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Minding yourself


Tuesday 02 April 2019

Working in early learning and care settings is fun, enjoyable, relaxed, happy, entertaining, amusing, and stimulating. That is why we do what we do. We love being with young children, we love their confidence, their huge capacity for fun, laughter, smiles, love, and learning.

However, it is also challenging, messy, and can be very stressful. We all have days when it seems like nothing goes right, when everyone is anxious or upset and there is lots of crying. That’s the reality of the job. And usually, tomorrow, as Scarlett O’Hara proclaimed, is another day.

But there are some steps you can take to make challenging times a bit easier:


During the day, in your setting:

  • Accept that life in early learning and care is complex, messy, challenging and fun!
  • Ask yourself 'does it matter?' (for example, if snack time isn’t at the time I expected it to be at/if the floor isn’t swept until later/if we don’t go out or come in at the time we planned).
  • Ensure children have choices during the day. If children have a sense of being able to choose what they would like to do, then there is less frustration all round.
  • Take a few deep breaths and count to ten.
  • Put on some music and dance! Whatever kind of music helps!
  • Do something funny - dressing up, using face-paint, making funny faces perhaps. Laughter can be a great stress-buster.
  • If you are feeling under a lot of stress in your room, ask for a break. We tend to children’s wellbeing but often we need reminding to tend to our own also. Natasha Bryant set out some great ideas in her recent Scéalta blog post, Mindfulness at Work.
  • Encourage the children to sit quietly and listen to or think about their breathing - in and out, in and out. Keep these times short. Three to four minutes of this kind of activity is plenty for four-year-olds, and obviously less for younger children.
  • If there are two adults in a room, have one group inside and one group outside, according to the preferences of the children. Having fewer children in the room can really calm things down, and being outside - even if it’s cold, wet, or windy (ensuring you have appropriate clothing) - blows the cobwebs off and burns lots of energy.


Sometimes, frustrations and challenges are linked to our peers. At times, we hear of practitioners who feel their efforts to develop new practices in rooms are not understood or appreciated by their managers. Similarly, sometimes we hear from managers that practitioners are slow to change. If you feel this applies to you, try to tease out why this might be the case. Is it a fear of change, of change costing money, or is it lack of clarity about why a change is proposed? Try to take time away from the heat of the moment to reflect on how to resolve this situation.

Why might someone be afraid of change? Are there reassurances and supports that could be given?

If it’s fear of the expense involved, there are ways this change could be brought about at minimal or no cost. For instance, you may consider asking parents to donate items from home, or contribute their skills or ideas. As an example, some settings have found this works really well for developing mud-kitchens and adding tyres etc. in outdoor areas. This approach might also be helpful in resourcing the home area, for instance, using empty boxes, packets, jars, cooking implements, or old phones.

Websites (such as the Early Childhood Ireland website or the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide), photos, and podcasts could also be used to clarify your ideas and find further suggestions.

Sometimes the source of stress can lie outside the setting. This can be brought to bear by outside agencies and new developments. We are in a period of unprecedented change, with new funding schemes, new regulations, new inspections, and new training requirements. While many of these changes are good, indicating we are well on the way to being recognised as a profession, there is no denying that this change is stressful too. We live in a fast world and we want answers now. When a new scheme is announced, we want to know all the detail immediately. It can be unsettling, then, when details are not immediately available. Try to accept that this delay allows for things to be worked out, and try to think about suggestions you might make to ensure these schemes work well. Try to take part in consultations and contribute in as positive a way as possible. Of course, everyone needs to vent from time to time, but try to do this respectfully and positively with each other!

Sometimes, a mentor or inspector may express an opinion when in your setting. Engage in professional dialogue. Be prepared to consider their suggestions and, equally, to explain your position on something. Try to find time to slow down and mull these discussions over. Find a way that works for you to take the suggestion on board, but that doesn’t involve you duplicating work.

Social media is wonderful. It provides a forum for research, debate, the generation of ideas, and teasing out of difficulties. We often wonder how we managed without it! But it can add to stress too, especially as it is so accessible now and on so many devices. Remember, not everyone who expresses an opinion as fact is correct and they may be misinformed. 

While at times it is unavoidable, as a rule, do not take work home with you. Everyone needs time away from work to recharge the batteries and get space and distance from work. This makes things clear, gives time to reflect and helps us make better decisions.

Get off the merry-go-round and breathe! You are doing a really important job. Time out isn’t selfish, it makes you better at this vital job!


Máire Corbett is an Early Childhood Specialist at Early Childhood Ireland. She trained in Montessori teaching and has completed an MA in Integrated Provision for Children and Families with the University of Leicester at Pen Green.

"Visiting member settings inspires me as I see the passion and energy educators put into providing great experiences for the children in their settings. I love seeing competent children at play!"

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