Practitioner Well-being


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Early years practitioners and educators are the bodies and minds on the floor of our early years settings; supporting children’s learning and development, giving cuddles, wiping tears, running rooms, supporting other members of the team, meeting managerial demands, being responsive to the needs of not only the children, but their parents and families too – all whilst juggling their own life baggage simultaneously.

Yet the mental health and well-being of our staff teams are incredibly poor but often overlooked/ignored. Staff can be made to feel guilty for being ill, ‘letting the team down’ if they take some time off and not being 100% each and every day.

Early years is an incredibly demanding sector, both physically and mentally; is it any surprise that mental illness is commonplace across the sector? Essentially, a happy workforce is a healthy workforce and practitioners are considerably more likely to fully immerse themselves in their roles, strive for professional development and provide a better quality of care when they are feeling supported, respected, and valued within the workplace, regardless of their mental health.

Our practitioners put on a ‘brave face’ a lot of the time so as not to impact the children’s experiences and learning and development, but from a managerial/leadership point of view, we do not want to be encouraging this to be the norm. How mental health in the early years is ‘treated’ is important, as we all know that ‘faking a smile’ or ‘putting on a brave face’ does not solve the problems and allow the person to process or sometimes even feel their emotions – which only causes deeper rooted issues in the long term.

It is imperative that managers and leaders are aware of and understand just how fraught and stressed their workforce is in order to provide adequate support; not just a hamper of ‘goodies’ in the staff room, but proper support whereby the practitioner feels listened to and understood.

As a sector we pride ourselves on how communicative we are, yet when it comes to our mental health, we’d much rather sweep it under the carpet, pretend and bury ourselves in the day-to-day – but in order for us to be role models for our children and support and promote children’s emotional well-being and self-regulation, we must be able to do this ourselves first.

As the people who work so closely with the youngest members of our sector, we must be emotionally and mentally available to these children – they need us to be ready to support and listen to them, and ultimately, if we’re not OK, then the children won’t be OK. Children are incredibly intuitive and even our youngest children can pick up on emotional energy, so if practitioners’ emotional needs are not being met and supported, then this will have an impact on the emotional well-being of the children they care for.

Early years needs to lose the ‘blame culture’ and the stigma around mental illness; you can have a mental illness and still be fit to look after children; a mental illness or mental health struggles do not shape a person or practitioner, nor do they impact on how capable a person is at doing their job.

All we want for the children we care for is for them to grow and develop into happy, healthy human beings who are emotionally intelligent, available, kind and empathetic of others. This ultimately is also the very same thing we’d wish for our staff teams and colleagues, and so it must start from the top and be cascaded down, thus helping us nurture and support our children in developing essential emotional skills, and building the foundations for their future emotional well-being and self-regulation.

Children learn from their environments and the behaviours they observe and so if they see practitioners and leadership teams taking care of each other, and having open and honest conversations regarding mental health and the needs of others. This will then naturally develop for them as they grow and learn, which will hopefully create a society of emotionally intelligent and kind young people.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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