Understanding Early Childhood Vulnerability

Over the last few weeks, a number of articles are showing up on self-care for early childhood educators. There are a number of reasons that we need to be intentional in enacting self-care routines.

We know that our emotional health impacts the emotional health of the children in our classrooms. We also know that our work is comprised of emotional labor – needing to connect emotionally to children to be effective in our work. In addition, we are both rewarded---for our warm presence with young children, caring for their physical, social, and emotional needs---and punished by societal views of the importance of the work---long hours, low-wages, lack of societal recognition. Our emotional health is further compromised by the belief that early childhood education is simple and easy to do. The complexity of early childhood in misunderstood and applications of K-12 models try to make simple what is deeply layered creates both tension and distrust between early childhood and K-12 systems.

I refer to the complexity of interactions as the multiplicity of early childhood education, the concept that early childhood environments are complex and layered in the interactions between and among children and adults based on environments, program types, and educational philosophies. Further, the complexity of early childhood environments’ is comprised of highly individualized daily experiences between adults and children.All of this push and pull can leave early childhood educators feeling vulnerable in their work. Our vulnerability leads to high turnover (up to 40% in some states), which further erodes our reserves as we are stretched not only in our classrooms but also in our programs. In early childhood education emotional labor is compounded by the diversity of structures in which we work in the ways we are prepared for our profession.

In the larger societal structure, the divergent ways that we enact our profession impact our collective voice. We spend an extraordinary amount of time in our field coming to agreements about the work we do and what we are called. Much of our own struggle to define who we are and what we do allows external agencies and systems to create definitions of who early childhood educators are because we lack a collective voice.

Engaging in the work of early childhood is to experience emotional vulnerability. We need to understand both the forces in our own classrooms and programs, as well as the larger forces of societal constructs to be able to formulate a response and start to build structures that strengthen us emotionally to work with children. Only once we have structures for our emotional health, will we move beyond emotional vulnerability into resiliency.

Share some of your own thoughts about the emotional vulnerability of early childhood educators.