Families with older children can simply use a Kindness Notebook to record kind acts and read them aloud daily or weekly.

Make a We Care Center

Two girls playing togetherThe We Care Center provides a way for family members to express caring and empathy for others. Fill your We Care Center with supplies like minor first aid items (Band-Aids, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, scented lotion), card-making supplies (preprinted cards, paper, crayons, sentence starters), and a tiny stuffed animal for cuddling.

When a friend or family member is ill, hurt, or having a hard time, your family can go to the We Care Basket to find a way to show that person they care. At first, parents might need to suggest how and when to use the We Care Center, but your children will quickly understand the intent. In this way, the We Care Center encourages the development of empathy by providing a means for children to offer caring and thoughtfulness to others every day.

This content was cross-promoted on our partner’s website, Big Heart World. Check out Big Heart World for additional social-emotional resources for parents and educators.

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There’s been a national discussion about increasing our aptitude in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)/science technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). America is underperforming other industrial nations, and these areas are increasingly playing a critical role in career success.

Much of the conversation focuses on improvements in the middle and high school years. But we can begin building STEM/STEAM skills much earlier than that—as soon as a child starts speaking.

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Some young children are innately interested in: learning how things work, building things and taking things apart. But all children can be enticed into STEM/STEAM learning through whatever they’re already interested in. Both STEM and STEAM support play, wonder and curiosity; but STEAM includes an art component that allows children to create and design with intention. STEM and STEAM encourage children to solve problems by using inquiry and investigation.

Since young children tend to ask lots of questions, you can introduce STEM/STEAM basics by following these simple “CHIA” steps:

  • Curiosity: “So glad you asked!”
  • Hypothesis: “Why don’t you make a guess?”
  • Investigation: “Let’s look into it!”
  • Analysis: “Why do you think that happened?”

Before beginning any activity with your toddler, ask them what they think is going to happen. Then ask why they think that. They’ve just created a hypothesis and given their logic for that hypothesis—the foundation of all scientific exploration. By then creating experiments with your toddler and talking about what you observe, you’re setting them up to plan, brainstorm, build, and solve problems exactly like scientists and engineers do.

Ideas for You and Your Child:

  1. Build a ramp for toy cars to roll down. Have your toddler race two cars down the ramp. Ask them to predict which one will get to the bottom first. Then have them play with how to make the cars faster or slower. For example, if you put a small stone on the car, does it make it go faster? Buildable toys provide great opportunities for experimentation. What happens to the speed when your toddler makes the car bigger, heavier, or longer? This is experimentation, and it’s fun!
  2. When you go for a walk, you can guide the conversation, or let your child come up with their own experiments. If you see an animal, play with how softly you can talk before the animal notices you. Or ask your child why the squirrels race around the tree. Right answers are not the goal—this is about asking questions and predicting the answer.

Remember that it’s okay for both you and your child to answer “I don’t know” to any question. It’s asking the question that’s important because that is where all science begins.

STEAM At-Home Activity: Building Structures

While at home, parents can introduce building structures with their children. The materials for this activity consist of wide popsicle sticks, clear plastic drinking cups and small cube blocks. Parents can encourage their child to build a structure while engaging in conversation about how many cups will it take to build the structure. What will happen if you use fewer cups and more popsicle sticks? How high can you build? The children can learn about balance, height, measurement and a host of wonderful things. This at-home activity needs little to no planning, but a readiness to think outside of the box.

Don’t underestimate the incredible thinking skills that young children have. With just a playful shift in word choice, we can allow for a dramatic shift in getting our babies ready for a STEM/STEAM education!

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two children coloring togetherParents in Chicago often enroll their children ages 3-5 in community-based organizations because they love and trust their local early learning program and because the program provides more convenient hours and comprehensive, year-long services for families. With support from Crown Family Philanthropies, Start Early launched a new initiative this summer in partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Chicago’s six federally funded Head Start grant recipients to make special education services more accessible for the city’s children ages 3-5 who are enrolled in community-based Head Start programs.

