What to do if life feels overwhelming

Lately, my life has been so overwhelming. In my personal life, my oldest is applying to college and reaching out for every scholarship opportunity available. There’s marching band and dance practice, homework and studying, dinners to cook and oodles of laundry. In my work life, we’ve hired two new staff and two people were moved to new roles. I’m working on a new project. The pace of life both at work and at home just seems to be speeding by and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m out of control.

When your job is to take care of others, it's important to take care of yourself!

When life feels out of control, I notice that I tend to be grouchy. And I’m probably less productive in all areas of my life. What I keep trying to remind myself of is that I do have control, not over the things that are happening around me, but how I respond and react to those things.

When life feels big, either at home or at work, remember these tips:

  1. Talk about it. Don’t get lost in the maze of all the things happening around you. Tell a trusted friend or colleague about your frustrations. Sometimes it can be helpful to label how you’re feeling and why you think you’re feeling that way.
  2. Take it one day at a time. Make a list and divide up your ‘to-dos’ into more manageable chunks. Not only will you break each of the tasks down, but you can feel accomplished at the end of the day when you’ve been able to cross things off.
  3. Be flexible. Think of your long list of tasks creatively, recognizing that there’s more than one way to be complete each piece. By channeling some creative juices, you might find you to-do list becomes more of a to-done list more quickly!
  4. Take a deep breath. When faced with a daunting set of tasks ahead, give yourself permission to walk away and recharge. Take a walk, enjoy a bubble bath, read a good book. When you have a chance to recharge your body and your mind, you come back with a renewed sense of hope.

And now that I can check this one thing off my to-do list, I feel so much better. At the end of the day, I hope that you can check something off your list and feel better to.

It is a part of my story but I am not it.

I had cancer. Cancer has become a part of my life story. In August I celebrated a year since diagnosis, surgery, and eradication of my cancer. I celebrated with approximately 80 of my friends who have supported me and my family over the last year. I have the most amazing support system. They are still supporting me, even after my treatments are done and I’m back to my old self. Cancer is a part of my story, but it is not what defines me. This has really been prevalent to me lately. Others who have gone through what I’ve been through can empathize with me. Some may feel pity. Some may feel anger about the disease as a whole.

Cancer is a part of my life story, but my life story also contains a loving family (pictured here with my husband, Jim), a job I enjoy, and a lot of other things!

Cancer is a part of my life story, but my story also contains a loving family (pictured here with my husband, Jim), and lots more!

I wonder what it’s like for children who get labeled as something. “He’s a boy. They behave like that.” “She’s a girl. Drama comes with the territory.” “He has ADHD. He can’t sit still, don’t expect him to.” “She will throw a fit if you make her clean up now.” Are we as adults, unintentionally labeling children which may be skewing our expectations of them? We receive what we perceive. If we think that child is going to throw a fit, she will. If we expect the child to not sit still, he won’t. Labels impact children not only in the present time, but in future as well. How many adults have given the child’s next teacher a “heads up” about the child? When that child enters the classroom, there’s already a preconceived notion as to how that child is going to behave and how the adult is going to perceive the child.

Children’s behavior is a part of their story. It should not be what defines them. Behaviors are emotions to be understood. Children’s physical health is a part of their story. It shouldn’t be what defines them. Adults should be able to look at each child and treat each child as an individual. Treating children the same to be “fair” is not appropriate. That’s like saying anyone who has cancer gets the same treatment because it’s cancer when in reality, there are many different treatment regimens for the many different types of cancer.

Children are building their stories. It’s important we value the story they are working on and add positive chapters to their growing story.

Allow children to take risks

It is easy to blame the psychology major in me but I recognize that my desire to understand and study human thinking and behaviors goes back a long way. I have spent time reflecting and examining my childhood choices and wondering about my motivations for decisions I made. When it comes to safety I know it all started with how I was taught by my grandmother. Never leaning over the edge of the banister, always taking one step at a time, walking instead of running, holding hands anywhere we walked, watching instead of doing.

How do you encourage healthy risk-taking in your child care program?

As a parent and as a child care provider, safety was always my number one concern and when I recently overheard someone discussing a summer camp for children that encouraged them to take risks, I involuntarily and visibly cringed. I also recently had an “Aha!” moment as a parent when my son did a report for school that said the main behavior that made me happy was him being safe.

In a previous blog, I discussed that I never sat in a chair but stood a post and while I still stand by the choices in protecting the children entrusted in my care, even my own, to the very best of my abilities, I question whether if I could have done a better job of protecting yet empowering them. Have I taught them to be safe or to be afraid? Was my helping, even with the best of intentions, inadvertently hindering them?

