Working with young children can be both incredibly rewarding and sometimes challenging. Research connects educator well-being and emotional competence with consistent, rich, and sensitive interactions with young children,1 and positive learning outcomes for those children.2
Well-being has been defined as the combination of feeling good and functioning well; to flourish, possess positive relationships and experience a sense of accomplishment in meaningful tasks.3
Self-care is about strengthening mental health and resiliency, along with fostering sustainability. The World Health Organization defines self-care as the effort to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability. Often the focus in early learning and child care is the child. However, educator health is foundational in this equation and self-care is a radical act of preservation to build the energy necessary to sustain the efforts in providing high quality education and care for children.4 Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup!
In care-based professions, caregivers often struggle to prioritize self-care despite the importance of educator well-being to support healthy child development.5 For many, feeling supported and encouraged can be important for internalizing permission to embrace caring for oneself.
Our well-being is influenced by our individual factors, our relationship environments, and our larger world contexts. Our strongest influence over our well-being falls within our individual sphere. Consider some of the following self-care opportunities to share a little love with yourself.6
Take a moment to reflect on the words your inner voice is repeating in your thoughts. Are these mostly supportive and kind words? Often our inner negative thoughts are things we would never think to say to another person. Shake up that thinking and practice self-compassion. Spread kindness like confetti – especially with yourself!
Take a moment to reflect on your sleep, eating, and movement patterns. Are there any patterns you might want to shift? Consider small changes that demonstrate to yourself that you value and prioritize your own health.
Consider ways to increase opportunities to spend time with the people you love and strengthen your support system. Stacking self-care opportunities can make it feel less overwhelming, such as going for a walk or grocery shopping with a loved one.
Take some time to think about what brings you joy and fulfillment. Or practice mindfulness to watch for these feelings and note them in a journal. Knowing what stirs joy in your heart will help you identify those things you are grateful for throughout the day.
Take some time each day away from distractions, screens, and duties. Allow your mind to quiet and engage in the process of reflection.
It is easy to let self-care fall by the wayside but frequent small actions are easier to maintain than large unrealistic plans. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, finding approaches that you enjoy are easier to incorporate and more likely to stick in the long-term. But the first act is the gift of permission!
“Self-Care – You First!”
Lynne Lafave is an associate professor in the Department of Health and Physical Education at Mount Royal University in Calgary Alberta. She holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences and her research focuses on nutrition, physical activity, and well-being initiatives in early childhood education and care. As the principal investigator on the CHEERS project, she works jointly with early childhood educators and CHEERS project coordinators to support early child health and well-being initiatives in the early childhood education and care setting.