Currently in the city of Chicago, special education services are not provided in community-based settings where many children are enrolled. Instead, children attend both their community-based program and a school-based program, which involves bus rides and multiple transitions between classrooms in one day. Some parents who rely on community-based settings for early learning may forgo these services that their child needs to avoid distress and challenging behaviors that can follow the multiple transitions.

Even when children receive their special education services in a CPS classroom, those supports do not follow them to their community-based setting. This leaves children unable to fully access and participate in the classroom and it leaves teachers without the support they need to ensure the best quality educational experience. As a result, children may experience barriers to healthy development. The current system also poses long-term challenges for CPS as they work to ensure equitable access to special education and kindergarten readiness for all students.

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Together, when we start early, we can close the opportunity gap and ensure every child has a chance to reach their full potential.

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The goal of this project is to ensure access to inclusive special education services for all children with disabilities enrolled in community-based early childhood programs in Chicago. To this end, we are working in partnership with families and educators to develop, implement, assess, and institutionalize feasible strategies and approaches for delivering special education services to children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) onsite in the Head Start programs in which they are enrolled.

Start Early staff are nationally recognized leaders in special education for young children. Learn more about Start Early’s recommendations for strengthening early childhood inclusion for young children with disabilities, and contact us to learn how you can support high-quality, accessible education for all young children.

The Crown family has worked for decades alongside Start Early to increase access to equitable, high-quality early education and care for all children and families in Chicago, including recent support for the launch of Every Child Ready Chicago, a public-private partnership to support access to high-quality early childhood education in the city.

Start Early remains grateful to Crown Family Philanthropies as we champion early learning and care and close the opportunity gap for our youngest learners.

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We don’t know much about art, but we know what we like—and that’s seeing young children find ways to express themselves and spark creativity while they’re learning. Whether you have a little Picasso on your hands or you are actively looking for ways to introduce art to your child, we have tips for you!

We asked our Start Early experts for their advice for parents and caregivers on the best ways to use art to support your child’s learning and development. And the teachers of Room 114 at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, delivered.

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Check out what Annaliese Newmeyer, Charlene Macklin, Lisa LaRue have shared when it comes to why art is so important for our youngest learners and how you can make it part of your everyday routine:

What are the benefits of introducing art to young learners?

Art is an important part of child’s development in young learners. It not only provides children with a way to express themselves and spark their creativity, but it also provides teachers with a glimpse into how a child sees the world and what is important to them. Something as small as how a child focuses on a butterfly’s wing when drawing a butterfly, or the details of their hair in a self-portrait; whatever it is, art can be a window into a child’s mind.

Going to school can be traumatic for young children, they have to say goodbye to their favorite people and spend the day following rules and sharing, so art can be a way to relax and meet a child’s social and emotional needs as a form of self-regulation. And most of all, art is fun!

Are there any specific cognitive or physical developmental abilities that art projects help support in early learners?

By holding different types of drawing materials your child is actively working on their fine motor development. Art also works a different part of your brain than science or math since there is a no wrong answer.

Breaking down art projects into steps helps develop cognitive abilities. For example, when we introduce painting, we teach the children the steps: dip- paint- clean, dip- paint- clean. We can even make it into a little song and dance to help the kids remember to dip their paint brush in the paint, paint and then clean off the brush to get a new color.

Art is also very scientific and mathematical. You are asking big important questions when you want to know what happens when you mix colors or layer textures or create patterns.

What at-home projects you would recommend for infants and toddlers?

This is the best time to introduce different art materials to your child. The more experience they have with crayons, markers and paints the better they will be able to express themselves as they get older.

