- Identify the importance of our own behavior and the impact it has on the children and youth we serve.
- Create a self-care plan for both home and work.
- Implement wellness strategies to improve your workplace on an individual, program, and community level.
Imagine you wake up, go to work, and have the best day ever. This does not mean that everything went perfectly that day, but that you left feeling hopeful and with energy. What happened that day to make you feel good mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually, and professionally? In Lesson Three, you learned that the work environment has a strong impact on personal wellness, especially in child care centers, preschools, and primary schools. When working with children and youth who experience trauma, the risk of secondary traumatic stress is high. Awareness of our own behavior and its impact on children and youth and creating a self-care plan that prioritizes wellness helps decrease the impact of secondary traumatic stress and creates a positive working environment for you, your coworkers, and the children and adolescents you serve.
Awareness of our Behavior and its Impact
Children and adults that have been exposed to trauma often experience “trauma reminders” or “triggers” during their interactions with people and the environment. A trigger can be defined as a stimulus that sets off a memory of a traumatic experience. Potential triggers can include noises, smells, temperature, visual scenes, physical sensations, locations, seasons, or certain times of day. These trauma reminders may lead to intense emotions and behaviors in children and youth. Program staff should understand children’s individual trauma triggers including how their behavior can trigger trauma responses in children and youth. In Lesson One, the CAPPD (calm, attuned, present, predictable, and don't) model was explored regarding ways to manage our own stress and reactions. For example, think about how children and youth who have experienced trauma may react to raised voices and harsh words from a stressed adult. Using wellness strategies throughout the day can help program staff to be more mindful of how their behavior influences the children and students in their rooms.
One of the most important influences on a child’s development and their ability to overcome adversity is the presence of a positive, supportive, stable caregiver. A strong, healthy, stable relationship with a caregiver that provides love and support, helps children learn that the world is a safe place to learn and grow. As a caregiver, for you to foster this critical relationship with children you must first take care of yourself. By engaging in self-care strategies, you can combat secondary traumatic stress and enhance your relationships and interactions with children and families.
Creating a Self-Care Plan
Self-care is an unselfish act that allows a person to maintain good health and optimal wellness. It can be challenging for caregivers and educators to take the time to fit in self-care activities every day. However, life’s daily stressors, both work related and non-work related, can often leave one feeling depleted of energy. This can become an even larger problem for caregivers and educators dealing with secondary traumatic stress. To combat this, it is recommended you create a self-care plan that incorporates the following six areas, at minimum:
The Virtual Lab School course on Social Emotional Learning for Teachers is a great tool for digging deeper into the mental, emotional, physical, and professional to identify strategies to cope with stress impacting your health.
Developing daily routines that incorporate self-care activities can help reduce the effects of job dissatisfaction and burnout. To complete a self-care plan, it is important to look at what positive and negative coping skills you currently utilize. In reviewing current coping skills, you can develop an understanding of your reaction to negative experiences or crisis situations. Once you have a list of ideas, it is also important to consider barriers that might keep you from engaging in self-care, such as time restraints or guilt. Address these barriers in a way that works for you. Self-care is an individual activity that is meant for you! If you are struggling to create a list of self-care activities, here are some ideas from the National Alliance for Mental Illness:
- Eat regularly (i.e., breakfast, lunch and dinner)
- Eat healthy food
- Exercise consistently
- Get regular medical care for prevention
- Get medical care when necessary
- Take time off when sick
- Dance, swim, walk, run, play sports, sing or do some other physical activity that is enjoyable
- Take time to be sexual
- Get enough sleep
- Take vacations
- Wear clothes you like
- Take day trips or mini-vacations
- Make time for self-reflection
- Engage in personal psychotherapy
- Write in a journal
- Read literature that is unrelated to work
- Do something in which you are not an expert or in charge
- Cope with stress in personal or work life
- Notice inner experience (i.e., listen to and recognize thoughts, judgments, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings)
- Provide others with different aspects of self (i.e., communicate needs and wants)
- Try new things
- Practice receiving from others
- Improve ability to say “no” to extra responsibilities
- Allow for quality time with others whose company you enjoy
- Maintain contact with valued others
- Give self affirmations and praise
- Love self
- Reread favorite book or review favorite movies
- Identify and engage in comforting activities, objects, people, relationships and places
- Allow for feeling expression (laugh, cry, etc.)
- Allow time for reflection
- Spend time with nature
- Participate in a spiritual community
- Be open to inspiration
- Cherish own optimism and hope
- Be aware of nonmaterial aspects of life
- Cultivate ability to identify what is meaningful and its place in personal life
- Meditate or pray
- Contribute to causes you believe in
- Read inspirational literature (lectures, music, etc.)
- Allow for breaks during the workday
- Engage with coworkers
- Provide yourself quiet time and space to complete tasks
- Participate in projects or tasks that are exciting and rewarding
- Set limits and boundaries with clients and colleagues
- Balance workload
- Arrange work space for comfort
- Maintain regular supervision or consultation
- Negotiate needs (benefits, bonuses, raise, etc.)
