Promoting Good Mental Health in the Early Childhood Workforce
Promoting Good Mental Health in the Early Childhood Workforce
As a modern society we've never been richer, but when it comes to our health, we've never been sicker. Mental illness is one of the biggest culprits, with almost half of all Australians (45 per cent) now set to experience mental health problems in their lifetime.
Early childhood educators are responsible for nurturing and educating the next generation, so it's extremely important that their mental health is the best it can possibly be. They’re also in a strong position to identify and support mental health issues in young children under their care. But what are the best ways to go about doing both? Here's what you need to know.
Taking care of yourself
As they say on aircrafts, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. The same theory applies to early childhood educators - ensure your own mental health is in top form first to not only boost your personal wellness and happiness but allow you to be the best role model and teacher possible.
As we know, working with young children is rewarding, however, it can also be challenging and exhausting. Here are a few tips for looking after your mental health:
- Identify when things aren't right
This is a crucial step in rectifying poor mental health issues before they take control. Emotional cues such as feeling easily irritated, overwhelmed, anxious or sad are big indicators. Physical signs are also another warning that you’re off balance, as stress hormones interrupt the normal processes in the body. Tense muscles, tiredness, high blood pressure, skin conditions and hair falling out are all red flags that something's amiss.
- Have a healthy lifestyle
It may sound obvious, but diet, fitness and lifestyle choices really do have a major impact on your mental health. So, make sure you're eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, getting good quality sleep and lots of fresh air outdoors and avoiding addictive toxins such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.
- Make time for yourself
Learning to relax will help you control your emotions and improve your physical and mental wellbeing. Even if you work long hours and have additional family responsibilities, you can still make time for a 5-minute meditation, yoga class, relaxing breakfast in the morning or by curling up with a good book at night or listening to your favourite music.
- Speak to your employer
Perhaps there are things bothering you or making your job difficult that could be easily fixed if acknowledged and addressed. You may not even realise how much these factors are affecting your daily mental health until they are no longer a problem.
- Communicate with others
When you talk things out, such as with a friend or family member, it can really help you pinpoint exactly what's causing you to feel down or stressed. Feeling overworked, under pressure and misunderstood is a serious matter and you shouldn't have to deal with it on your own.
- Seek help if required
There's no shame in seeking support from medical professionals when you need it, and there are also government funded mental health programs you can tap into if you qualify.
Supporting children's mental health
When it comes to looking out for the children in your care, it's your duty to know when a child might be struggling emotionally and identify ways to help them manage their feelings. Depression affects children as young as three, and it helps to be aware of the signs which include:
- Externalised behaviour such as being challenging, disruptive, impulsive or hyperactive.
- Internalised behaviour such as withdrawal, worry, fearfulness or becoming easily upset.
- Regulation issues such as settling into a predictable routine.
- Trouble expressing emotions.
- Negative thoughts about themselves or what's happening around them.
- Difficulty paying attention, processing information, communicating or even using physical skills such as walking or crawling.
- Difficulty forming social relationships, understanding social cues or taking turns in group play.
Support resources for early childhood educators
Taking on board the role of supporting mental health issues in the children you look after (along with all your other tasks AND looking after your own wellbeing!) may seem daunting. But luckily Beyond Blue have recently released a free online resource to help early childhood educator workers rise to the challenge.
Simply register online for the Be You initiative which offers the latest research and information around mental health specifically related to early learning, along with guidelines and support for all educators to help prevent and manage mental health challenges in the children under their care. There is also a useful handbook you can download to get you started.
The Be You program for early childhood educators is a useful resource that covers five key domains in detail:
- Family partnerships - How to partner with and assist families to support and promote mental health and wellbeing.
- Learning resilience - How to affirm the importance of social and emotional learning and resilience, embed evidence-based strategies and empower children to look after their mental health and wellbeing.
- Early support - How to notice the early signs of mental health issues, inquire sensitively about the child's circumstances and provide support within and beyond the early childhood service.
- Mentally healthy communities - How to understand mental health wellbeing in learning communities, connect through strong relationships and include by embracing diversity within the community.
- Responding together - How to recognise the potential impact of critical incidents and respond collaboratively.
With this expert support and guidance from Beyond Blue and Be You, you'll be better equipped to support all young children in the area of mental health so they can flourish in your learning environment and get the strong start in life that they deserve.
Thanks to iCareHealth and Beyond Blue for their tips and information on supporting mental health in relation to early childhood educators and young children.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 01 October 2020
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