  • Focus on the sensory aspect and talk about texture.
  • Put words to your child’s actions, “you are touching the cold, smooth red paint. It’s red like an apple or a firetruck. The red is very vibrant on the white paper.”
  • Be playful and enjoy it. It won’t look like Pinterest, it will be messy.
  • Be prepared with wipes, paper towels and clothing that can get dirty.
  • Give your children a material and observe how they use it, what can you add to make the experience fuller or to extend their interest?
  • Use age-appropriate materials like chunky crayons, no markers, non-toxic paint, play dough, contact paper, tissue paper.

What at-home projects you would recommend for children ages 3-5?

  • Collaging
  • Cutting (an important fine motor skill)
  • Drawing pictures and describing the image
  • Telling a story about their art
  • Bookmaking
  • Junk art with material from the recycling bin

What is your favorite aspect of teaching art to early learners and why?

It’s fun because you can learn about the child through their art. You learn if they mind getting messy and how they see the world around them. One student we had was so amazing with watercolors, every time we brought out the watercolors, she would paint the most amazing pictures. She struggles in other areas in the classroom but working with the paint gave her a confidence that was then reflected throughout the classroom.

You get to watch them create; we might not understand what they are painting or drawing but they do. For example, we might see a red circle but to them it’s a volcano. They get so excited about their creations.

Art is a form of expression, so it helps us be able to see deeper into their minds and what they find important. For example, we might give children wings, a body, black and yellow stripes of paper and glue and ask them to make a bee and to see the variations in what a bee will look like is amazing! Some kids focus on the stripes or the wings or even where they will place the eyes is fascinating.

Any other tips for incorporating art into children’s learning?

  • It’s not about the product it’s about the process!
  • Give them a provocation (example: have them draw a picture of their fish).
  • Take paper and crayons everywhere you go and have your child record what they see around them.
  • Have your child tell you a story about what they create.
  • Annaliese Newmeyer, M.Ed, has been a Mentor Coach and Lead Teacher at Educare Chicago for the past 9 years. Annaliese enjoys reading children’s books and gardening with children. She feels like it is important to teach children to take care of others and heal each other through actions rather than words.
  • Charlene Macklin has been a teacher at Educare Chicago for 9 years and is currently working on her PEL license at the University of Illinois Chicago. She enjoys arts and crafts and hands-on experiences to build children’s understanding of the world around them.
  • Lisa LaRue has been a teacher for over 25 years, and at Educare Chicago for 15 years. Her motto is, “We are a Classroom Community,” and she works to establish a cooperative community through learning. She is an expert in preparing children for kindergarten.

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By Joan Lombardi

Over the holidays, I heard the term metaverse across multiple media platforms. From TV talk shows and the news to newspaper articles, the concept was everywhere, and I wanted to understand what it means. Meta seems to have several meanings depending on how it is used – as a prefix it sometimes means transformation or transcending.  In the “tech world” the metaverse seems to be referring to some overarching system that would transcend the different parts that make up that world today.

While not totally grasping this emerging concept, these ideas are not completely new to a student of child development. We can relate to the idea of an overarching system evolving beyond its current collection of parts to create an all-encompassing approach to achieving a common goal.

We know health, learning and behavior are connected, and holistic child development requires an integration of these elements that transcends their parts; health affects learning, learning affects health, and social-emotional development affects them both. We also know development begins early, with each stage building on another. Moreover, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory has grounded our thinking: we can’t separate the child from the well-being of the family. They both depend on supportive communities and policies.

As we enter 2022, let’s recommit our energies to creating a system that could be thought of as meta-care. This approach would go beyond a collection of isolated programs and services to an interconnected system supporting the whole developing child. In this community, the parent, childcare provider, physicians, home visitors, teachers, local librarians and housing agencies all matter for a successful start in life.

