As caregivers of young children, whether you are a parent, an early care educator, or both, it is hard to find time to take care of yourself. Self-care is not only necessary for child care providers to stay grounded and healthy – your mood is reflected in your interactions with children.
Adults who are stressed are more likely to be irritable and negative. No child wants to spend her time at school being yelled at by her teacher all day.
You’ve probably heard the expression you can’t fill from an empty cup. How full is your cup right now? Most of us try to be superheroes and power through the challenges of the day. Sometimes, you have to put yourself first so you can be a better caregiver. It isn’t selfish. Even on an airplane, adults are asked to put on their oxygen masks first, then assist children or other passengers.
So how do you take care of yourself, especially during the holiday season? For a lot of people, this time of year is magical and refueling. For the rest of us, it is difficult and stressful. It is up to you to identify your limits.
Keep it simple
In the classroom, keep seasonal activities simple. You already know that each of your children comes from unique households with different traditions, so make it easy on yourself: focus on what is developmentally relevant rather than trying to cover every angle. Consider using sensory aspects (lights, smells, sounds) rather than exploring every holiday, especially if you work with little guys or a mixed age group.
Establish routines, good habits, and boundaries
That idea might help with your lesson planning, but what about you? How are you? Establish some routines into your day so that your answer can be a positive one. Practice breathing exercises when you feel out of control. Including the children in these exercises can teach them about self-soothing, and this might be a great chance to laugh together.
Other things, like eating well (holiday cookies are not a good lunch choice) and targeting the reason for your stress will help you be mindful of your mood. And above all, ask for help when you need it. Five minutes by yourself can be an incredible recharge!
Practice saying “no”
On the topic of the holidays, it’s OK to say no. Don’t feel that you have to commit to every invite for fear of offending anyone or for fear of missing out. Rushing from place to place to try to squeeze in every event can be more stressful than fun. Suggest an alternate, less hectic time to get together with friends and family in the new year. Your visit will be more relaxed, and your time with loved ones will be more intentional.
With children at work and with family during the holidays, remember to take a minute to check in on your feelings. Practicing self-care is the most important gift you can give yourself this holiday. When you are happier and enjoying yourself more, you’ll be able to share the joy.
Cristin McKnight is the Workforce Development Supervisor for Child Development Services at ChildSavers, where she serves as the Central Regional Coordinator for Virginia Quality. She has worked in the early child development field for more than 20 years. She holds a BA from Kutztown University.