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Resilience and Self Care in Leadership

April 13, 2023
6 minute read

Is there a collective burnout in Early Childhood Education? A stressful incident can change a person's ability to handle stress, so how has this changed entire teams? How does this, in turn, affect the children?  Many people’s reaction to stress is flight, and this has led to early years educators leaving the sector to relieve that stress.  It has been the response of many people in society to change their career direction and to reimagine their life goals following the global pandemic.

As a sector, I believe we take pride in assisting children through transitions and supporting their emotions—there are so many! We've come up with creative solutions to help youngsters cope with these massive life transitions, but what about the adults?  Staff, parents, and other professionals with whom we collaborate so closely. As a result, a "plan" must be adaptable and laced with a golden thread of empathy.   We must have a solution-based focus and ensure that we are taking care of ourselves.  As leaders in this space taking care of ourselves may be last on the ‘to do’ list but what if we put ourselves at the top for once?  I often tell people that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ and this is so true in that if you keep on going pouring your energy into others and not filling your own cup you will become tired, stressed and even burnt out.  This in turn results in poor decision making, poor communication and a lack of empathy.  The ripple effect is also something that is going to benefit the whole team!  If you take your break, if you breathe and recalibrate, if you prioritise your wellbeing the ripple effect of that is so far reaching and a behaviour that will be contagious!

Self-regulation is a term that we have heard more often over the last few years, and we are expected to support the children with their development of this.  But do we know how to self-regulate?  What do we do when the emotions get too much for our bodies to handle?  And as leaders and mentors are we ensuring that we are prepared to co-regulate?  Dr Dan Siegel (2011) tells us that we are ‘navigating the waters between rigidity and chaos’ meaning that what we really need is to enjoy the ‘river of wellbeing’.  We all move between the banks daily and ‘we’re farthest from mental and emotional health’ when we are closest to those banks.  So for leaders dissecting what our day looks like may support us in this-do we have to much structure, too many meetings, too many fires to put out?  Or do we have a lack of control, too much freedom, not enough structure?  Finding the balance in our every day is so important, its often the daily rituals and the small mindful moments that make the biggest difference. 

Well-Being ideas

We are co-regulators to the children that we work with and it is important as co-regulator to know how to self-regulate.  Self-regulation is the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviours, and attention, in ways that are socially acceptable and help achieve positive goals, such as maintaining good relationships, learning, and maintaining wellbeing.  We are so busy so much of the time in Early Years, it is so fast paced, that we need a moment in time to support this.  I like to call these Magical Mindful Moments.  Here are 5 that you can do anywhere:

  1. Take your shoes off (if possible), stand with feet hip width apart.  Imagine that your feet are grounded into the floor.  Take a deep breath in through your nose for 2, hold for 4 and breathe out through your mouth slowly and steadily for 8.
  2. Wherever you are, splay your fingers so that there is space between each one in front of you, using the index finger on your other hand, draw around each finger.  Up a finger (breathe in), down a finger (breathe out) and briefly hold at the top of each finger and finally your thumb.
  3. Using hand sanitizer or hand cream, massage the centre of your palm, increasing the pressure and maybe even closing your eyes for a few seconds.  This will calm your whole system, repeat on each finger and thumb.
  4. Stand legs wide and arms wide, so that your whole body is in a star shape, relax your shoulders and radiate your heart space to the sky (the children like to do this too), stretch and release.  You can even repeat to yourself, ‘I am ok’, ‘I am calm’, ‘I am relaxed’.
  5. Remind yourself of 3 things that you are grateful for, in terms of your role.  Write them down, say them out loud or whisper to yourself.

Preparing for your day

Stress 1

‘Emotional labour is defined as the amount of effort that is involved in the work that requires an emotional state in another person’ (Campbell-Barr and Leeson, 2016, p74)).  This quote reminds me that we have a purpose, we are the light in a lot of families lives and our expertise are something to be proud of.  Trust your expertise and ensure that you draw upon those now more than ever before.  The confidence that will radiate from you when you believe in yourself, is outstanding.  Preparing for your day in the setting may require you to create a bubble of protection, this is something that I do before I start teaching, to ensure that I do not internalise all of the stress that may be before me. 

Take a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath in through your nose and all the way out through your mouth.  Relax your shoulders.  Imagine that you are building a bubble of protection around your body, all the way around you from your feet, all the way up and over your head.  Repeat to yourself; I let go of what is not serving me,  I am positive, I trust myself, I am amazing, I am relaxed and calm.  When you leave the setting, do the same and imagine that that bubble is popping taking with it the stress of the day.

During the day

Take your breaks!  They make look a little different to usual, but ask yourself what your break is for?  It is to recharge, relax and replenish, so that you are the best that you can be when returning to the children.  Where possible, go for a walk and get some fresh air.  Sit quietly and avoid too much social media and endless scrolling.  Take some time for you.  As a team keep the staff room tidy and beautiful, to relax in. 

There are many ways to take care of you and you know yourself best, so find what works for you.  As leaders we must lead the way and as the saying goes ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’.   It starts with you!

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