Supporting the well-being of our early years professionals

EYE speaks to three early years practitioners about ways they cope with stress and encourage well-being in their settings to celebrate Early Years Well-being Week.

Working among young children is an uplifting, enriching and eye-opening experience but this doesn’t mean it is a job without difficulty. Early years practitioners are often time poor and confronted with complex challenging behaviour, while nursery owners are facing a difficult financial landscape, with the introduction of the 30-hour offer, limited funding and inadequate pledges of further Government support. This is why it is important, now more than ever, to consider the well-being of those in the sector and make it a priority.

To celebrate Early Years Well-being Week, EYE has spoken to three early years practitioners to discuss the various challenges they experience in their settings, how they overcome stress and how they encourage conversations about well-being in their team.

Karen Keane, nursery practitioner at Portico Kindergarten Day Nursery

What challenges do you face in your setting?
Sometimes you’re not dealing with your own stress and you’re taking too much on and it can build up and make you feel overwhelmed. If staff aren’t communicating and you’re not understanding each other, it doesn’t flow. Obviously, the children themselves may be ill, upset and crying, which can be stressful.

How does the setting encourage well-being?
We’ve got a well-being box which we put things in. We put in healthy treats and sometimes it’s chocolate, hand creams, deodorant sprays, face packs that you can take home, some magazines for the staff room so it’s a nice relaxing time and we’re not worrying about what we have to do in the afternoon. We’ve got a book in the office at the moment and we’re writing down inspirational ideas of what we can do as a team and then we’re going to implement them when we feel people are a bit stressed or in need of a positive boost.

How do you manage your own stress?
I don’t have a morning break, so I pool it into a lunch break and go for a walk. I either listen to music or a podcast and no matter what the weather, I find when I get outside it’s a relief. If you’ve had a rough morning or you’ve been busy, it’s that little escape and ‘you time’ breathing in fresh air.

By taking a step back and being a bit gentler with myself I find I can give more back because I’ve filled myself up, whereas I used to just bottle it up and let things get on top of me.

Chloe Francis, deputy manager at Portico West End

What challenges do you face in your setting?
Supporting children who do have challenging behaviour can be stressful. My time management can be difficult, giving myself time to do things like my rota, making sure I’m doing all observations with my key children and making sure I’m interacting as much as I can with them.

How does the setting encourage well-being?
Staff have suffered with personal issues, so we’ve had to work well as a team to support them. We’ve got a stay positive box that we’ve recently put in the corridor, so it could be for staff, parents or children – it’s for anyone to use. It says on the front: ‘If you’re sad and feeling blue, a quote in the box is waiting for you’. If you’re feeling sad or down, you can take one of these positive quotes out the box and it’s just something that can put a smile on your face.

We’ve also got a physical champion, who encourages all of us to go for a walk on our lunch break as opposed to sitting in the staffroom on our mobile phones. When we are in the room doing music and movement and stretching, the staff are always encouraged to join in as well.

How do you manage your own stress?
Sometimes I’ll go for a swim, I have a membership so that’s quite relaxing. I also do a 20-minute, easy-going walk to work, there and back. It’s important to think about yourself. When you’re in work, your first thought is the safety and care of the children but then when you have breaks you’ve got to think this is my time. I will go for a 10-minute walk instead of sitting on my mobile. It’s about making those choices for your well-being. If you’re not looking after you own well-being, then looking after the children’s well-being will be hard.

Nicole De Lima, deputy manager at The Old School House Nursery

What challenges do you face in your setting?
When I was a practitioner in the room, I would definitely say it was just keeping up with the high pace. The children do all their different routines at the same time and it can be quite fast paced, so if you have a child who is particularly upset it can add to the load. In my role as deputy, it’s about balancing everything. I quality assure and do a lot of finance so it’s making sure I find enough hours in the day to complete all of my tasks.

How does the setting encourage well-being?
We do supervisions every six weeks, which is a half hour slot for the staff to come and talk to us. We have an open-door policy, so we always reassure the staff not to sit on anything until their supervision. If they do want to come with their own agenda or they’ve got any concerns, it gives them half an hour where they’re completely out of the room. It’s one to one and a chance for them to have a more in-depth conversation.

We also run a health and well-being staff meeting. We share different coping strategies, for example, some of our girls go to counselling so they bring ideas that have been suggested to them. We also run another meeting on mindfulness. It’s one of the main initiatives that we use at nursery.

How do you manage your own stress?
I am a communicator, so I make sure I share any issues with my best friend or my husband. I am also quite positive, so I will draw a line under a problem and come back to work the next day and put a plan in place. I have a notebook that I write everything down in and cross it out as I achieve it, so I can look back at the end of the day and think I may not have hit my deadline but I have managed to do a lot.

Join the conversation by following #EYWellbeingWeek on Twitter


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