As an adult, I fully recognize the need to take calculated risks. So why can’t we guide the children in our care to consider deliberate, advantageous risks in the right parameters, while still under our watchful yet embracing eye? Healthy risks such as going down the big slide, jumping from a step from a safe level, using scissors to perfect their project, walking ahead to explore or using a butter knife to prepare their bread are all developmental learning opportunities. You aren’t letting them go in an unsafe way, you are letting them grow. You are giving the gift of freedom instead of fear.

And yes, as I watch my sixteen-year-old son pull our car out of our driveway on his own, I am saying these things to myself as well. While it isn’t easy, I know and value the lessons of teaching children to chase their dreams while being careful not to clip their wings in order to prepare them for “flight” in life.

Love is a verb

Our jobs in early childhood certainly aren’t “glamorous.” And yet there are people who have been working in our field for decades and can’t imagine doing any other job. I also have been working in the field for most of two decades and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I started to ask myself and others, why do we choose this job? What is it about working with young children that makes us get out of bed each day?  I’ve gotten lots of answers. Most are what I think people expect: “I love children. It’s so rewarding to see them grow. My mom was a teacher and it’s in my blood.”

Why do you love your job in #ECE? How do you show others love through your job?

Why do you love your job in #ECE? How do you show others love through your job?

There was one answer to my questioning that made me just grin from ear to ear. The answer came from a man who is 86 years young and works as the general maintenance man for a local child care program. As he was sharing with me why at 86 years old he comes to work every day to do the important job of repairing the materials and grounds used by so many children, the most profound statement he made was, “because love is a verb and I can build and repair and restore to show the children and teachers how much I love them.”

With that in mind, as you contemplate a fresh day in your classroom, how will you show those you encounter each day that love is a verb? Could you extend a helping hand to the mom who has her hands full dropping off an infant and preschooler in the morning? Could you smile and greet each child and adult by name that enters into your classroom? Could you offer to help your co-worker who is having a difficult day?

I am so lucky. I truly do love my job. I work with a great group of people. I have the joy of visiting with teachers, administrators, families and children. I see teachers creatively provide opportunities for children to learn new concepts. As I thought about the idea of love being a verb, I realized I need to figure out how I can show others just how much I love my job. Knowing that our jobs can sometimes be challenging and life can feel really big, I encourage you to remember why you love your job. I also challenge each of us to show those around what that means, because love is most definitely a verb.

The privilege of observing of a child’s learning

The other night I was out walking my dog. It is my favorite time to be out with my dog because we are usually the only ones out and we can hear and feel the peacefulness in the air. This particular night was very clear with a hint of chill swirling around us. At one point I happened to look up and I saw a star shooting across the sky. I was amazed at the fleeting beauty and exclaimed to my dog, “Look!” (She didn’t care to look up from the pole she was sniffing). So I was left alone with my thoughts and pondering. As we continued our walk I reflected upon the star and the gift of looking to the sky at the exact moment it flashed across the atmosphere.

Teacher's have the privilege of a "front row seat" to a child's learning

My mind then wandered to the children we serve. What a gift it is to be present and observing at the exact moment a child truly understands a concept. I love seeing the look of amazement and innocence on a child’s face when she “gets it.” The child sits up a little straighter and sees the world through a slightly different lens. There is a mixture of innocence and a little more wisdom reflected through her eyes.

What a gift it is to be the person who helped facilitate that learning. We are the ones who arrange the environment, plan the lessons, provide the appropriate materials, and facilitate the learning. We have the privilege of creating a culture in which exploration is welcome and everyone understands and accepts there will be mistakes. We have the responsibility to develop community where it is safe to make those mistakes, to learn from them, and then move forward with a deeper understanding of the world.

As child care providers we are blessed to be the person who parents have chosen to care for their bright stars, their children. We must work hard to build trust and a relationship that tells parents we will carefully and intentionally teach their children the skills needed so they can soar through life as the bright star flies across the sky. Not only do we need to build that trust but we need to work hard to keep that trust. This means we follow the regulations, we treat children and families with kindness and respect, and we continue learning and stretching our minds.

Sometimes, as providers, we become so caught up in the busy-ness of the job that we forget to observe. I challenge you today to stop for just a moment and be truly present in the lives of the children. Look into their eyes and see the innocence, see their amazement at learning, and see the child as a star.

Before you lose your mind, find your laughter!

