Some parents complain that their children continually come home with paint on their clothes and sand in their hair, and ask that their children not be allowed to paint or play in the sandbox (Wardle, 2013, p. 221).


Problem Solving

Choose one of the following scenarios:

  1. Some parents request that their boys should not be permitted to play in the dress up area, and should not be allowed to wear women’s hats, shoes, and clothes to dress up.

  2. Some parents complain that their children continually come home with paint on their clothes and sand in their hair, and ask that their children not be allowed to paint or play in the sandbox (Wardle, 2013, p. 221).

Using the following strategies from Keyser, (SEE ATTACHED FILE ON CHAPTER 8. KEYSER STRATEGIES IS IN SECTION 8.3 LOOK FOR THE RED HIGHLIGHTED IN YELLOW) presented in Chapter 8,

*Construct a thoughtful response to the parent in your chosen situation.

  • Name the scenario in your post (Dress Up or Mess).

  • Then, respond to each of the following points in your post.

a. Listen and ask open-ended questions. (What questions will you ask to be sure you understand the parent’s perspective?)

b. Restate and reframe the parent’s ideas. (How will you rephrase the situation to demonstrate to the parent that you understand their problem?)

c. Find common ground. (Refer back to the child. Restate that both you and the parent want what is best for the child, therefore______ should be done.)

d. State your position, ideas, and feelings. (Be sure to leave your emotions out of this. Be sure to include fact.)

e. Give information as appropriate. (At this point, you must include one outside resource, preferably a community resource, to assist the parent with this issue.)

f. Give the parent an opportunity to respond. (What will you say to encourage the parent to share their thoughts?)

g. Outline the conflict as equally valid viewpoints. (Although this would be necessary in a conversation, it is not necessary to include in this assignment.)

h. Invite, discuss, and choose possible solutions. (Offer a reasonable solution.)

i. Thank the parent and set up a time to check back in. (What would be the appropriate amount of time before revisiting this situation?)

8.1 Problem Solving with Adults

Standard 1 of NAEYC’s Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria (2005a) states, “The program promotes positive relationships among all children and adults to encourage each child’s sense of individual worth and belonging as part of a community and to foster each child’s ability to contribute as a responsible community member” (p. 9). The rationale for the standard is that positive relationships and a positive, nurturing, sensitive climate are essential for the development of emotional regulation, constructive interactions, and overall learning in children (NAEYC, 2005a). Children develop a positive sense of self, and they are encouraged to respect and cooperate with others.

However, problems, conflicts, disagreements, and distrust can—and often do—develop. These can occur between the family and the program, between staff within the programs—staff to staff, directors and staff, staff and consultants—and between children in the program. When this occurs, caregivers need to engage in problem solving. While no family or early care and education program is ever totally without conflicts and issues to solve, the goal is, firstly, to create an environment where constructive problem solving can take place and, secondly, to be able to constructively solve problems.


Conflicts, confusion, and disagreements can cause intense feelings among those involved. To address conflicts and disagreements, we must try to determine where these feelings come from. In the heat of the moment, this will probably not be possible, but once we have had time to reflect, we need to look at the feelings that disagreements and problems produce.

We all have feelings, and it is very important to accept and appreciate these feelings. We need to reflect on our feelings and on why certain things make us feel a certain way. Feelings are complex, subjective experiences that involve physical and mental aspects of self—they can be felt, expressed, acted on, and thought about (Greenspan & Greenspan, 1985). All feelings have value and are useful—even ones we view as negative. Feelings are how we react to experiences, and they help us organize and make sense of our world. The great works of art, music, drama, and dance are based on feelings—some pleasant, and some dark and tragic.

We learn about feelings from our childhood experiences. When children are young, adults label the child’s emotions: “That bang scared you!” “The dog’s bark upset you!” Part of this socialization process is to help children know how to respond to the environment—for safety, to develop appropriate reactions to the environment, and to teach children culturally appropriate responses to their feelings. Other feelings, such as those of love, trust, fear, excitement, and surprise, are natural responses to the environment that help us feel good about ourselves and the social environment (Rogers, 1980).

Another way we learn about feelings is through social referencing (see Chapter 3). When a child is in a new situation, such as meeting a person for the first time or being exposed to a new animal or bird, that child will look to a caretaker to know how he or she is supposed to respond. If the adult smiles, shakes the stranger’s hand, and says, “This is a good friend of mine,” the child knows he or she can be friendly and relaxed. If the adult says, “Be careful, that dog might bite if you get too close,” and gently pulls the child away from the dog, the child knows to be cautious and aware around big dogs. The child may also learn to become scared of large dogs.

As we have said, social referencing begins in infancy to help the infant understand and respond appropriately to the world. And part of the socialization process is for the child to learn what we call cultural scripts—dictating to children how they are supposed to feel and to convey those feelings in specific situations. These cultural scripts also tell others whether a person is responding in a culturally appropriate fashion, and to which cultural groups an individual belongs.

In this manner, children are taught how to feel in certain situations. As adults, we tend to respond to the physical and social environment in the way we have been taught by parents and other significant adults when we were young, and according to the various scripts of our culture (Hall & Hall, 1976).

Cultural Aspects to Feelings

As the term implies, cultural scripts differ from culture to culture, and adults from different cultures have been raised with the scripts of their cultures. Some cultures affirm expressing one’s feelings—albeit in a socially appropriate manner—and then trying to solve whatever conflict caused those feelings; in other cultures, group coherence and loyalty are more important than expressing individual feelings (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009). In these cultures, while group displays of feelings (anger, frustration, and celebration) are encouraged, individual expressions are not. And in some cultures, public exhibition of feelings is taboo, but sharing feelings with family and friends is appropriate (Raeff, 2010). In still other cultures, a history of racism and persecution often elicits defensiveness, over-protection, and aggressive problem solving, especially when it involves children (Poussaint, 2007). In early care and education programs, men and other non-traditional caregivers may react in a similar fashion (see Making Caregivers Feel Welcome).

