Stress management strategies for early childhood professionals

Published on Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Working in the early childhood sector is no walk in the park. The hours are long, it requires lots of energy, educators are exposed to germs, and it requires extraordinary patience and commitment to deal with small children and their families on a daily basis. No wonder staff turnover among early childhood education and care educators is high.

Learning how to look after yourself, both physically and mentally, through managing stress, is an important coping mechanism for people working in early childhood. Building better resilience is also an effective way to reduce staff turnover and increase the satisfaction and productivity of early childhood staff.

High resilience levels also make it easier for people to bounce back from setbacks and better manage the everyday ups and downs of working with small children. The good news is stress management skills and resilience levels can be built and maintained through small changes to everyday practices, which can be implemented across the service. These 10 positive actions to avoid and bounce back from stress have been suggested by early childhood experts at Penn State Extension.

Connect with others

Connecting with others can help reduce stress. When co-workers are compassionate, friendly, and supportive, there is a greater chance that you'll like your job more, achieve more, and have healthier relationships over all. These types of positive social connections at work have been shown to boost health by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure and strengthening your immune system. Connecting with others in a meaningful way (both children and adults) can help you enjoy better health.

Improve communication efforts

Problems can often happen when communication is poor or doesn’t happen at all. Poor communication is the perfect invitation to stress! Review the many ways you communicate in your job. Maybe you have weekly meetings with co-workers or use newsletters to communicate with parents. What type of communication works well for you? How can you improve your communication? Don't forget that one of the best ways to communicate is to listen!

Be sure there is good fit

When you want to go to work, enjoy what you do, and believe in the mission of your program, there is a feeling of "good fit." A feeling of good fit allows you to handle stress and challenges. You know there will be support and that others believe in you. The opposite of good fit can occur when you don’t believe in the vision of the program or feel overwhelmed and unsupported in your job. This can lead to both stress and not liking your job. Finding good fit in your work life is important.

Get organised

Being more prepared and organised will help you avoid those last-minute energy draining and stressful moments. Are supplies available and organised? Does the room look over-stuffed? Or does your room look inviting and well organised? Is there a filing system for paperwork? When you organise your work space (and yourself!), there is less chance for chaos and out-of-control feelings for both adults and children.

Be mindful

Mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years but recently are being used in educational settings as a way to reduce stress. Mindfulness means to quiet the mind, to be present in the moment with no distractions, and to have focused attention. Mindfulness may also help children and adults gain control of their behaviours and emotions. Mindfulness practices, such as focused breathing, yoga, and reflection can help you to recognise and possibly change challenging emotions.

Use self-care

Self-care practices mean taking care of you. This includes knowing when and who to ask for help, stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, using positive self-talk ("I can do this!"), calling a friend, or making time for an enjoyable activity. Self-care practices help reduce your stress level and restore positive feelings.

Avoid the meltdown

There is often no warning sign that a stressful event is coming—which can make managing stress a big challenge. Having an action plan for stressful times can help. Being able to bounce back from stress or become resilient means you need to have a plan for when stress happens. What would you include in your action plan to avoid stress?

Be ready before stress happens

Although there is no specific way to be ready for stress before it happens, there are ways to be prepared. During stress-free times, do things that invite happiness, joy, and peace. Include experiences that bring laughter, curiosity, awe, and gratitude. Positive experiences help to renew your energy level and also help reconnect to happy times. It can also help to know you've made it through tough times. This gives courage and hope for handling future stress.

Plan strategies to act on

Although they are difficult to see during stress, when you’re in the eye of the storm, there are strategies to try to manage the stress or calm the storm. Think about the strategies that were mentioned, like stepping outside for a breath of fresh air or asking a co-worker for help. What will be your strategy? Think about it in advance. Having some "go to" strategies helps you to not have a quick reaction that could be negative, like yelling. These could be part of your action plan. It's important to remember that it is OK to ask for help, particularly when the red-light of anger and frustration is flashing.

Use reflection practices after stress

Reflect on a stressful experience now that it is over and review (or reframe) the overall experience. Think about how you felt and how you reacted. What type of coping technique and skills did you use or not use? Looking back at the stressful event can help you know that you are OK and were able to recover.

Penn State Extension

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