Deadlines and due dates, rushed lunches and drive thru. Clothes in the hamper and shoes stepped in dog poo. Silver white tresses that shock my brown eyes, these are the few of the reasons I sigh. When the kids fight, when the bills sting, when I’m feeling sad; I simply remember to laugh rather than cry and then I don’t feel, so bad!

I have to admit it has taken several circumstances in my life to take me past the point of tears, straight to hysteria, one of which being in the classroom. There is nothing like a flooded large muscle room, 24 shocked three-year-olds, two teachers trying to mop and 15 students from another class due to eat lunch in said flooded basement in 20 minutes to really fry your nerves. Oh, did I mention that the flood was due to an overflowing potty that I missed seeing due to the distraction of breaking up the block war taking place on the carpet?

Before you lose your mind, find your laughter!

There were wet socks (mine), wet eyes (my co-teacher) and wet pants (my youngest student) all around. As my director rushed to contact our local water expert and came down to help us start the evacuation process because the stairs were blocked by the newly created moat, there was only one thing left for me to do: save my sanity by choosing laughter. Now before you rush to judge me as an uncaring educator or irresponsible employee, allow me to challenge you to think of similar situations where reacting with negativity and a bad attitude not only created more tension and stress but magnified the situation to be far worse than it actually was. The children were safe, the carpet would dry and eating lunch a few minutes late was not the end of the world. In our field, it’s all in a days work!

Our team pulled together magnificently and tackled the problem (that potty was later replaced as it wasn’t working properly—I swear!) with a positive energy that could be felt by everyone involved, even years later. The pictures and video are priceless and reminiscing about it leaves us all in stitches. And let’s be honest, who would feel the tension and sweat the stress the most had we chosen to react differently? The children! And they don’t deserve it!

The first day of school, holiday parties and picture day can pack enough punch to make your head spin, but making a conscious effort to laugh instead of cry or scream or even pout can save your sanity and everyone else’s, including the children in your care. So the next time you are cleaning paint out of clothes, gum out of hair, dirt out of a mouth or are wringing water out of your sopping wet socks, I challenge you before you lose your mind to find your laughter!

Does your laughter need resurrected? Need to stimulate your smile? Want to learn more about how to use humor in your life to banish stress and negativity? Join us at the Eighth Annual Northern Kentucky Leadership Conference where keynote speaker Cea Cohen Elliott teaches us how to “Laugh For the Health of It”! Register by Sept. 30 to get the early bird price!

The family/child care provider relationship is a partnership

“They don’t know my parents. They won’t take the time to fill this out.” I hear this statement over and over when speaking to programs regarding information needed from families. My response is typically, “I understand it seems like an insurmountable task to get paperwork from every family. What can you do to change this process or to help families complete what you need?” I know this isn’t what most providers want to hear but if the process isn’t working, it needs to be reassessed.

The family/child care provider relationship is a partnership

There are a few things that I process through with providers when this topic comes up. As far as learning about a child, asking the family for information is the best choice. The family is the child’s first teacher. The family is the expert on the child. We need to tap in to the family as a resource, not see the family as a barrier. I ask providers how they have educated the family on the importance of what is needed, whether it’s the Ages and Stages Questionnaire or a sign up sheet for a family picnic. There are times we need to market what we do to get “buy in” from families. We have to discuss the intentionality of what we are doing so others can understand.

I also ask providers to process their perspective of the families. We need to assume best intentions. Families are busy. Maybe they honestly forgot to submit the form. Maybe they misplaced it and are embarrassed to ask for another copy because you’ve already given them two. Maybe they do not understand what the document is asking. Assuming that the family is purposefully being difficult isn’t going to help meet the needs of the child.   I’m sure every parent remembers a time when someone had the wrong assumption about them. It doesn’t feel good when someone thinks something that isn’t true. We need to keep that in mind when thinking of the families we serve.

As I talk to providers about this, I typically finish our conversation with assuming best intentions not only when asking families for paperwork, but in every interaction. For me, this is hard, but it’s getting a bit easier (depending on the situation). We need to remember that families want what is best for their children. I’ve yet to meet a family that doesn’t want their child to be successful. As we are discussing the importance of our needs with families, we can approach with, “In order for me to help the children be successful, this is what I need from you.” Make the expectations realistic. Let families know what they can expect from you. It’s a partnership. I also try to keep in mind we receive what we perceive. If we go into conversation thinking it’s not going to be successful, it won’t be. Thinking the encounter is going to be productive before it even starts is a great beginning to a wonderful partnership to help children, families, and providers become successful.

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