Mental health support for educators and children
Mental health support for educators and children
COVID-19 has put early childhood educators under a lot of emotional and financial strain this year. There has been uncertainty around attendance rates, intense responsibilities around health and hygiene, and a rise in the level of support that many families need in these worrisome times.
The latest Royal Children’s Hospital Child Health Poll reports that COVID-19 has negatively impacted the mental health of 36 per cent of children, and educators are often at the frontline, helping our little ones manage big feelings.
With all this in mind, it’s important that educators protect their own mental health while also caring for the emotional needs of our children.
To help them do this, Beyond Blue has released some advice for early learning communities as part of its Be You national mental health initiative, and here’s their thinking around child care.
How can educators protect their mental health as the pandemic continues?
Beyond Blue explains that educators will be in a better position to look after our children if they look after themselves, and to do this they recommend that educators:
- Focus on their early learning service’s strengths
Educators are encouraged to ‘be confident in knowing’ that their service already has the strengths that will help them get through the current health crisis (e.g. by following thorough hygiene practices).
- Be kind with one another
Kindness goes to the heart of quality early learning, and Beyond Blue says it’s important that educators continue to be ‘kind, compassionate and patient with each other’ as their learning community works through this year’s challenges.
- Rely on trusted sources for information
Misinformation or a deluge of worrying news can have a serious impact on one’s mental health, so the experts are encouraging people to look to trusted sources for their information, and think about cutting back on news and social media if it’s having a negative effect on their thoughts and emotions.
Educators and parents can find reliable content about COVID-19 at these sites:
- Department of Health: COVID-19 Health Alert
- Health Direct
- World Health Organization
- Early Childhood Australia
- Manage stress levels
COVID-19 has put many people under pressure and caused stress levels to rise. To manage this stress, Beyond Blue recommends that caregivers:
- Try to maintain their usual routines
- Know their limits
- Talk things through with trusted colleagues, family or friends
- Find ways to stay connected and engaged
- Explore Be You’s Wellbeing Tools and Mindfulness strategies, and the online resources at Beyond Blue. There’s also a Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service for those who need it, and lots of fact sheets to support mental health at all times – not just during a pandemic.
How can educators support the children in their care?
Educators do a great job of nurturing our children as they learn and develop, and the routines and relationships they’ve built in the past are valuable in the present.
To support children as the pandemic continues, Beyond Blue recommends that educators:
- Stick to regular routines and rituals as much as possible
There have been lots of changes to routine this year, with child care absences, parents working from home, social distancing and extra pressure on essential workers, so it’s important for educators to use small things, like familiar handwashing songs or favourite books, to ‘Create an emotional connection and relieve anxiety.’
When circumstances do have to change, educators should give children as much warning as possible and have realistic expectations around how they’ll deal with new routines or physical changes to their early learning environment.
- Children should get help regulating their emotions
The experts say it’s important for educators to, ‘Keep building strong relationships with children as much as possible’ and help them work through their emotions and practise self-regulation.
It’s natural for children to pick up on the big emotions of their parents and other grown-ups (e.g. if there’s financial stress or time pressure at home), but educators can reassure children that they’re not the cause of these feelings and that their grown-ups will be alright.
- Play remains important for children
Young children develop physical, emotional and social skills through play, and educators are encouraged to keep the focus on play to help children:
- Have fun
- Feel connected, valued and accepted and
- Work through, and express, their feelings.
- Educators should also watch for behavioural changes in children
The ongoing pandemic is making people of all ages feel unsettled, stressed and anxious, and although children aren’t immune to these feelings, they won’t always verbalise what they’re going through.
For this reason, it’s important for educators to look for changes in children’s behaviour and consult with the appropriate service leader if a child needs extra support (or speak with co-workers, the leader and the child’s family if they’re not sure whether the behaviour has changed).
As a guide, Beyond Blue says, ‘Children who may be feeling overwhelmed by stress or anxiety could be tired, withdrawn, irritable, fearful, unmotivated, moody, lose their appetite, need more comfort, have trouble concentrating and feel physically unwell,’ and in any event, it’s important that these feelings are recognised and managed.
How can educators work with families to support children’s mental health?
The early learning community is built on genuine, responsive relationships between educators and families, and these bonds are crucial as the pandemic continues to have an impact on people.
To protect children’s mental health and stay connected as an early learning community, Beyond Blue says that it’s important for educators and families to communicate, connect and be kind:
- Educators are encouraged to share resources and knowledge with families to help them care for their child’s mental health. For instance, educators could direct parents to Smiling Mind, which provides mindfulness activities and digital care packs.
- If a child is absent from their service, then families and educators can stay in touch by sharing news, photos and information. Video calls can also make a child feel part of the early learning action.
- ‘A culture of kindness’ will also help everyone manage the challenges of this year, and this means looking out for one another and doing little things that make the days easier, the weeks happier and the future more hopeful.
All in all, quality early learning services have done an amazing job in rising to the challenges of COVID-19, but we want to make sure that educators are looking after themselves, and that our children are coping with the stresses of 2020.
It’s important that we all spare a thought for one another and know that there is expert advice and support on hand if needed – both during the pandemic and beyond.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020
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