Last year, I had the opportunity to talk to several parents, providers and local leaders across the country. Each was working to build these connections to make their community “the best place to raise a child.” I recognized four common elements in these initiatives:

  • Firm beliefs in centering all actions on family and caregiver voices to improve their living and working conditions
  • Commitment to equity
  • Processes for data tracking and mapping services
  • Continuous improvement mechanisms that include ongoing partnerships across services and sectors

The country’s future depends on how we care for young children and families. In the upcoming year, our hope remains that landmark federal legislation is passed to provide the critical investments we need. When this happens, implementation will move to the states and communities and new opportunities to work together will emerge. We must renew our efforts of support to assure a robust continuum of care: from healthy births to children thriving at age three, at five and beyond.

It doesn’t matter if we use a new term like meta-care; what matters is that we intensify our pursuit of better outcomes for all children. Let’s allow the needs of families and caregivers to guide our actions, transcend old boundaries and make a system of caring a reality for the next generation.

Dr. Joan Lombardi is a national and international thought leader in early childhood. She has been a key collaborator and consultant to Start Early in a variety of ways over the years. 

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By Mina Hong and Carrie Gillispie

Amid all the disruption to in-person learning due to the pandemic, it’s time to focus on children with disabilities, which account for 1.2 million young children birth through five. Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), first enacted in 1975, inclusive early care and education (ECE) programs, where children with disabilities learn alongside children without disabilities, is integrated in the federal special education law. Inclusive education has many benefits for all children, regardless of disability status. In fact, inclusion is so essential to child development that it is integrated in federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirement, IDEA calls for young children with developmental delays and disabilities to receive special education and related services alongside typically developing peers in all settings. For young children, LRE includes school-based preschool and community-based settings like Head Start and child care; yet, far too few children with disabilities have had access to these high-quality inclusive options.

Now, Congress has the power to change that with the Build Back Better Act (BBB) and increased IDEA funding in the federal Fiscal Year 2022 (FFY2022) budget. By leveraging these federal investments, states can revolutionize ECE to be truly inclusive and equitable for our nation’s youngest learners with delays and disabilities.

BBB combined with anticipated IDEA funding increases in FFY2022 provides a historic opportunity to expand full inclusion across early childhood settings. BBB significantly invests in expanding equitable access to ECE for families who have been historically underserved — families with lower incomes, families of color, and families of young children with disabilities. Though BBB prioritizes enrollment of young children with delays and disabilities in ECE programs, additional dedicated funding in BBB to support their inclusion is not explicitly defined. Therefore, it is paramount that these expanded early learning opportunities are directed to underserved children with delays and disabilities – particularly children of color – in school and community-based settings that best meet families’ and children’s needs. The anticipated funding increase in the FFY2022 budget will further support the delivery of early intervention, special education and related services to young children under IDEA Part C and IDEA Part B 619. Together, BBB and the IDEA funding proposed in FFY2022 can support the expansion of full inclusion across high quality ECE in all settings.

Despite best efforts, Local Education Agencies (LEAs) face barriers to providing inclusive community-based services outside of school district classrooms including limited guidance, budgetary constraints, and workforce shortages. LEA leaders have expressed the need for guidance and examples of effective service delivery and staffing models to support inclusive special education and related services to all children residing in their districts across ECE settings. Unfortunately, the children who are disproportionately impacted by this are young children from families with lower income, particularly families of color. This group of children are often forced to attend both their community-based program and a school-based program to receive special education services, resulting in multiple bus rides and transitions in a single day. Some families even forego critical special education services to avoid these transitions. Additionally, the workforce crisis that has plagued the early childhood field has led to a staff shortage, which is also acutely felt by the early childhood special education field. While BBB includes provisions to boost compensation for the ECE workforce, funding is also needed to attract and retain special educators. Coupling BBB and FFY2022 funding can support LEAs and their ECE partners as they create equitable systems to ensure programs have the financial resources, workforce capacity, and clear federal guidance needed to support equitable inclusion.