8.2 Parenting Styles

Many conflicts between families and early care and education programs begin with disagreements about discipline (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009; Kostelnik et al., 2009). The different ways parents discipline their children come from how they were raised, the age and generation of the parents, national and regional origin, culture, religion, and so on. These concepts combine to create what we call parenting styles. In the 1960s, Diana Baumrind, a professor at the University of California in Berkeley, studied 100 preschool children of white, middle-class, two-parent families in California. From her research, Baumrind indentified three different parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative (1967, 1971). Later researchers added a fourth style, uninvolved/neglectful parents (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Then Baumrind and other researchers determined the consequences of each parenting style on children’s behaviors, attitudes, and dispositions (Baumrind, 1991; Baldry & Farrington, 2000; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994). The focus on the research was on the mothers’ parenting styles (Winsler, Madigan, & Aquilino, 2005).

Below is a detailed description of each of the four parenting styles. The four parenting styles and their consequences on children’s behavior are summarized in Table 8.1.


Making Caregivers Feel Welcome

Many types of caregivers are involved in helping to raise young children today, such as male partners, “adopted” relatives, aunts and uncles or other extended family, foster parents, and stepparents. Here are some ways to include and make these non-traditional caregivers feel welcome in the early care and education program:

Include all caregivers in all aspects of the program, such as notes sent home, invitations to volunteer, or opportunities to work on committees.

Do not create separate rules and policies for men and women or “mothers” and “fathers” who volunteer in the classroom, on the playground, or on field trips.

Train staff on effective ways to communicate with all caregivers.

Make the early care and education program inviting. If possible, have male and female bathrooms, as well as pictures on the walls, magazines in the waiting area, and books on the shelves that are of general interest.

Provide activities for all that include the whole family and present opportunities for them to talk and interact with other caregivers. Solicit ideas regarding the kinds of activities they enjoy and would participate in.

Provide positive, affirmative training that highlights the critical significance of all types of caregivers in the lives of young children, and offer a variety of ways in which they can interact with their children—both boys and girls—in the program. Also, teach appropriate problem-solving techniques they can use with their children’s teacher and other program staff.

If you have non-traditional caregivers in your program, have them lead and organize activities, such as building or repairing the playground, volunteering to show the teachers how to use the workbench, or building puppet stages for each classroom.

Wardle, F. (2007). Men in early childhood: Fathers and teachers. Early Childhood News, 16(4), 34–42.

Authoritarian Parenting Style

Authoritarian parents are parents who believe the parent’s word should not be questioned: It is the law. Their decisions regarding rules and expectations are not open to interpretation or negotiation by their children. Misconduct produces strict punishment, often physical. These parents hold very high standards—sometimes too high for the developmental age of the child—and expect their children to meet these high standards. They do not expect their children to give opinions or express their feelings, and the discussion of emotions by authoritarian parents is rare. Also, they do not adjust expectations to each child’s unique needs, but rather treat each child exactly the same.

Children raised by authoritarian parents are not encouraged to think for themselves or to make their own decisions. Authoritarian parenting has been associated with a child becoming a bully (Baldry & Farrington, 2000). These parents often rely on physical punishment, and thus model aggressive behaviors to solve problems. These children have lower self-esteem and lower psychological maturity, low levels of moral reasoning, and poor academic achievement (Boyes & Allen, 1993; Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, & Roberts, 1987). They tend to be conscientious, obedient, and quiet, but they are not in touch with their emotions and often are not happy. In adolescence, they often rebel, leave home early, and may engage in criminal activities (Farrington & Hawkins, 1991).

Table 8.1: Parenting styles and their effect on children’s behaviors and attitudes

Parenting Style

Children’s Behaviors and Attitudes


Parenting Style

Children are obedient, conscientious, and quiet, but not happy. They

internalize feelings andoften rebel, leaving home early.


Parenting Style

Children are unhappy, lack self-control, and are disliked by peers. They tend to

live at home intoearly adulthood.

Uninvolved/Neglectful Parenting


Children are angry and defiant, and score poorly in tests of social, psychological,

and academicoutcomes. They may engage in criminal behavior and drugs in


Authoritative Parenting Style

These children are well adjusted, successful, happy, and liked both by peers

and teachers. Theyare independent, responsible, and take appropriate risks.

Permissive Parenting Style

Permissive parents tend to be very warm and accepting of their children, but they have few expectations and make few demands on them. Discipline is lax, and when expectations are set and punishments determined, children can often talk their way out of them. There is little consistency in applying discipline. Children are encouraged to express their own ideas and opinions, and family decisions are often made in a democratic manner. Though they listen to their children and want to do what they think is best for them, permissive parents rarely monitor their children’s activities. They believe children should be free to make their own decisions, and that adults should not impose their views on them. Permissive parents tend to be more friends to their children than parents.

According to Lamborn, Dornbusch, and Sternberg (1996), children of permissive parents generally have low academic achievement, poor psychosocial development, and high rates of deviant behavior. They tend to be self-centered, and their moral reasoning is immature (Boyes & Allen, 1993). These children also tend to be unhappy and lacking in self-control, especially the give and take required in peer relationships. Because they also have poorly developed emotional regulation, and are accustomed to always getting their own way, children raised by permissive parents have few friends, which is often the main reason they are unhappy (Boyes & Allen, 1993).

Table 8.2: Reflecting on your parenting and teaching style

What was the parenting style of your parents? Did both parents usethe same parenting style?

If you are a parent, what is your parenting style? Is your style thesame as your spouse’s/partner’s?

What is the parenting style you use as a teacher/caregiver?

Is there a conflict? If so, how do you address this conflict?

Authoritative Parenting Style

Authoritative parents combine high levels of control with warmth and encouragement (Baumrind, 1971). They make high demands on their children, but these are appropriate for the child’s age. Authoritative parents also provide reasons for their rules and expectations, and they listen to their child’s point of view, sometimes even adjusting the rules (Heath, 2005). They show respect to each child’s unique characteristics. Authoritative parents are very consistent, and they demand maturity of their children, but they consider themselves more guides than authorities or friends. They are also warm and compassionate, but still believe they are the parents, with specific parental responsibilities that must be exercised.

Children of authoritative parents are generally self-reliant, explorative, and content (Baumrind, 1971). Subsequent research indicates that these children develop better than do children from other parenting styles, results that extend through adolescence. They are more socially skilled, have greater psychological maturity, and experience fewer emotional and behavioral problems (Aunola, Stattin, & Nurmi, 2000; Gray & Steinberg, 1999). Also, these children tend to have higher self-esteem and are usually liked by both peers and adults (Abraham & Christopherson, 1989).

