National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter
Sherry C. Betts, Ph.D.
Human Development and Family Studies
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
"Is your mommy smoking again, Jennifer? Tell her it's not good for you," said the provider as she reached for seven-month-old Jennifer.
Marcy, her 16-year-old mother, stood there trying to juggle the baby, diaper bag, cigarette, and school backpack. She snapped back, "Don't talk to my baby about me! You can't tell me not to smoke!!"
The provider meant to encourage Marcy to consider the effects of smoking on herself and her baby. Instead, Marcy became angry and ready to argue.
Child care providers face both opportunities and special challenges when caring for the children of teen parents. Here are five tips for success.
- Let teen parents know you are on their side. This means working to build trust and avoiding power struggles. The goal should be to treat all parents with respect and to be treated the same way by them. When parents happen to be teenagers, they sometimes see providers as authority figures. And some providers may react or treat them as children. Resist this urge! Let teen parents know you are on their side.
- Enjoy the energy of teen parents. Even though they may be parents, 16- and 17-year-olds need to have the fun other teens have. Teen parents can be responsible and still, at times, act like teenagers. Don't fault them for acting their age when it is appropriate.
- Support teen parents' attachments to their children. Sometimes young parents are jealous of caregivers. The attention and affection given to their children may make them fear loss of love from their babies. Show that you recognize them as the most important person in the baby's life.
- Use your knowledge and experience to gently teach and guide teen parents. Most teens are eager to learn. The key is to watch for opportunities. Share your view with respect. You may find the teachable moments occur more often. Also, you may learn some things from the teen parents.
- Get to know each teen parent as a person. We all need someone to talk to and share good news with, to encourage us, and to just listen when we are feeling low. All teens need a good relationship with at least one supportive adult. Teen parents are real people, separate from their children. Be a friend. Make a friend. Make a difference.
"Hi, Marcy! What a heavy load you have. Can I take something for you? C'mon, Jennifer. Your mom needs another two hands."
"What I really need is to stop smoking. How did you do it last year?"
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