Given this, it is paramount that the U.S. Senate pass the Build Back Better Act in a timely manner while Congress approves the FFY2022 budget with the IDEA Part C and Part B 619 funding increases. Once passed, the federal government should provide clear guidance on how states and communities will ensure children receive special education and related services in all settings. And states, communities, and LEAs should plan how they will collaborate to equitably support young children with disabilities in early childhood settings expanded through new federal dollars. Here’s how:

  • Clearly delineating in state plans the ways in which state and local policies and practices will operationalize equitable access and quality in ECE for young children with disabilities and developmental delays across settings. Specifically, plans should prioritize families with low incomes, dual language learners, and from other underserved populations as defined in BBB.
  • Prioritizing inclusion in mixed delivery settings, including giving all educators access to resources on high-quality inclusion practices and giving LEAs clear guidance and sufficient funding to do so. This also includes professional development and systems of support for educators to reduce the suspension and expulsion of young children with disabilities and children of color.
  • Providing equitable and accessible pathways to obtaining early childhood special education qualifications in order to strengthen the workforce; providing service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs for special education trainees to increase incentives to enter the profession; and most importantly, providing adequate compensation for the entire ECE workforce including special education teachers.
  • Collecting and publicly reporting data on district- and program-level adherence to LRE across early childhood settings and disciplinary data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, family income level, gender, dual language learner status, and disability category under IDEA.

Young children with disabilities have always faced systemic barriers to the strong start they deserve. Now is the time for Congress, states, LEAs, and communities to each do their part and collaborate, so that young children with delays and disabilities can access the equitable and inclusive services and supports they need and deserve.

With contributions by Karen Berman, Katie Fisher and Amanda Schwartz

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Start Early has been named the winner of a Gold Stevie® Award for Achievement in Benefits Design and Administration for its paid parental leave program. The Stevie Awards for Great Employers recognize the world’s best employers and the human resources professionals, teams, achievements and HR-related products and suppliers who help to create and drive great places to work.

The overwhelming benefits of paid leave compel Start Early to advocate for these policies nationally and inspired our organization’s leading paid leave policy. During a child’s first few weeks and months, a nurturing and supportive environment lays the foundation for their future success in school and life. Our paid parental leave program allows families to be together at this most critical time.

In 2019, the People & Culture team set a strategic goal to transform our leave program through improved employee benefits, explicitly enhancing our paid parental leave for the year 2020. Infancy is the most crucial period of brain development and it is vital that babies and their parents are supported during this time to promote bonding and healthy attachment. We knew it was time to up our game and we needed to create a parental leave package that matched our mission and supported families in the moments that matter most: the earliest years.

After a series of focus groups with former and expecting parents to discuss what was working and where we needed to improve, we rolled out our new policy in 2020, including:

  • Increasing our parental leave by more than 50% (from 12 weeks to 6 months) for both moms and dads Introducing 100% paid leave, eliminating the need for employees to use their own vacation, sick or personal hours to receive full pay
  • Expanding our paid leave eligibility to include adoption, surrogacy, or foster parenting
  • Launching an integrated family benefits platform, Cleo, to help connect families with the support they need to be their best at home and at work
  • Activating Bright Horizons, a benefit that assists employees returning from leave with finding childcare or back-up care, if needed.

Together, these award-winning benefits help our families start off on a strong path.

Start Early and other honorees were recognized during a virtual awards ceremony on November 17. Details about the Stevie Awards for Great Employers and the list of 2021 Stevie winners are available at www.StevieAwards.com/HR.

Nurturing others comes naturally for Victoria Barajas, who has found her true calling as a home visitor. After spending 10 years working at an early learning school, she was drawn to home visiting’s ability to create supports for the whole family that build a strong foundation for years to come.

The “Yes Moment”

Home visitors like Victoria help parents engage in their children’s education and get a better understanding of developmental milestones. “A lot of parents are not aware that what they bring to the table impacts their child’s development,” she shares. “As parents get more involved, they’ll tell me things like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know my child could do this. I thought they were too small,’ and it makes them more eager to be involved.”