Uninvolved/Neglectful Parenting Style

Uninvolved/neglectful parents lack warmth and provide little, if any, control of their children (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). They do not make rules or have demands for good behavior; they are not emotionally connected to their children. They are disinterested, and may even reject their children. Many parents in this category are consumed with their own problems and challenges.

According to the research, children of uninvolved and neglectful parents have the worst outcomes of any of the four parenting styles, (Miller, Cowan, Cowan, Hetherington, & Clingempeel, 1993). They are angry and defiant and score poorly in psychosocial development, school achievement, psychological stress, and problem solving. In adolescence, they often engage in drug use and criminal activity and tend to have few close friends.

Cultural Variations in Parenting Styles

As these descriptions make clear, Diana Baumrind and later researchers believe that the authoritative parenting style is the best approach for raising children. However, there are significant cultural and national differences that should be considered. Chinese-American, Caribbean-American, and African-American parents tend to use an authoritarian parenting style (Hill & Bush, 2001; Wright, 1998). These parents tend to use punishments—including physical punishment—more than do other parents. On the other hand, Japanese mothers may use reasoning, empathy, and expressions of disappointment to control their children’s behavior. They would be considered permissive parents, according to the four parenting styles. However, their children typically grow up emotionally healthy, and not immature or unhappy, as research would suggest (Rothbaum, Pott, Azuma, Miyake, & Weisz, 2000). And many parents who grew up during the 1960s in America are considered by their children to be permissive parents.

Use of physical punishment to discipline children is against the law in Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, and Sweden. Yet in the United States, the Supreme Court has said that teachers and parents can use “reasonable force” to punish children (Bugental & Grusec, 2006), and many parents do, especially those from certain cultural backgrounds (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009; Hill & Bush, 2001; Wright, 1998). Furthermore, some researchers suggest that a person’s parenting style is not the central issue; of more importance is the parent’s warmth, support, concern, affection, and a strong parent-child relationship (McLoyd, Kaplan, Hardaway, & Wood, 2007; Rothbaum et al., 2000).

However, we also know that other contextual factors beyond the family have a profound impact on parenting (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). Research indicates that poverty, single-parent families, and authoritarian discipline styles are all factors that increase the risk of child abuse in young children (Bugental & Happeney, 2004).

Parenting styles have a strong influence on problem solving. First, as we have suggested, certain parenting styles encourage and empower children to think for themselves, make their own decisions, and live with the consequences of their decisions. These parents want their children to take risks, and they understand that a result of taking risks can be mistakes. Parents who use other parenting styles often do not encourage their children to think for themselves and make their own decisions, and some may even punish their children when they make mistakes.

An early childhood program that serves children from families who use these opposing parenting styles will struggle to help children make decisions and problem solve in the classroom and on the playground. Additionally, parents with one kind of parenting style who have their children in an early care or education program that practices a different style will eventually have conflict with that program. For example, in NAEYC’s accreditation standards, teachers and caregivers cannot use punitive punishment, threats, or derogatory statements (NAEYC, 2005a). Along the same lines, a permissive parent may object to a highly structured program with high academic expectations. Also, as we have pointed out throughout the book, teachers are products of their own childhood experiences and cultures. A teacher raised with an authoritarian parenting style may clash with parents raising their children with another parenting style.

Temperament and Parenting Styles

Children are born with different temperaments, and these temperaments have a direct impact on the adults who care for the children. In the 1960s, Thomas and Chess (1986) conducted what came to be called the New York Longitudinal Study. According to the study, infants as young as 4 months old exhibited a variety of temperamental traits that can be categorized into four groups. The easy child displays regular biological functions (e.g., going to sleep and eating regularly), adapts well to new situations, and exhibits a mild to moderate intensity when reacting to change. Easy children are generally in a positive mood, and adults enjoy being around them. The difficult child displays irregular biological functioning (e.g., is very difficult to get to sleep at night and eats at different times of the day), and exhibits negative and often intense responses to new situations and to any kind of change. In general, a child with this temperament is often in a negative mood, and adults try to avoid contact with such a child. Finally, the slow-to-warm child is somewhat irregular in biological functions, exhibits a negative response to new stimuli, and adapts slowly to change. The child’s mood is initially negative, but improves to a more positive one if given enough time to do so. In common language, we tend to call a child with this temperament “shy.” The fourth group encompasses children whose temperament does not fit into any one of the other groups.

We know that a child’s temperament affects the way a parent or caregiver responds to the child. Difficult children require lots of patience, persistence, and care from very warm, secure adults who are not under stress and who have time and energy to give to the child. Parents who lack these critical attributes are more likely to engage in authoritarian parenting styles with difficult children. We call this response reciprocal determinism (see also reciprocal interaction, Chapter 3). In other words, a child’s temperament can have a profound impact on the parenting style used by a parent. For example, a child who is slow to warm clearly needs adult responses and behaviors that are very different from those of children who are impulsive, energetic, and usually happy. And, as we have discussed in several chapters, children who have a developmental disability, are gifted and talented, or are twice exceptional will also require different parenting styles.

8.3 Working with Families to Problem Solve

Through interactions with adults, young children learn who they are, about the world around them, and how much their behaviors and feelings can be influenced by adults. The two institutions that have the most direct impact on the young child’s development and learning are the family and the early care or education program. These institutions are led by significant adults in children’s lives who have roles that require them to adjust their emotions and behaviors to meet the needs of each child, and to develop long-term, responsive, trusting relationships with them (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt, 2004; NAEYC, 2005a). These adults support children’s learning, model appropriate behaviors, and socialize them into the mores and norms of society. We have already explored the critical importance of positive and productive family-early care and education program relationships. One reason for this focus is that, according to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, the more quality relationships that exist between significant components within the microsystem—in this case, the family and the early care and education program—the more the child benefits (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994). The relationship between the child’s parent (or other caregiver) and the program’s staff—particularly the teacher or caregiver—is the main place where this connection occurs.

