Many that enter the field of early childhood are surprised by the stress that they find in their work. There are many things that individuals and programs can do to address job stress in the early care and education profession. In our research on childcare provider burnout we have found that care providers may benefit from incorporating physical activity during their day, planning in advance for stressful moments, and engaging in developmentally appropriate practices (Baumgartner, Carson, Apavaloaie, & Tsouloupas, 2009; Carson, Baumgartner, Matthews, & Tsouloupas, 2010). Each of these strategies can be implemented by an individual or facilitated by a director of a program.
While there are many reasons for job stress in childcare, I believe a common denominator is that too often our work can be characterized as trying to do too much with too little. As Sussman (1998) so clearly stated, “Years of budget balancing and widespread acceptance of inadequate facilities has desensitized providers to their environment and created chronically low expectations” (p.15). While Sussman was talking about physical environments, I would suggest that these low expectations extend to the acceptance of “facts about early childhood” that include beliefs such as there won’t be enough staff or that we can’t have regular breaks in our day to take care of ourselves. In order to really address this critical issue, I think we need to begin to think of job stress as not an individual problem that requires individuals to seek out solutions, but a problem that belongs to the field. There is no doubt that addressing this issue will require the hard questions and intentional goal setting characteristic of adaptive work (Goffin & Washington, 2007). However it is too important to not be given attention. Research firmly links the quality of care early in life to children’s later development; stressed care providers cannot provide the highest quality of care. As Mister Rogers stated so beautifully:
What makes the difference between wishing and realizing our wishes? Lots of things, of course, but the main one, I think, is whether we link our wishes to our active work. It may take months or years, but it’s far more likely to happen when we care so much that we’ll work as hard as we can to make it happen. And when we’re working toward the realization of our wishes, some of our greatest strengths come from the encouragement of people who care about us.
It is this kind of active work that is the responsibility of an united field.
Baumgartner, J., Carson, R., Apavaloaie, L., & Tsouloupas, C. (2009). Uncovering common stressful factors and coping strategies among childcare
providers. Child and Youth Care Forum, 38(5), 239-251.
Carson, R., Baumgartner, J., Tsouloupas, C., & Matthews, R. (2010). Burnout, work performance, absenteeism, and turnover intentions in
teachers: examining the impact of Physical activity habits. Journal of Health Psychology, 15(6), 905-914.
Goffin, S. & Washington, V. (2007). Ready or not: Leadership choices in early care and education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Sussman, C. (1998). Out of the basement: Discovering the value of child care facilities. Young Children, 53(1), 10-17.