Taking Care of Yourself

Why is it so hard to take care of ourselves? On airplanes, we are taught to put the oxygen mask on before helping others. In emergency training, you secure the scene before administering emergency care to others. But for some reason, when it comes to taking care of young children we almost always put ourselves last.

Maybe it is the environment that we have created in early care and education settings. Staff work long days with few breaks. Many have no health insurance, take work home, and very little or no time for self-care throughout the day. Just going to the restroom requires notifying your management so that someone can cover you. Taking a call for your own sick child requires an act of true emergency. Substitutes are extremely hard to come by, which can sometimes lead to the feeling that you can’t get time off just to unwind. Burnout in the early care profession is a concern for both the mental health of early care professionals and the care of children they serve. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t satisfactions that come with the job but it does leave little room to really be able to take care of you.

Devereux, Center for Resilient Children says, “Research confirms the critical connection between the health and well-being of children and the adults caring for them.” Because of this important link, it is essential adults take care of themselves so they are able to provide high quality care to the children in their lives.

Ways to Relieve Stress

Here are few simple things that you may try to help relieve stress and put yourself first:

  • Deep breathing and yoga isn’t just for the children. When the day is getting you down, find a quieter spot in the room and begin to deep breath or do a few yoga moves. You may find the children sitting down and doing the exercises with you!
  • Keep a bottle of hand lotion in your classroom. Throughout the day, squirt a little lotion on your hands and rub it in. You may want to count to 10 or 20 as you rub in the lotion or just think about the lotion being absorbed into the skin.
  • Put on some quiet music in your classroom and dim the lights.
  • Let another teacher or your director know when you are having a bad day. Ask them to check on you throughout the day to see if you may need a break. Sometimes just stepping away for a few minutes gives you a different perspective.
  • Stay hydrated. If you aren’t allowed to keep food or drink in your classroom, encourage your director to allow you to keep a plastic bottle of water or a tumbler with water for frequent drinks. Children should be allowed to get water when needed and the same goes for you.
  • Take time to eat lunch, which most of the time means sitting with the children while they eat. Arrange foods so that children may serve themselves seconds so that you can sit with children, enjoy their conversations, and digest your food.

Know Your Limits

Finally yet importantly, know your hot buttons! Hot buttons are those things that push you over the edge. We are all human and we all have them. Identify them and know how to handle yourself if they get pushed to your limit. Know when it is time to take a break and don’t let yourself get pushed into a corner. The most important thing is that children are safe. Make a plan if you need to step out, this can be easier for some and harder for others and might require for you to think especially if you care for children by yourself.

You have one of the most important jobs on the planet and that is to secure our future through today’s youth. Take care of yourself!

About the author:

Janet Burke is the Director of Child Development Services at ChildSavers, a nonprofit organization that believes that all children can be safe, happy, healthy and ready to learn.  She manages six core programs that support this belief; Child Care Aware of Central Virginia, Child Development Training, Child Development Associate Certificate Program, Virginia Quality Central Region, Voluntary Registration for the Central Region and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.  Janet joined ChildSavers in 1992 where she has worked as a trainer, supervisor, coordinator, program manager and director.  She has been a Master Rater and Master Trainer for Virginia’s Quality and Rating Improvement System since 2007 where she was trained in the first cohort of trainers.  Along with 36 years of experience of working in early care and with early care professionals, she has a Certificate in Early Childhood and a Certificate in Supervisory and Leadership and has taken many other child development and business classes over the years. This includes being trained by the authors for CLASS, Environmental Rating Scale, Here, Now and Down the Road, MyTeachingPartner and DECA.  She holds current certifications.

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