Positive Relationships Between Families and the Program

Standard 7 of the NAEYC’s Early Childhood Program Standards & Accreditation Criteria (2005) states “The program establishes and maintains collaborative relationships with each child’s family to foster children’s development in all settings. These relationships are sensitive to family composition, language, and culture” (p. 11). The rationale for this standard includes the fact that young children’s development and learning are directly connected to their families. Thus, to support young children’s optimal development and learning, programs need to understand the significant role of the family, create relationships with families based on trust and respect, support the involvement of families in the education and development of their children, and find ways to include parents in the program (2005).

A solid, respectful, reciprocal, trusting relationship between the parent and teacher or main caregiver produces a variety of positive results for children, parents, caregivers, and teachers (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt, 2004; NAEYC, 2005a) in the following ways:

Teachers and caregivers are more likely to enjoy the child’s progress, remember to share details with parents about their children, and remain connected to the family even after the child has moved on. This relationship enables the teacher or caregiver to develop a solid attachment to the child. When there is not a close, respectful relationship, caregivers often feel uncomfortable and uneasy about becoming too close to the child.

Strong relationships between families and caregivers increase communication between the family and the program. This is critical in providing seamless care, which enables conflicts and disagreements to be solved in a win-win manner. Young children often get very confused when the program and home have conflicting rules and expectations. As a result, the child expresses mixed emotions of anger, aggression, sadness, and withdrawal. Thus, parents and caregivers must address conflicts and confusion.

Quality parent-teacher relationships have a direct impact on the stability of care-giving arrangements. For many teachers and caregivers, a positive, reciprocal, trusting relationship with parents is one of the reasons they teach—it is a hidden benefit. When teachers are appreciated by parents, they feel a positive sense of self-worth. Given the high turnover rate among early care and education staff, this is a very positive outcome.

Parents feel more settled and relaxed. Most parents are very concerned with the care and welfare of their children—they want to leave their children with people they can trust. When there is a trusting relationship, inevitable confusion and conflict are more easily and quickly resolved. Natural, informal, warm interactions help with these relationships. Parents need to feel welcome in the center; they need to be warmly greeted and feel the center is a warm and caring place—for them and their children.

Solving problems, conflicts, and differences becomes an ongoing part of the parent-teacher relationship. When the adults learn to trust and to tolerate each other, the result is reciprocal: Teachers see parents as important resources, and families feel more friendly and respectful toward teachers and caregivers because they themselves are respected.

Causes of Conflict

In Chapter 5, we discussed a variety of things that cause conflicts between families and early care and education programs, and suggested a variety of techniques to solve these conflicts, including dialoguing and the use of the RERUN process (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009). Keyser (2006) calls conflicts between families and programs mutual conflicts, because they take full communication, participation, and negotiation on the part of parents (or other family members) and teachers or caregivers (and maybe even a program director) to solve. According to Keyser, examples of such conflicts are the following:

A parent wants a child to stay inside all day, while the program has a philosophy that children should be outside for a significant part of each day.

The program expects families to bring extra clothes to keep in the children’s cubbies, and some families continually forget.

Certain parents are continually late picking up their children from the program.

A parent dislikes the way a child is disciplined by his teacher.

The program has a policy to exclude sick children so that they will not infect the healthy children, but parents need child care for when their children are sick.

Some parents request that their boys should not be permitted to play in the dress up area and should not be allowed to wear women’s hats, shoes, and clothes to dress up.

Some parents complain that their children continually come home with paint on their clothes and sand in their hair, and ask that their children not be allowed to paint or play in the sandbox.

The program has a fundraiser selling cakes and cookies, and several parents object, because this violates their families’ nutritional practices.

A father of a child of black and white ethnicity is upset because the teacher in his child’s classroom has told the child she is black, and must identify as black, while the family is raising the child with a multiracial identity.

Generally, causes for these conflicts fall under one of four areas: (1) conflicting family and program needs, (2) differing views of teaching and child development, (3) poor communication, and (4) cultural differences.

Keyser (2006) suggests an approach to these conflicts, presented here from either the teacher’s or director’s viewpoint: (1) listen and ask open-ended questions; (2) restate and reframe the parent’s ideas; (3) find common ground; (4) state your position, ideas, and feelings; (5) give information as appropriate; (6) give the parent an opportunity to respond; (7) outline the conflict as comprising equally valid viewpoints; (8) invite, discuss, and choose possible solutions; and (9) thank the parent and set up a time to check back in.

Quality Indicators

According to Baker and Manfredi/Petitt, (2004), early care and education programs can help develop and maintain positive relationships and proactive problem-solving practices with families by asking the following questions:

Do families see the importance of their relationship with the child’s caregiver or teacher?

Do families appreciate the child’s caregiver or teacher, and do they know how to express this appreciation: thank yous, offers to help, notes, or flowers?

Is anyone talking to families about the importance of creating a close connection with their child’s caregiver that is strong enough to sustain them through conflict?

Are parents encouraged to work to overcome differences with their child’s teacher or caregiver, especially when the child and teacher have bonded?

Is family participation a shared value and goal among center staff, and what is being done to increase family-center partnerships?

Are families and staff members sharing life and joy with one another?

Is relationship and community building a center-wide goal?

8.4 Effective Relationships Between Program Staff

The climate of an early care and education program not only establishes the atmosphere for how staff members work together, but also dramatically affects staff-parent relationships and the quality of care and education the children receive (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt, 2004; NAEYC, 2005a). However, a caring community does not just happen—it has to be created and nurtured. A caring community is a place where caring adults—parents, teachers, caregivers, and directors—interact as partners and friends. It is based less on rules and regulations, roles and job descriptions, organizational plans, and a hierarchy of authority, and more on developing and maintaining positive relationships between staff, the director, and parents, or relationship-based organizations. Healthy relationships between administrators, teachers and caregivers, and consultants used by programs are important in establishing a caring, inclusive community in which children can develop and learning is maximized (NAEYC, 2005a, 2005b). When staff members in early care and education programs enjoy respectful relationships with each other, they are more likely to be responsive and emotionally engaged with the children in their care and with the children’s families.