This builds a strong foundation for future learning. “Having the parent involved shows the child that their parent took the time to be with them and interact with them, so they feel confident enough to detach and interact with other adults,” she explains. When the child gets older, they’re more receptive to what they’re learning, are better able to problem solve and have increased communication skills.

For Victoria, the “yes moment” comes when parents begin to follow their child’s curiosity and development. “We can’t choose their interests for them — if we don’t follow their curiosity, they won’t want to learn anything else,” she says. “I know it clicks when parents say, ‘Wait, I know we planned for this because that’s what they were interested in last week but they’re not interested in that anymore. Can we do this instead?’”

Meeting Families Where They’re At

As a Spanish-speaking Latina, Victoria knows being part of a diverse home visiting workforce is essential to fostering intimate relationships with her families.

“You need to be empathetic and meet parents and families where they are at. It’s beneficial that I can connect with families in their language. It’s where they feel more confident in speaking and interacting with me because that is how they’re communicating with their child,” Victoria explains.

It is important to consider each family’s home culture and how they interact with their child. “Even among Latinos, Mexicans speak different dialects and Ecuadorians have different vocabulary so you can’t go into the home assuming everyone speaks the same type of Spanish.”

By building relationships with every adult in the home, including grandparents, Victoria builds a foundation of professionalism, empathy and cultural sensitivity. “When you do that, the adults give you so much more to work with and are open to receiving whatever you bring to their home,” she shares.

Supporting the Whole Family

In addition to helping parents build strong relationships with their children, home visitors connect families to the resources and supports in the community they need to thrive. Particularly during times of high stress, a parent may feel unable to give their full self to supporting their child. That’s why home visiting provides comprehensive supports to families. It’s only when a parent feels 100% that they can be fully present.

“I tell families that I’m here to work with the family as a whole, not just the child,” she shares. “If parents are focused on what they’re going through financially or dealing with depression, I know only supporting children’s development isn’t going to help. Once we address families’ basic needs and supports, we start to see an increase in parent interaction.”

During the pandemic, Victoria helped her families access basic needs like diapers, baby wipes, formula, cleaning supplies and gift cards to purchase additional items. “All my families said they really appreciated it, especially those who lost their jobs. It kept them afloat,” she recalls.

One of the biggest challenges during COVID was helping families with technology needs. Victoria helped her families navigate a variety of issues, from lacking access to a laptop or tablet to not having enough data to download the new apps required for virtual meetings. When some of her parents struggled to download mobile apps because the instructions were in English, she shared screenshots and instructions in Spanish.

As the pandemic ebbs and Victoria is able to resume in-person visits, she continues to prioritize each family’s perspective and comfort zone. “There are some families that are very relaxed and open to visitors and others that are very cautious as to their interaction with the rest of the world. I work with each individual family and meet them where they are.”

The Impact of Her Work

Now nearly 20 years into the work, Victoria remains passionate about being able to make a difference in children’s lives and help their parents understand why it’s important for them to be a part of their children’s development. Her reward is the pictures and text messages she receives from parents sharing a video of a first step, a photo from a birthday party, or an update from school.

“I got into this work for personal reasons, but working with families so closely and seeing the impact of my work is incredibly meaningful.”

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Plenty of adults have a hard time staying on top of their own dental health and may even dread going to the dentist for care. Some people may even wrongly think that baby teeth aren’t important since little kids are just going to lose those baby teeth anyway. However, it is very important to start building healthy habits early on. Did you know that a child’s dental health can have huge impacts on their school readiness and their ability to learn?

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We know that children must be healthy and ready to learn for school, and good dental health plays a bigger role than you might think. When we think about health and wellness, often dental health doesn’t come to mind; however, poor dental health during a child’s earliest years of life can be connected to poor attendance in school, lower test scores, decreased high school graduation rates and fewer job opportunities. Dental decay is the leading chronic health condition among children in the United States, and it’s 100% preventable!

