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Buzzwords Explained: Reflective Practice

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Key Takeaways

  • Reflective practice fosters responsivity versus reactivity.
  • It reduces burnout and promotes psychological safety in teams and in work with families.
  • Our daily checklist can help early childhood professionals make reflective practice part of their routine.
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What is reflective practice?

Reflective practice is a tool that invites us to pause and slow down to become aware of thoughts, feelings and reactions that arise in everyday interactions.

We explore real life experiences in a mindful and introspective manner so that we can learn from them. Essentially, it’s all about being present and aware. 

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What reflective practice means in early childhood:

We know each baby is different. Reflective practice encourages us to bring all of that wonderful nuance to the forefront of how we work with them.

  • When presented with an issue or conflict, human nature means that most of us look for a quick solution. Reflective practice, instead, invites us to slow our responses down so that we avoid reacting and instead increase our ability to be responsive.  Through this process we are more likely to arrive at a more thoughtful response — not necessarily the quickest.  
  • No baby is being raised in a vacuum. Relationships involve two or more persons. Reflective practice offers parents, teachers, clinicians, and early childhood professionals dedicated time to examine situations through various lenses. We consider the impact of culture, family, community, and society on each child. 
ZERO TO THREE Board Member and child trauma expert, Chandra Gosh Ippen, developed this video to illustrate the importance of reflective practice to help practitioners working with families.

How reflective practice impacts early childhood:

Imagine two toddlers in a daycare classroom. Both children are refusing mealtimes and throwing food daily. At a quick glance, those may seem like typical toddler behaviors rooted in their desire for autonomy at this age.

While it may be as simple as that, reflective practice invites their teachers to dig a bit deeper. During regular meetings with their Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant (IECMHC), staff discuss their reflections and observations, each child’s unique history and personality, and input the teacher has received from parents.  

By seeking more than a quick explanation, they’re able to determine that each child has very different reasons for choosing similar behavior. One child, a recent immigrant, is unsure about the unfamiliar food placed in front of him. The other child’s parents have recently added a new baby to their family, and she is struggling in all parts of her daily routine to assert control wherever possible.  

By implementing reflective practice, these early childhood professionals can meet the needs of both children in a tailored manner.

This same approach can be used in clinicians’ offices, family courtrooms, childcare centers, preschools and even a family’s own home. That’s why we developed a daily checklist to make it part of each early childhood professional’s routine.  

Cultivating antiracist, trauma-informed reflective practice.
Promotion graphic for the Reflective Practice for Early Childhood Professionals Daily Checklist

Reflective Practice Requires Practice

Our reflective practice daily checklist helps early childhood professionals set intention to make it part of their routine.  

What you can do:

It’s easy to make quick decisions, but the intentionality of reflective practice requires more time, energy and resources. We can foster responsivity versus reactivity.

Support families. This can be in big ways, like by advocating for policies that support families’ economic security or mental health. It can also be in small ways, like initiating a conversation using reflective practice during a routine home visit.   

Get trained. By implementing reflective practice from the very top of organizations and across all levels of providers, practitioners, policymakers and parents who work with early childhood (i.e. child welfare, pediatric primary care, mental health, home visiting, maternal child health and early intervention), the early childhood field will build a culture driven by thoughtful and individualized approaches. 

Support legislation. Reflective practice takes training, resources, and time. Unfortunately, those things are often some of the most difficult for professionals to access. Advocating for policies that support the early childhood workforce can help.

Reflective practice encourages being fully present in each interaction and building self and other awareness. The benefits are numerous, but it takes a team effort.

Essential Elements of Reflective Supervision and Consultation: The RIOS™ Framework

Dig Deeper: Reflective Leadership

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ZERO TO THREE supports thousands of early childhood professionals who play a critical role in the lives of babies, toddlers and their families.