Staff members who share the joys and challenges of the children openly with colleagues become more aware of the individual needs of the children and are more apt to remain calm and positive under the typical stress of caring for children. Teachers, caregivers, and administrators who work well together share the workload and make sure the needs of each child are met. In this positive climate, children feel secure, safe, and like they belong. The classroom should be a place where children feel free to play, explore, and learn (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt, 2004; NAEYC, 2005a, 2005b).

Children learn from role models: caring, cooperative, respectful relationships between staff members model teamwork, problem solving, respect, and collegiality. When children see adults who are warm, predictable, flexible, and responsive to the unique needs of parents and colleagues, they can be warm and responsive to each other. When adults’ relationships are positive, they set a moral tone that teaches children about responsibility, integrity, and respect. Children learn what they live; they follow the lead of important adults in their world (NAEYC, 2005a, 2005b).

Teachers and caregivers also benefit when they have positive and collegial relationships with peers. They look forward to coming to work; they openly work together to meet the challenging needs of the child and resolve important issues with parents (Blair & Carter, 2012). Teachers and caregivers learn to trust each other and to know how the other functions. They work together as a team. However, teamwork is a delicate balance that cannot be forced. Contrived congeniality will backfire. A sense of community can be nurtured by focusing on the emotional and social needs of people who work together. Directors must structure opportunities for teachers and caregivers to work together on projects, share resources, and solve problems (Blair & Carter, 2012; Bloom, 1997).


Problem Solving

A 4-year-old boy who has been in the program since he was 1 year old has been diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability. Child Find has recommended to the parent and program that he be placed in a public school preschool that serves children with developmental delays in an inclusive setting. The director is convinced that this is the best solution to meet all the needs of the child; the boy’s mother wants him to stay in the center.

Listen and ask open-ended questions. The parent expresses that her son likes his teacher and that he is good friends with many of the other children in his class, who he often sees at activities outside of the program (such as birthday parties). She does not want him to be removed, and feels the program can meet his needs. She is very upset about the possibility of having him taken out of the program.

Restate and reframe the parent’s ideas. The parent wants the child to stay in the program because he knows the teacher and has many friends. She also believes his needs can be met in the program.

Find common ground. Both the director and the parent want to do what is best to meet the child’s overall needs: social, emotional, behavioral, and academic.

State your position, ideas, and feelings. The director states that she believes the child’s needs can be better met in a public school classroom that is designed to address the needs of a child with developmental delays. Further, she believes that his behavior and academic struggles will take too much of the teacher’s time and attention, and will disrupt the learning opportunities of the other children. She also feels the teacher is not trained to work with a child with developmental delays.

Give information as appropriate. The director tells the mother that people who work for Child Find are experts, and they believe the new program will be best for him. Once the child is in the program, transition to the public school kindergarten program will be smooth, which is very important for a child with developmental delays. Also, the public school has access to needed community resources.

Give the parent an opportunity to respond. The mother states that she is aware of these advantages, but she still wants her son to attend this program. Further, she is not sure that the local kindergarten is the best place for her child, so she will be doing her own research on different kindergarten options.

Outline the conflict as comprising equally valid viewpoints. The viewpoint of the director is that the child should move to the local public preschool, because this will best meet his unique needs. The parent’s viewpoint is that the child should stay in the existing program, because he knows the teacher and has many friends. She also believes his other needs can be met at the current school.

Invite, discuss, and choose possible solutions. The parent knows a professor at the local college who can come to the program and provide in-service training to the staff on ways to work with children with developmental delays. She also has a friend who can provide training on the unique needs of boys. The director agrees that she will talk to the local school contact to find out what services the school can provide the boy within the program; she is also going to call the state department of special education to determine what responsibility the school district has.

Thank the parent and set up a time to check back in. The parent will call the director to set up the two trainings; the director will meet again with the parent in 4 weeks to assess how well things are going.

Wardle, F. (2004). Why art activities are an essential part of the curriculum. Children and Families, 15(1), p. 24. National Head Start Association.

The Director Sets the Tone for Problem Solving

The director sets the climate for problem solving within a program. Director-staff interactions create a prototype for all other relationships and set the foundation for quality care and education (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt, 2004). A caring, relationship-based community is created and nurtured by the director. Directors who value community know the way they lead on a daily basis is as important as what they achieve. A director who values relationships, openness, and a willingness to listen and has empathy, compassion, honesty, and strong professional ethics provides leadership that encourages collaboration and problem solving among staff (Blair & Carter, 2012). The director models respect and concern for his or her staff and continually values an open atmosphere. The director encourages everyone to work together to explore solutions to challenges in the program and develops trusting, reciprocal relationships with staff. This approach allows for mutual support and problem solving—everyone is in it together, as part of a constructive team (Blair & Carter, 2012; Bloom, 1997). Of course, feelings do come out, and problems do arise. But, when everyone at the program is dedicated to cooperation and community building, problems are more manageable and easier to address.

The effective director finds a way to balance a need to support the staff with an ability to listen compassionately to parents’ concerns. Relationship-based directors have learned to listen to parents and to take them seriously, without discounting staff. Staff members trust that when addressing parent concerns, the director will come to them for additional information and carefully consider their perspective. Also, an effective leader understands that a relationship-based community is not about playing personal favorites or meeting his or her own personal needs, but rather about creating open, honest relationships and open channels of communication (Blair & Carter, 2012). In this way, the director knows staff will help out if needed, and staff members know they can go to the director if they feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or confused.

Effective directors use the following techniques:

Act as mentors for staff, provide resources, demonstrate best practices, and provide new perspectives to challenges and concerns.

Allow their office to become a refuge for stressed-out teachers and caregivers. It is also open for staff members to receive reassurance or to sound off over their frustrations.

Maintain consistency and fairness, and do not play favorites. While all staff members have unique personalities that must be treated individually, they also expect—and need—to be treated fairly.

Provide help, support, and nurturing when a staff member feels overwhelmed. Staff should not feel embarrassed to ask directors for help and support; directors and supervisors should be proactive in providing the assistance staff members need.

Provide ongoing appreciation and pass on compliments from parents and other staff. Effective leaders do not take credit away from staff; they give credit to the team or individual staff members. Leaders continually find ways to give credit and praise to their staff.

Provide opportunities for staff to work together as a team, offering choices in areas such as professional development, leadership opportunities, and meaningful projects (Blair & Carter, 2012).

