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Early childhood educators have very complex jobs. They work long days on their feet with constant demands on their energy and patience—whether they are holding and rocking infants, reading storybooks to toddlers, engaging in imaginary play with preschoolers or building problem-solving and self-regulation skills with kindergarteners. Despite the intense workplace demands early childhood teachers face on a daily basis, they do not receive the compensation, benefits, professional development, and supports they need (Lieberman, 2018).
Adding to their cumulative stress, early childhood teachers are working with an increasing number of young children and families who are impacted by trauma and toxic stress (Nicholson, Perez, & Kurtz, in press; Sorrels, 2015). Working with children and families who are trauma-impacted –e.g., as a result of deportation, community violence, sexual abuse, opioid addiction or other substance abuse, homelessness, natural disasters etc.—takes a professional and personal toll on the lives of teachers putting them at risk for burnout, compassion fatigue and secondary trauma (Perry, 2014).
Decades of research demonstrates that early childhood educators’ ability to develop consistent, attuned and responsive relationships with children is an essential factor in high quality early learning programs. Remaining responsive and self-regulated with young children, especially those who are impacted by trauma and present complex and challenging behaviors, is a critical responsibility of early childhood educators. Yet, even the most committed and skilled profesionals may struggle to provide caring and responsive care if their own stress response systems are continually triggered as they worry about paying their bills, supporting the children and families in their care, and managing all of the additional pressures currently being placed on the early childhood workforce (e.g., pressure to complete higher education degrees and participate in Quality Rating and Improvement systems and improve the quality of their programs through coaching, training, technical assistance and program evaluation from external raters). Given these realities, it is essential that early childhood teachers learn about the importance of self-care. It is also paramount that the early childhood field moves towards creating programs, organizations and systems that are trauma-informed and wellness oriented.
There are many books and resources that currently exist on the topic of self-care, however, none of the current books in print are written specifically for the early childhood workforce describing examples that are tailored to the early childhood field.
We use research-based information to guide child care providers and early educators working in early childhood settings to strengthen their awareness of the importance of self-care and the potential consequences that can result when they do not buffer the stressors they experience on a daily basis. We argue that early childhood educators cannot do this work alone. Instead, we make a strong case for the need to value and embed self-care, healing and wellness into the policies and practices of programs, across agencies and throughout our early childhood systems. We acknowledge that self-care is a socioculturally informed concept and that authentic self-care practices will differ as a function of an individual’s culture, geography, income/class, religious beliefs, age, sexuality, gender, family, and community among other factors. And, we explicitly tie the importance of self-care to goals of social justice and equity for young children, their families and the early childhood workforce at the heart of our field. Self-care, we claim, is a necessary practice given the inequitable and challenging conditions early childhood practitioners face on a daily basis and the profoundly important role they play in supporting young children—especially those furthest from opportunity—during the most critical years of their brain development.
This book will makes a unique and important contribution to the literature by tailoring discussion of self-care practices to the early childhood field and by emphasizing the importance of attending to context and culture when defining what constitutes care for the self. Our discussion of self-care speaks to early educators in every role across our diverse field with accessible, meaningful and sustainable self-care practices they can immediately implement so they can be attuned and responsive and provide high quality care to young children and their families while also caring for themselves and strengthening their own health and wellbeing. We see this book as a natural companion to our first book (October 2018 and available on amazon and kindle), “Trauma Informed Practices for Early Childhood Educators: Relationship-Based Approaches that Support Healing and Build Resilience in Young Children”.