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by: Amanda Mills, IdahoSTARS Child Care Resource Specialist

Self-care may not be the first thing that comes to mind when most people think about dealing with children. As an early childhood educator, your focus is always on the children you teach. You may also find yourself working with families and specialists to support children’s learning goals. You carve out time for coworkers, to meet with supervisors or regulatory agencies and interact with members of your community. You devote A LOT of time and energy to many other people, but you may not be devoting enough time to yourself.

You have been enduring the same traumatic experiences as the children you care for — natural disasters, school violence and the COVID-19 pandemic. You may also be dealing with issues at home or even be grieving the loss of a loved one. All of these different sources of tension can put chronic stress on educators each day. Before you even begin your day with young children, you may already be feeling the economic squeeze of low wages and possibly prejudice and racism as well. The selflessness it takes to care for, nurture, and teach young children is a testament to your commitment.

The good news is that you can take steps to counteract all of this. Stress does not have to take a toll when you make self-care a priority. As they say, you need to be well to do well.

Self-care involves incorporating activities aimed at restoring and improving your physical and emotional well-being into your everyday life. The National Child Traumatic Stress Center recommends focusing on changing behaviors and using mindfulness-based strategies. Try incorporating some of the ideas suggested below regularly.

Be kind to yourself because tending to your basic wellness needs should not be a favor or privilege you extend to yourself, but something you do every day to be your healthiest and best self. This means caring for your physical needs (eat nutritiously, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, attend to your health needs), social needs (foster and maintain friendships), mental health needs (do activities to stimulate your brain, read, participate in things that you are interested in or passionate about, seek treatment), emotional needs (talk to someone about your feelings and problems, journal, exercise, spend time doing hobbies that allow you to relax and refocus), and spiritual needs (pray, meditate, volunteer, do things that bring meaning to your life and connect with the world around you).

Mindfulness is one of the most successful strategies for counteracting the effects of compassion fatigue (NCTSN 2011). Over time, cultivating mindfulness practices will help you develop increased emotional regulation and the ability to better tolerate challenges that may come your way. The effects of mindfulness may help you to better accept both professional and personal frustrations. Start by simply setting aside some time. Remember, the goal of mindfulness is not to “quiet the mind” or achieve some state of calm but to simply focus and be present in the moment, without judgement.

Give yourself and those around you a lot of grace right now. The days are long and we are all exhausted. Be kind and compassionate but remember, “If compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield 

IdahoSTARS PD Recommendations:

•             Self-Care and Self-Reflection in the Workplace Through this TTA, teachers and child care staff will clearly understand how personal reflection and self-care will allow them to more effectively care for and connect with others, while simultaneously increasing levels of personal and professional satisfaction. (2 PD Hours Available)

•             Caregiver Mental Health: You Can't Pour from an Empty Cup Understanding and addressing caregiver mental health can assist with prevention of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment as identified in the CFOC standards. Adults who take care of their own mental health with intentional and reflective practices are better equipped to support children's process toward social emotional competence. (2 Training Hours Available)