Always support the staff and advocate for staff needs (e.g., training, classroom materials, better pay, and benefits) when working with boards, community agencies, professional associations, and political groups.

Positive relationships between staff and administration begin when a staff person is hired. The orientation to the program and its philosophy, discussions of program policies and procedures, and expressions of respect and warmth are all critical. Once a new staff person is hired, ongoing communication between the person and the supervisor is paramount. However, this communication cannot simply be about things the person is doing wrong or areas where he or she needs help; it must also include compliments as well as typical social expressions of acknowledgement and appreciation.

Maybe the most important role for the director/administrator when it comes to director-staff relationships is to represent the needs of the staff fairly in working with parents, outside organizations, and funding sources (Blair & Carter, 2012). It does not mean that the director should automatically support the view of the staff, but it does mean that staff members know their needs and wants are positively represented when critical decisions are being made (NAEYC, 2005a, 2005b).

Making Decisions within the Program

Many decisions must be made each day within an early care and education program. Some are routine, non-emotional, and simply pragmatic; others are fraught with feelings, emotions, and threats to an individual’s sense of personal value and importance. The following are a few ideas to enhance healthy problem solving within an early care and education program (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt, 2004; NAEYC, 2005a):

Center policies. All programs have policies—rules the program lives by. Many of these have to do with following licensing requirements, meeting regulations of the sponsoring agency (e.g., Head Start, the local school district, a child-care chain), and rules of discipline and supervision. But some have to do with the rights, authority, and feelings of importance of teachers, caregivers, and other staff members (Blair & Carter, 2012). Two significant areas are (1) whether teachers have the opportunity for direct input into the program’s policies and procedures on a regular basis, and (2) whether existing policies encourage teachers’ input. For example, when changes are made to the curriculum, daily schedule, discipline policy, or parent involvement programs, is there a sincere effort to solicit teacher input? Also, do policies encourage staff to resolve issues between themselves before going to the director for help?

Individual initiative. What steps can individual staff members take to increase positive and supportive relationships between each other, and to increase a sense of teamwork and collegiality? Does the program have opportunities for staff to enjoy each other’s company and work on program-related projects together? Does the center have formal ways to acknowledge individual staff members who do things to create healthy relationships within the program?

Indicators of quality. National standards of quality include adult relationships as indicators of quality in early care and education programs (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt, 2004; NAEYC, 2005a) (see Chapter 10 for specific program quality indicators). Some of these indicators include the nature of parent-staff relationships, discussed earlier in this chapter. Questions to be addressed include (1) whether there are built-in opportunities for staff to talk to each other and to consult with the director, (2) whether the program has access to outside experts to support the efforts of staff with children who have unique needs (non-English speakers, special needs, gifted and talented), (3) whether staff members have direct input into the kinds of training provided and staff meeting content, and (4) whether the program has professional relationships with community agencies (e.g., local schools, Child Find, community health centers) that acknowledge the program staff members as equal experts in their field.

In Bronfenbrenner’s ecological view of child development and learning, staff members who work with children on a daily basis need to feel competent, empowered, and significant (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1994). Various quality standards also address this important need. Staff members should be provided with multiple opportunities to help improve the quality of the program, especially in the areas of meeting student needs and working with parents.

Staff members who are not listened to and are not consulted regarding changes in the program will be less inclined to make efforts to problem solve when difficult issues arise (Blair & Carter, 2012).

When a staff member has an idea for a major change, addition, or enhancement—a new curriculum for the 2-year-olds, a diversity training for staff, a new before-and-after school program for some of the children—he or she should be empowered to take the lead in exploring the idea’s feasibility and practicality. The suggestion should not be simply transferred to someone with more authority.

One of the most effective ways to empower staff is to change a strict, hierarchical power relationship into a circle of shared power (see Think About It: How to Empower Staff). Many directors begin this process by including staff in changes and decisions. The director may use small groups of staff during naptime or after school to explore classroom changes or address successful problem-solving strategies. Others invite staff to come together and talk about relationships and power, while still other directors find that a collective process of creating a shared mission statement allows all to express their dreams, values, and goals for the program (Blair & Carter, 2012).

Improving Program Quality

Accreditation processes, rating scales, and reviews are designed to increase the overall quality of early care and education programs. These evaluations can be conducted by an outside consultant or agency, internally within the center, or, as Head Start requires, using both procedures (U.S. HHS, 1999). The instruments used for quality reviews and accreditation include the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS-R) (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005), the Infant Toddler Environmental Rating Scale (ITERS-R) (Harms, Cryer, & Clifford, 2006), Head Start Performance Standards (U.S. HHS, 1999), and NAEYC and other formal program accreditation instruments (NAEYC, 2005a). All of these scales include components that address the program climate, staff-staff interactions, and program-family relationships.

When the evaluation is a true program-wide effort, everyone feels empowered to have a direct impact on improving program quality. Head Start programs engage in a self-evaluation every three years, ahead of a formal PRISM review; other programs participate in a self-study before the formal agency team conducts its formal review.

8.5 Children and Problem Solving

So far in this chapter, we have examined important aspects of problem solving between adults: among parents and early care and education staff, and within the early care and education program. We emphasized how effective and healthy problem solving between programs and families, and within a program, can have a positive effect on the development and learning of young children in a truly ecological manner (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994; NAEYC, 2005a, 2005b). But we pointed out that the ability to address conflicts and problem solve effectively begins in childhood. As suggested by Siegler and Alibali (2005), problem solving is a central part of all of our lives and provides many of the purposes for other cognitive activities, such as perception, attention, language, memory, and understanding. Problem-solving skills also help people adapt to challenging circumstances and learn to function effectively with others—both other children and adults. Because children lack experience and knowledge about how to respond to typical daily challenges, they probably engage in more problem solving than do adults (Siegler & Alibali, 2005).

We defined problem solving earlier as the ability to work out a solution to a problem or situation, either individually or with someone else. This means that the individual may have a problem to address (e.g., how to put on his shoes or find a book), or two or more people have a conflict that must be addressed. Children at this age are learning how to make decisions and problem solve, and how to use these skills effectively. To this end, a central goal of early childhood education is to teach young children how to resolve conflicts and solve problems (NAEYC, 2005a).