- Participate in peer support group
Developing a Wellness-Focused Environment
One aspect to consider in creating your self-care plan is how you can incorporate components of your plan into your workday. Consider developing a wellness focus into your program or educational setting. Lesson Two discussed program environments that are trauma-sensitive. Connecting trauma-sensitive practices is an easy way for caregivers and educators to incorporate self-care coping skills to help the children they serve. Consider also reviewing the Virtual Lab School course on Learning Environments to learn more about how to increase engagement with proper design and a sense of safety by establishing predictable routines. When considering the design and routines of your environment, be sure to use the trauma lens when thinking about items or materials that could trigger a traumatic response. Our environments should serve as a safe space for children and youth so they feel comfortable and empowered. Some features of trauma-sensitive environments may include (Schwartz-Henderson, 2016):
- Have fewer materials on the shelves
- Change materials more frequently
- Provide a space for one child to work independently
- Provide a soft space to relax, if needed
- Minimize visual messages on walls and floor
- Provide décor that is culturally sensitive
- Lower or diffuse lighting and sound
- Provide self-serve snack without restrictions
- Sequence learning activities for all competencies
Donna works in a child care center with an attached primary school. While she loves her job, it can be stressful taking care of multiple children. The administrative staff at the child care center recognize Donna’s struggle and see it often in other staff members. To assist the staff members and make a more positive work environment for both the children and child care professionals, the administration has encouraged staff members to engage in self-care activities throughout the day. There are program-wide self-care strategies, such as Meditation Mondays, where staff members are encouraged to participate in small-group morning meditation sessions either before children arrive or with the children in their classroom, large-group, or morning meeting time. On Wellness Wednesdays, healthy snacks and fresh water with lemons and cucumbers are available in the staff lounge.
Donna decides to find individual ways to implement self-care into her workday. Every morning before children arrive, Donna and Melanie, a teacher from the adjoined program, go for a walk outside around the building for fresh air and exercise. She makes sure she has water throughout the day and has started to bring her own lemon water in a reusable bottle. When the children arrive, Donna works with them to practice some mindful breathing that helps her and also models self-regulation for the children. She has found that many of her self-care strategies have also benefited the children, and she often encourages them to drink more water and takes them outside to play more, too. During her lunch, Donna takes some time alone for quiet and will even turn on a diffuser in the staff break-room with lavender or peppermint to help calm or focus herself. Before transition to nap, Donna has implemented cool down time for her room and turns the lights off and turns on soothing music or sounds of nature for both her and the children. Finally, at the end of her day, Donna takes a few minutes to write in her journal three things that she was grateful for during work. What Donna finds especially important about her new self-care routine at work is the impact on the children. She has become more mindful about how she reacts to the little ones in her room so that she does not cause a trauma response. Coming to this realization, she has started to include a self-care section into her monthly newsletter that she sends out to families to inform them of the practices she uses in her class and ideas for them to practice together at home as a family.
The staff members at Donna’s child care center have truly grown to appreciate taking care of themselves and notice an improvement not only in their workday, but in the children that they work with as well. Now once a month on Wellness Wednesdays, the staff hosts a healthy snack potluck for each other. They take the time to share other wellness and self-care strategies that they have started to use in their rooms. Overall, the implementation of program-wide and individual self-care strategies has helped to increase community among the staff, decrease stress for staff members, and create a more positive environment for the children.
Listen as experts explain why it is critical that professional caregivers take care of themselves in order to care for others and the importance of individuals creating self-care plans that meet their specific needs.
There are many ways to support one’s wellness as an individual, as a professional, and on a program-wide level. To create a comprehensive self-care plan, consider these strategies:
- Pack a healthy lunch and snacks and have access to water throughout the day
- Schedule times for quiet reflection and breaks, both when children and youth are and are not present
- Walk outside of your room or building or do restorative yoga poses, with or without children or youth
- Use a gratitude journal for thoughts about your workday; you can include children in this process or complete during alone time
- Incorporate soothing music and scents into your routine
- Practice breathing techniques, imagery, and positive self- statements
Feel free to refer to the course on Social Emotional Learning for Teachers, Lesson Four, for more information on these ideas.
- Develop a wellness newsletter for program families that includes some of the wellness strategies you implement with their children and provide ideas for wellness activities they can do at home
- Create a network of peers to share thoughts and feelings about your work, be mindful to balance problems with solutions
- Identify when work stress becomes job burnout and seek professional help
Feel free to refer to the course on Social Emotional Learning for Teachers, Lesson Five, for more information on these ideas.
- Establish a clear method of communication with administration regarding the importance of self-care in your workday; be proactive and assist in creating a wellness team as a leadership initiative
- Implement staff-wide initiatives that encourage gathering as a community for wellness practices, such as a morning mediation or take a day of the week or month to celebrate self-care
- Incorporate children’s families into wellness activities, such as hosting a self-care night for families to participate in wellness activities together
How will you create your own wellness environment? Reflect on your stress and resilience using the Professional Resilience Self-Care Checklist. Identify ways that you take care of yourself using the Self-Care Goals handout. Be sure to address barriers to your self-care and wellness to create a plan to overcome those challenges. Then, discuss your responses with a supportive colleague, trainer, coach, or administrator.
Review the Self-Care for Educators and Self-Care for Caregivers & Teachers in Stressful Times resources and discuss ways you incorporate these suggestions with a coach, trainer, or administrator.
Families Thrive. (n.d.) Self-Care Wheel. https://www.familiesthrive.org/11j-self-care-wheel?rq=self%20care%20wheel
Gehl, M., & Hackbert, L. (2019). Getting started with mindfulness: A toolkit for early childhood organizations. ZERO TO THREE. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/2896-getting-started-with-mindfulness-a-toolkit-for-early-childhood-organizations
Homewood Health. (n.d.) Self-care starter kit. Retrieved from https://employees.viu.ca/sites/default/files/homewood-self-care-starter-kit.pdf
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National Center on Health in Head Start. Retrieved from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/health-services-newsletter-201408.pdf
National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments. (2019). Secondary traumatic stress and self-care packet. Retrieved from https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/sites/default/files/Building_TSS_Handout_3secondary_trauma.pdf
National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Schools Committee. (2017). Creating, supporting, and sustaining trauma-informed schools: A system framework. Los Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
Schwartz-Henderson, I. (2016) Trauma-informed Teaching and Design Strategies A New Paradigm. Toxic Stress and Children. https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/ccic/pdf/articles/trauma-informed-teaching.pdf
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