A place where parents learn and build confidence

When partnering with parents and families to navigate life changes or stressful events, the Creative Steps team sometimes creates personalized booklets for children like the one excerpted here.

By Melissa Aase, CEO of University Settlement


Social-emotional learning supports are built into all of our Early Childhood Education programs, serving 1,500 young children and families every year 

Partnering with parents to build skills and confidence is fundamental to our approach 

Every child and every family receive individualized approaches 

Parenting can be scary, and as has often been observed, children don’t come with an instruction manual.

At University Settlement, educating and caring for children inevitably means building intentional, supportive partnerships with parents and caregivers.

Last October, we shared a closer look at how Program Director Alice James and Butterflies clinician Christine Sneve support emotional wellness with children and families at our Creative Steps Early Childhood Center.

I recently had the chance to catch up with a Creative Steps parent whose child attended the program for several years. She reflected on how working with the Creative Steps team helped her navigate a tough situation and gain confidence in her parenting:

Before I brought my son here, I would see the Creative Steps kids and their teachers at the park, and I always thought: “Wow, they are extremely capable.” It gave me confidence in the team.

My son is my only child, and I was at home with him for the first two years, during COVID. I was anxious about bringing him to an organized care setting, but as I got to know the team at Creative Steps, I felt comfortable right off the bat.

Christine and Alice have helped us grow through some difficult experiences. I’m so grateful to them.

A few summers ago, we had a terrifying incident – he was 4, and he ran away from me, into a building, and up a stairwell. I couldn’t find him. The building’s doorman called the police while I ran up and down the stairs. After 45 agonizing minutes we found him in the park across the street. He had slipped out the back door.

I’ll never be the same. I was terrified I’d never see him again. Only a tiny sliver of luck was the difference between finding him and a tragedy. I was so grateful we’d found him, but the police officer berated and shamed me, saying ‘What kind of parent are you?’ I felt like punishing myself forever.

When I talked about it with Christine and Alice, they helped me see how I did my best. Afterwards, they followed up with me and encouraged me, including by sending me articles to help me reframe the incident.

Together, we developed a strategy and language I could use with my son to respond to what had happened. I didn’t want him to feel ashamed, but I needed him to understand that he could never do that again. It’s a hard line to walk with a four-year-old. I said, ‘you’ve shown us that we can’t trust you yet, which means whenever we’re outside, we need to hold hands, until you’re ready to show us that we can trust you to walk at our sides.’ We also said, ‘bad guys look just like good guys and kids can’t tell the difference but grownups you know can and will keep you safe.’

When we went on a family trip a few weeks later, I was terrified something would happen. But Alice and Christine were prepared – they made a book for us to give to our son. It was completely laminated with pictures from the area and reminders to ‘stay close.’ We reviewed it every day on the trip – it was really touching to see that they cared enough about our family to create a special resource to help us talk about safety in a developmentally appropriate way. 

Recently he’s been asking a lot of ‘what if’ questions – like ‘what if somebody takes my lunchbox?’ I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I checked in with Alice, who said: ‘Well, let’s ask him so he learns to think for himself in a way that feels empowering.’

In these moments, I knew I wanted to support my son, but I didn’t quite know how. I’ve learned a lot about social emotional development through parenting him, and by partnering with the Creative Steps team.

There is nothing better than knowing that the people you trust with your children love what they do, and by extension love your child – it counts for so much and takes away so much anxiety. I know that the educators at Creative Steps have a hard job, and I know that they love it.

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