The role of the teacher, caregiver, and parent is to support this process. Problem solving with young children involves the same processes they use to solve individual problems and conflict with others. The more effective adults involved in the child’s life are at solving problems, the better able the child will be to learn problem solving.

According to Siegler and Alibali (2005), problem solving can be reduced to three components: a goal (problem to be solved), an obstacle to achieving that goal, and a strategy or strategies to circumvent the obstacle to achieve the goal. However, young children use a kind of trial-and-error tinkering approach to achieve their goals—combining reasoning, understanding, strategies, content knowledge, other people, experiences, and any other available resources to solve their problem.


We must address the issue of feelings before turning to a child’s reasoning. As with adults, feelings and emotions play a significant role in the problem solving of young children. Problems cause feelings and emotions, and feelings and emotions are triggered by internal or external events that send signals to the brain (Kostelnik et al., 2009). As a result of these signals, children respond physically to their feelings: their heartbeats increase, their skin may sweat, and so on. These physical changes are often accompanied by smiling, frowning, and language (see the positive affect of play, in Johnson, Christie, & Wardle, 2005). At the same time, children begin to interpret the reasons for their emotions, which are based on natural responses to a stimulus (e.g., pain or fear), past experiences, goals, and current contexts (Lewis, 1999). In each case, the child decides how he or she feels.

At their foundational level, emotions help children survive; also, children will often change behaviors to adjust their feelings—to feel good or secure (Frijda, 2006). Thus, a child will avoid a problem that makes him or her feel like a failure or avoid a child in the playground who usually bullies others. As we know, many of the problem-solving challenges for young children are social. They squabble over toys, compete for adult attention, imitate the behavior of the popular child, and wonder why their mother has not picked them up from day care. All of these are problems that cause extreme feelings or emotional responses. One of the reasons young children’s emotional responses are extreme is that they have not yet developed emotional regulation.

Adults use social referencing to calm children’s fears, warn them against certain strangers, and encourage them to risk and experiment. As we explained earlier, social referencing occurs when young children look to a significant adult to learn the appropriate response to a new situation. They respond according to the adult’s response. Unfortunately, an adult’s subconscious fears and prejudices can also affect children’s behaviors through social referencing (Bandura, 1986).

From a problem-solving perspective, it is important to help children (1) understand the reasons for their emotional response (e.g., why they fear a conflict with a certain child) and (2) make the activity of problem solving a fulfilling, positive experience. Feelings also provide the energy and motivation to do something—to solve the problem. Because preoperational children are so curious about the world and how it works, but lack basic knowledge and experience, they are continually faced with problems that confuse, anger, frustrate, and challenge them. This can produce intense feelings (See Helping Children Develop: Dealing With Anger). Children need to learn how to solve the problem to reduce their intense feelings. This is where parents, teachers, and caregivers need to support the problem-solving process.


Dealing with Anger

Here are some ways to help children express their feelings without hurting others or themselves (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009):

Accept and label the feeling. “I see how upset you are.” “It really makes you mad when he takes your truck, doesn’t it?”

Redirect the energy and help the child to get it out. “Why don’t you go play outside and see if you are still mad?” “Maybe it will help if you paint a picture about how you feel?”

Calm the energy: Soothe the chaos. “I see how upset you are. Would you like to play with the play dough to calm down?” “Would you like me to read your favorite book to you?” For many children, playing with clay or water is a favorite way to deal with anger, frustration, and confusion.

Avoid rewarding children for anger. Be careful not to reward anger by overreacting (we discussed this problem in Chapter 7). Reinforcement increases a behavior—in this case, the anger.

Teach problem solving. Children need to learn to solve the problems that produce the anger, through give-and-take and negotiations—with other children and adults.

Young Children and Reasoning

To help children problem solve, parents, teachers, and caregivers need to understand how children behave and process information (Berk & Winsler, 1995). One of the best ways to teach young children is through scaffolding (Chapter 3). In scaffolding, a central concept is the zone of proximal development, which is a Vygotskian term for teaching the child within the dynamic region where learning and development takes place. It is a zone between what a child can do independently and what the child can do with expert assistance. This zone is determined by the child’s overall development and experience. Therefore, we should teach problem solving at each child’s developmental level. The processes adults use to problem solve are very different from those used by young children, because of adults’ emotional regulation, cognitive ability, experience, and reasoning skills (Kostelnik et al., 2009; Siegler & Alibali, 2005). Two theorists we have already discussed who can help in this process are Erikson (1963, 1981) and Piaget (1952, 1971).

The first three of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, and initiative versus guilt, must be considered when helping young children problem solve. For example, for young infants, the need for trust dominates their decisions. For 2-year-olds, a need for autonomy drives many of their emotions. In Piaget’s cognitive theory, the first stage, 0 to 2 years old, is known as the sensorimotor stage; the second stage, 2 to 7 years old, is the preoperational stage (see Chapter 3). In the sensorimotor stage, children cannot reason beyond simply finding the most direct way to meet basic needs for food, comfort, and sleep, using sensorimotor combinations to try to make sense of their small world (Piaget, 1952). However, the preoperational child can reason—and does a great deal!

However, preoperational reasoning is faulty. In fact, while preoperational children can tell you why they did something, or why they do not want to do something, the reasoning they use makes little sense from an adult’s perspective. For example, consider the following logic of a 4-year-old: “If it doesn’t break when I drop it, it’s a rock. . . . It didn’t break. It must be a rock” (Scholnick & Wing, 1995, p. 432).

The reasoning of a preoperational child makes little sense because preschool children lack experience about the world and how it works. Another reason preschool children do not think logically is due to what Piaget called egocentrism—seeing everything from the child’s perspective. Preoperational children believe the world is centered on them and their needs. Thus, when a problem arises, the logic is to see the solution from the child’s point of view (Piaget, 1952). Preoperational children also think by using general centrism, which is viewing all problems from a single perspective—although this single perspective can change. If you ask a 4-year-old to go to the kitchen and bring back the milk and the cookies, chances are she will return only with the cookies. However, mature problem solving requires a person to be able to entertain several possible solutions to the problem at the same time; young children cannot do this, which is why most adults think that they are very poor problem solvers.

