Recep­tive lan­guage, trust and con­ti­nu­ity of qual­i­ty care are three of the crit­i­cal build­ing blocks in the first year of life. If the child­care you give or pay for is of a high qual­i­ty the oth­er two ought to fall into place. The neu­rotyp­i­cal devel­op­ment of any one build­ing block does­n’t hap­pen with­out the pres­ence of the others.

By way of expla­na­tion ‘recep­tive lan­guage’ is what we label an infant’s response to the words we say to him. When a 3 month-old infant grins and gur­gles at us he is usu­al­ly respond­ing to our own facial expres­sions, lan­guage and bur­blings – he is already ‘receiving’ the lan­guage we are offer­ing him.

As he approach­es the one-year mark (with the most advanced babies it will be around 8 or 9 months) and he is crawl­ing about, he might hold up an object as if to show it to us. If we say “Oh, Sam, you found the ele­phant, can you show it to me?” (we might even be sit­ting a lit­tle way away from Sam and hold­ing our hand out, palm up of course)…and then Sam crawls over and gives us the ele­phant – our whole ‘conversation’ was based on the child’s recep­tive lan­guage. This is how we begin to know just how much lan­guage and label­ing your child, any child, has already received and is capa­ble of ‘receiving’.

Sim­i­lar­ly if a 15 month-old knows a reg­u­lar­ly sung nurs­ery rhyme like ‘Row, row, row your boat” and we ask if they want to sing ‘row, row’ and they respond ‘r’ we should be suf­fi­cient­ly famil­iar with their grow­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion abil­i­ties and behav­iour to know that the two of us are in agree­ment and we should then go on to start singing the song and doing the motions that go with it. We com­mu­ni­cat­ed, the child com­mu­ni­cat­ed and we reached a mutu­al agree­ment “time to sing”!

It does require that we as a par­ent or car­er enjoy the ini­tial sim­ple rep­e­ti­tion involved with reg­u­lar­ly car­ing for infants. This rep­e­ti­tion of lan­guage, and actions that are relat­ed, is one of the build­ing blocks to speech — we should be scaf­fold­ing those expe­ri­ences and lan­guage use every sin­gle day. If we aren’t hap­py with what might be deemed ‘menial’ rep­e­ti­tion then I sug­gest we either shouldn’t be work­ing in ear­ly child­hood care or not have children!

Per­son­al­ly I love the dai­ly accom­plish­ments of the lit­tle ones I’ve cared for – every day there’s a new word from the most ver­bal (the ones with the best recep­tive lan­guage). All these accom­plish­ments come because of – trust. 

The oth­ers, accord­ing to my stan­dards, seem to be ‘lagging behind’. Then I sus­pect that no one at home has been work­ing on the child’s recep­tive lan­guage and prob­a­bly no one at day­care either. Those babies do not trust their par­ents or their car­ers. Such par­ents are often more con­cerned about the mate­ri­als or out­door activ­i­ties their child is exposed to, not under­stand­ing that recep­tive lan­guage and trust are two of the most crit­i­cal foun­da­tions in the first 2 years – with­out it chil­dren are behav­iour­al chal­lenges to all but the very best caregivers!

Trust is so crit­i­cal to ear­ly child­hood that the lack of it is easy to iden­ti­fy in chil­dren who have no sem­blance of it in their day­care or home lives. Their behav­ioral insta­bil­i­ty is man­i­fest every sin­gle day! With 13-month-old infants it’s usu­al­ly scream­ing ‘for no appar­ent rea­son’. With those who are 2 and old­er it’s behav­iour­al pat­terns that frus­trate even the most expe­ri­enced care­givers and teachers.

With­out trust between par­ent and any of their child’s (often) mul­ti­ple care­givers or from care­giv­er to care­giv­er, a young child doesn’t have trust in his world. Those with­out trust are usu­al­ly quite removed from the adults around them. Such chil­dren aren’t total­ly free to par­tic­i­pate in what’s going on in their day room. The adult care­givers, not know­ing that they need to build trust or not even know­ing how to build trust, sim­ply go about their dai­ly ‘work’ (for many it is sim­ply ‘a job’) doing just the prac­ti­cal tasks for each infant and child.

But chil­dren are lit­tle humans and we, albeit poor­ly paid care­givers of the very young, must do all in our pow­er to help them grow to be the best they can be in every way. We must sup­ply an envi­ron­ment of trust in which they can build their phys­i­cal and lan­guage skills to ready them to move up to their next age group. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true of cen­tres where chil­dren do not remain with a pri­ma­ry care­giv­er for their first 3 years.

Which brings me to the final essen­tial com­po­nent in infant and tod­dler care…continuity of qual­i­ty care. A vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble thing to pro­vide in the day­care set­ting — even in the best facil­i­ties staff move on.

I’m not sure how to ensure con­ti­nu­ity of qual­i­ty care in a cen­tre sit­u­a­tion – most par­ents are so unaware of how impor­tant it is and cer­tain­ly in my expe­ri­ence, some cen­tre own­ers have no clue as to its impor­tance let alone how to pro­vide it.

Quite prob­a­bly it all comes down to pounds and pence or dol­lars and cents – but run­ning a day­care is tru­ly a HUGE respon­si­bil­i­ty. It isn’t enough to give par­ents the sales pitch, to sell them on what your facil­i­ty can (or might) pro­vide, what mat­ters is the stan­dard of care your staff reaches. 

Not know­ing whether or not you have qual­i­ty staff nor under­stand­ing that con­ti­nu­ity of qual­i­ty care is essen­tial to neu­rotyp­i­cal devel­op­ment in young chil­dren are two of the biggest miss­ing pieces in admin­is­tra­tion of ear­ly child­hood care.

Such irre­spon­si­ble admin­is­tra­tors actu­al­ly end up break­ing everyone’s trust, the chil­dren and their fam­i­lies and the staff!