Why Is Individualizing Care Important for Infants and Toddlers?

Young boy wearing glasses is shown how to use interlocking puzzle pieces.It is important for staff to know and understand the performance standards that address individualization. However, it is equally important for them to know why individualizing care is so important. Here are several reasons:

  • Infants and toddlers grow and develop rapidly. Although growth and development typically follow a commonly recognized sequence, the pace at which individual children develop can vary. When teachers and family child care providers know a child well, they can recognize the growth and support learning by offering care that matches the child’s interests and anticipates the next steps of development. Home visitors can help parents recognize their child’s development and interests and plan together how to support the child. Care practices that match a child’s stage and interest provide optimal learning opportunities.
  • Each child is part of a family unit, and the life of the family grows and changes along with the child. Individualization recognizes and values the child’s family by considering the family’s goals for the child and actively incorporating their input as much as possible.
  • Head Start programs serving infants and toddlers seek to support the strengths and needs of each family. Since every family is different, it is crucial that programs provide care for children and services to families that consider each family’s culture, beliefs, values, languages, and life circumstance.

When education staff understand why individualizing care is important, they make more thoughtful, intentional decisions about how to support each infant and toddler based on:

  • What they learn through informal observation and ongoing child assessment
  • Actively partnering with the child’s family to learn about their child
  • Their understandings of child development—for example, what developmental milestones occur during the infant and toddler years, how these milestones lead to preschool milestones, and how infant and toddler development connect to school readiness

Staff recognize that individualizing care is important for all children. This individualization includes:

  • Helping children with disabilities reach goals identified in Individualized Family Service Plans and actively partnering with children’s early intervention providers (45 CFR §1302.61(c)(1)(i)-(v))
  • Participating in development of Individual Support Plans[1] for children whose behaviors may interfere with their ability to engage in positive interactions and relationships with adults and peers and ability to explore the environment and learn. These issues persist despite developmentally appropriate guidance (45 CFR §1302.45(a)(1)-(4); (b)(2)(1)-(6))
  • Using effective practices that help infants and toddlers who are dual language learners develop their home language and expose them to English (45 CFR §1302.31(b)(2)(i) and (iii); 45 CFR §1302.35(c)(4)(i)).

Finally, staff acknowledge how their personal, cultural, and professional values, perspectives, and expectations may influence the way they care for infants and toddlers and engage respectfully with families. With your support, staff seek ways to balance their own views with those of the families and program expectations and requirements.

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start, National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning, Understanding and Managing Children’s Behaviors: Individual Support Plans (ISP) (Washington, DC, n.d.).