How To Avoid Burnout As A Childcare Worker

Are you feeling the burn(out)? Learn how to identify the symptoms of burnout in childcare.

People outside of the world of early childhood education are often fooled by all of the “time off” childcare providers and teachers get throughout the year. They don’t understand how that bit of time off flies by. They don’t understand that small bit of time off is barely enough for us to get our minds back to normal after the push at the end of a long year, semester, or summer term. Many child care centers are year ’round now, too. What many people don’t understand is that BURNOUT. IS. REAL. Education and the care of children isn’t just reading stories and snack time. Strong programs require careful thought and planning to maximize the learning time available and ensure all students are reaching the appropriate milestones. And honestly, the time you spend with the kids is likely the easiest part of the job. The paperwork, lesson plans, and constant attention to compliance measures are the real challenges. So how can we improve our day to day so as to avoid burnout, stay on top of our game, and never lose sight of why we got into education to begin with?

So What Is Burnout… Exactly?

According to Melinda Smith at HelpGuide, burnout is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” When we experience a high level of stress for days, weeks, or even months on end without support or an end in sight, we begin to become cynical, uninterested, and even lack motivation to actually do even the things we once loved about our jobs. Prolonged burnout can affect your home life as well.

It’s sneaky the way it can permeate every aspect of life, including your health. So, it’s important to understand how to identify burnout before it gets to that point or better yet how to avoid it altogether.

What Are Some Of The Symptoms Of Burnout?

If you’re having to even ask yourself this question, the answer is likely yes. Sometimes we are so heads down that we don’t even realize what’s happening. We are just pushing through the next unit, creating the next center, planning the next field trip. We don’t have time to stop and check on ourselves. Here are some telltale signs of burnout according to the Mayo Clinic:
  • Irritability or impatience with co-workers, children and their parents
  • Lack of energy to be consistently productive
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of satisfaction from work achievements
  • Disillusionment about your job
  • Use of food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel
  • Change in sleep habits

That Sounds Like Me… What Do I Do To Avoid Burnout?

First, take a deep breath. The good news is that you got this. Self-preservation is an innate quality most of us have. Start with baby steps to lighten your load. Identify the tasks that are really weighing you down in the classroom, and take those to your administrator. Share what you’re going through and ask for help. Administrators are in the business of retention…both for staff and students. So, your administrator will likely walk through these challenges with you and help you devise a way to focus on the must-dos and back off of the nice to dos for a while. Having your admin in your corner is vital to improving your overall outlook and your ability to move past some of the stress you’re experiencing. In conjunction, carve out some time to exercise. “Exercise is crucial to your mental and physical health,” according to Forbes’ Ashley Stahl. So, take a walk. Go for a bike ride. Find a yoga class. Make time for the activity that you enjoy that also elevates your heart rate. It’s not only fabulous for your cardiovascular system, it’s also great for your mental health. Get your body moving and your endorphins flowing!

Also, remember to take time to socialize and laugh! Surrounding yourself with positive people, preferably outside of your professional group, gives your mental health a boost, especially during mentally low times, such as burnout. It takes your mind off the stresses of the day and allows you to have perspective on those things eating at you. Kavita Khajuria, MD, of the Psychiatric Times wrote that laughter “elevates the pain threshold and can help break the cycle between pain, sleep loss, depression, and immunosuppression. Laughter lowers blood pressure, epinephrine, and glucose levels, and increases glucose tolerance.”

How To Prevent Burnout In Childcare Workers

Child care center directors and admins have a critical role in supporting your staff throughout the year to help keep the dreaded burnout at bay. Burnout is a major factor in high turnover, costing small businesses between 16-20% of annual salary for every employee who leaves, according to People Keep’s Christina Merhar. However, you can get ahead of this beast and offer your staff some perks that will hopefully keep the work/life balance in order as well as retain your employees for the longer term. Appreciation and recognition are key.

Here are few ways to do both:

  • Minimize and simplify paperwork and mundane tasks using technology
  • Open door policy—let them know that you are always in their corner—be approachable and one who takes action to rectify challenges
  • Rotate ancillary duties (car duty, lunch duty, front desk duty, etc.) often, and allow teachers and staff to trade responsibilities.
  • Recognize even the small instances of someone going the extra mile (Sonic gift cards, duty free day, order in lunch for that teacher, publish their good deed in the monthly newsletter)
  • Provide special staff breakfasts once a month
  • Coupons for jeans/casual dress days
  • Make the effort to privately thank each member of your team every single day for something they did well

Burnout is no joke for childcare workers. It also doesn’t have to feel like the end of the world. If we are in the workforce long enough, we will all experience it in some form or fashion. However, with recognition and deliberate change, we can win the burnout battle!

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