Finally, preoperational children focus on the appearance of things—what they look like. If you give a 5-year-old the choice between a dime and a nickel, he probably will choose the nickel, because it is bigger and therefore appears to the child to be more. This is one of the reasons toys for young children are so bright, shiny, and attractive (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).

Encouraging Problem Solving in Children

Parents, teachers, and caregivers should encourage problem solving in young children because, in so doing, children also develop many cognitive and social processes, such as attention, perception, language, memory, understanding, and learning to play prosocially with other children (Siegler & Alibali, 2005). Additionally, the art of problem solving provides an asset for children, both in future schoolwork and in life. Thus, parents, teachers, and other caregivers of young children should support, encourage, and reward problem solving in young children.

In our discussion of moral reasoning (Chapter 7), we explored how children develop from a sense of morality determined by external forces (to please the adult, to avoid punishment, to make friends) to an internalized sense of morality (Lickona, 1983; Kohlberg, 1987). By the same token, according to Kamii and DeClark (1985), children develop from believing that knowledge and truth are defined by what adults do and say, to “being governed by oneself and making decisions for oneself” (p. 45), or intellectual autonomy. Intellectual autonomy is the opposite of following someone else’s view and doing things simply because someone told you to.

When it comes to the reasoning of preschool children, intellectual autonomy is the child using his or her own logic when trying to solve a problem, as opposed to simply regurgitating the adult’s view or providing the answer the adult wants. According to Kamii and DeClark (1985), the goal of education should be autonomy—children’s own internalized approaches to collecting information and solving problems. However, because children’s logic at this age tends to be very faulty, significant adults need to scaffold their problem solving carefully and sensitively. Thus, to help children develop intellectual autonomy, teachers, caregivers, and parents should support children’s own logical thinking, as opposed to insisting they adopt adult logic and correct ideas. Ways to do this include the following:

Encourage children to ask questions and affirm their doing so without becoming frustrated or annoyed. When children do ask questions, rather than answering them, help children problem solve the answer, but do not fixate on whether the answer is correct or not; focus on the process.

Support the conflict and dissonance that occurs when children problem solve, or when they attempt to problem solve with other children or adults. Let children know that through conflict, persistence, and tenacity comes resolution.

Avoid using assessments that focus on children’s ability to memorize answers to evaluate children’s progress. Rather, use authentic forms of assessment that can evaluate their overall development and learning, including their ability to problem solve.

In group activities, such as circle time and reading a book to the class, teachers should focus on asking children problem-solving questions, rather than simply questions that require children to recall something from the book or from their personal experiences. When children come up with answers, ask them how they determined their answer (regardless of whether it is correct).

Deeply understand (1) that young children problem solve differently than do adults, and (2) that the answers they come up with will probably be incorrect from an adult perspective. Do not correct the child’s reasoning and logic (Kamii & DeClark, 1985).

Model your own problem solving in front of children. Talk out loud about the steps you are taking to solve the problem. Express your frustrations and confusions in trying to resolve problems, but then show how these can be resolved. Show children that the process can be enjoyable and fulfilling: the challenge of defining the problem, the enterprise of finding the resources needed, and the exhilaration of solving the problem. Congratulate children’s persistence in problem solving, even when the result is incorrect, at least from the adult’s perspective (Siegler & Alibali, 2005). When two children struggle to resolve a conflict, congratulate them both on the willingness to solve it and the solution they come up with.

Help children use resources to solve problems, from books and the Internet, to other children and adults, both in the program and in the community. Also, help children determine what they know and what they wish to find out about a problem or phenomenon (Rodrigues, 2010).

Understand that problems exist everywhere: “How can we make the yellow paint brighter?” “How can I clean the sink?” “Why won’t Johnny play with me?” “How can we all clean up the playground?” “How do I write my name?”

When teachers model problem solving to young children and support the child’s sincere and genuine efforts at problem solving, parents and other caregivers will see the inherent value in problem solving and in helping children in this critically important social, cognitive, and emotional task.

Use of the RERUN Process with Children

In Chapter 5, we discussed in detail the use of the RERUN process in solving problems between families and adults in the early care and education programs (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009). As you may recall, the process includes Reflect, Explain, Reason, Understand, and Negotiate. Here is an example of how the process could be used with a 4-year-old boy who keeps knocking down constructions other children make in the block area. Before starting the process, the teacher, caregiver or parent should be sure he or she is clear about the problem and knows exactly what outcome is desired.

Reflect. This is the feeling piece. Let the child know that you understand and accept that he is angry and upset. Say something like, “I understand you are upset. I realize you are doing this because something is bothering you. I see how unhappy you are that I have removed you from the block area.”

Explain. Help the child understand the situation. “I cannot let you destroy what the other children have made.”

Reason. Give the reason for your action. “I removed you because it’s not fair to the other children to have their constructions destroyed. They have a right to play and build with the blocks, without you destroying them.”

Understand. Tune into the feelings, both yours and the child’s. Be clear about your own feelings and those of the child. Nothing needs to be said to the child, but your own self-talk might be needed. Why are you upset? What is setting off the child? Is it just the other children in the block areas? Did the child come to school upset? Are some of the children upsetting him—maybe saying he cannot play with them, or telling him his constructions are not as nice as theirs?

Negotiate. Because the child can talk and reason, discuss the problem with him. Provide options that both you and the child can live with. Maybe he can play in the block area during the next rotation of center; maybe he believes that so long as he stays away from one particular child, things will not be a problem. Perhaps, after some discussion, he will choose another center to play in. Make sure you provide the flexibility for his choice to be an acceptable option, and do not insist that he work out his problem with the other children. For a young child who cannot speak and reason, provide two acceptable choices, and let the child choose which he prefers (Lickona, 1983). Focus on finding a win-win solution, not on punishing the child for his inappropriate behavior, regardless of how upset you are with the child.

During the entire RERUN process, try to keep words to a minimum. Young children get confused with too much information, especially when they are upset. The negotiation part is the only area where many words are needed, but here, too, options and choices need to be kept simple. Sometimes RERUN does not work immediately, so the teacher or parent needs to return to the beginning and repeat the process (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009).


Wardle, F. (2013). Collaboration with families and communities [Electronic version]. Retrieved from