Taking charge of your little one’s dental health is so important. The earlier you start taking your child to the dentist the easier it will become! They’ll get used to going and are likely to really enjoy it. We recommend taking your little one to a pediatric dentist and always seeing the same provider so they know your family better.

Why a Pediatric Dentist?

  • Pediatric dentists have been trained to expertly provide care to young children.
  • If treatment is needed, pediatric dentists can often provide care in fewer visits.
  • Having a consistent dentist will help both you as a parent and your child build a relationship with someone they know and trust.
  • As a parent you will receive quality dental health education on what you need to do to make sure your children are healthy. This includes information on nutrition, bottles, pacifiers, how to brush children’s teeth well, future growth and development and dental health issues associated with conditions like asthma or ADHD.
  • In a dental health emergency (fall, chip, pain), you have a trusted place you can take your child to be seen.

Important Reminders:

  • Exams and preventive care are important, but a child is not healthy if they have an infection (cavity) in their mouth.
  • The sooner tooth decay is treated, the easier it will be for the child and parent. If ignored, it will get worse and may cause a serious problem.
  • Children should be seen every 6 months (or more often if a child has a high risk), starting no later than 12 months. Parents shouldn’t leave the dental office without making a follow-up appointment.

Questions to Consider About Your Child’s Dental Health:

  • Do you need a referral to find a dentist? Is your dentist in your insurance network?
  • Are you happy with your child’s dentist?
  • When was the first time your child visited a dentist?
  • When was the last time your child visited a dentist?
  • Do you brush your child’s teeth daily?
  • Do you ever notice your child avoiding hot or cold drinks or hard to chew foods, having tooth pain (especially when chewing food), bleeding from the gums, or any odor from their mouth?

Tips for Infants:

  • Start cleaning your child’s mouth with a small soft toothbrush even before teeth come in. This will make it easier for your child to get used to it.
  • Do not let your child fall asleep with a bottle or while breastfeeding.
  • Never add sugar or honey to a bottle.
  • To sooth teething, rub gums with a cold spoon or clean teething ring.
  • As soon as the first tooth pops up, (at about 6 months) use a soft bristle brush and small amount of fluoride toothpaste (no more than grain of rice size) to brush.
  • Stop use of bottle at 1 year; instead use cup for drinking.
  • Visit dentist when teeth appear—experts recommend taking your baby to the dentist by the time their first tooth comes in, and no later than 12 months. It’s never too early to see the dentist!

Tips for Toddlers & Preschoolers:

  • Continue to brush your child’s teeth. They don’t have the skills to effectively do on their own until they can tie their shoes (at about 6-8 years).
  • When you brush your child’s teeth, lift the lip and look for color changes
    Give fruit rather than juice. If you do give juice, give no more than 6 oz. per day, and follow-up with water.
  • At age 3 begin flossing when two teeth touch.
  • Teach child to flush mouth with water after every meal.
  • Visit the dentist every 6 months, or more often if your dentist recommends it.
  • Cheese makes a good snack swap and is great for teeth!
  • Always be positive when you talk to your child about going to the dentist.

Children with a toothache may not know how to tell you they have pain. Be on the lookout for these signs:

  • Biting on one side
  • Eating only soft foods
  • Avoiding eating or drinking hot or cold foods

You have the power to make sure your child is free from tooth decay!


More Like This

“Who am I?” From the moment babies are born, they are learning about who they are, how to express their feelings and what makes them special. Their earliest relationships with parents and caregivers help develop a sense of belonging and set the foundation for their future learning and success.

Parents and caregivers can help young children along as they grow and learn more about who they are, their feelings and how they fit into this world.

Check out Big Heart World’s Parent and Caregiver Guides for more fun ideas to support your child’s social and emotional learning in the areas of Identify & Belonging, Feelings, and Similarities & Differences.

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