Overcoming burnout in childcare blog header

Overcoming burnout in childcare

Burnout and turnover in childcare classrooms

It is an unfortunate fact that educator burnout is the norm in childcare. Some might even see burnout as an occupational hazard, part and parcel of the job.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you are an in-home childcare provider, an educator, a director, or an assistant, it takes a special kind of person to pursue a career in early childhood. To be successful, you will need a lot of patience, love, solid communication skills, an organized mind, boundless energy, strength, and soul. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. The history of early childhood education explains many of the influences that have shaped the field of early childhood education into what it is today. 

child showing emotion with caregiver

Amidst early education receiving a lot of press and public attention, the field is going through a labor crisis. A lot of teachers are leaving the field because they are burning out. In the 2020-2021 Child Care Benchmark Report, childcare business owners identified labor as the #2 organizational risk. This, coupled with the rising demand for childcare is creating a tough situation for business owners, educators, parents, and especially the children involved.

As attitudes towards the relationship between millennial parents, career, and family change, early childhood professionals are positioned to become a key support system for the backbone of our economy. So, let’s tackle this issue of burnout in the field, shall we?

Reasons behind educator burnout

Teaching preschool is much more than just showing up to look after children. Educators wear many hats in their roles: guardian, friend, first responder, counselor, cook, janitor, entertainer, mediator, and the list goes on. All while making sure that the children under their care are safe and happy. Here are some reasons why burnout is so common in childcare.

Lack of training and support

Work team building

Childcare professionals come from all different educational backgrounds. From high school to post-graduate degrees, the level of experience varies from educator to educator. This, coupled with the requirements that come, can put pressure on educators and administrators to perform in a role without the necessary knowledge of best practices.  

Between transitions, different shifts, a hasty lunch, talking to parents, putting out fires and making sure children are safe and happy, it is a lot to squeeze into training. That’s a lot of responsibility to have on one plate!

This brings us to the topic of support. Early childhood educators are often siloed in their classrooms and don’t always have the strongest support system, be it within the center or externally. When your team is constantly on the go and overworked, morale can take a hit across the board and cause burnout.

Preschool educators tend to be nurturing people

teacher and children

There is definitely a personality profile that excels in the role of a preschool educator. Someone who is nurturing has a huge heart and is always there for their families.

For better or for worse, this personality type can sometimes be the main contributor to burnout. Educators that are so keen to please and help the families that they serve often forget to prioritize their own work-life balance.

Anyone who works in a childcare setting will tell you that being sick all the time is pretty standard. Substitute educators are difficult to schedule and the hassle of catching up is often seen as not worth it. The longer educators push themselves to be available for their families, the more ill they become. This can turn into a toxic cycle that is not sustainable for their physical and mental wellbeing.

Underappreciation and self-worth

Early childhood professionals are relationship-driven people. I mean, the job requires a whole lot of heart! Despite that, it is one of the most underappreciated and undervalued professions by society.

Negativity often comes from many sources:

  • Friends/family: “Oh, being a preschool teacher isn’t a real job”
  • Parents: “It’s just glorified babysitting”
  • The general public: “How hard is it to play with kids all day”
  • Yourself: “I guess I am just a preschool educator”

This incorrect association of value and identity not only contributes to a feeling of apathy at work, it also impacts the way in which educators view themselves. That, on top of pay that doesn’t correlate to the hours and effort required for the job, is why it isn’t a stretch to see educators leaving the profession in droves. The importance of early childhood educators cannot be disregarded. 

In fact, our Childcare Benchmark Survey found that the average educator salary is just $27,156 USD, down 5% from the previous year.

Health concerns

Despite wearing personal protective equipment and doing regular cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, working as an educator during a pandemic does still pose some health risks. In combination with the other burnout factors, this can result in a very anxious emotional state for educators. Staying healthy in childcare is important.

How to avoid burnout in childcare

Now that we’ve covered some key contributors to educator burnout, let’s discuss some strategies to prevent and minimize this. In the long run, a healthy and high-functioning team means a more sustainable business with minimal employee turnover, better quality care, and a workplace that’s more fun!

Build a culture that raises people up

Source: GIPHY

Given that childcare is a field that is underappreciated, shifting your perspective makes a world of a difference. Think of your center in the frame of a family and take pride in your team and the families you serve. A simple “great job” goes a long way in making someone feel acknowledged for their hard work.

This doesn’t have to fall solely on the shoulders of leadership either! Every single person on the team has the capacity to shout a team member out, support a colleague who might be struggling with something and even mentor each other. An engaged team will organically raise the quality of your center and become more established in the community.

Get organized and communicate expectations

Childcare administration and leadership can have a huge impact on this front. A simple way to combat burnout is to provide tools to optimize time management and make tasks easier. If you have a team that works really hard already, set boundaries for your staff to make sure that balance becomes a priority. Communicate expectations clearly and stick to them.

Some of these things can be:

  • Setting clear shift times
  • Using technology for paperwork
  • Staffing classes in pairs / small teams
  • Creating a mentorship program
  • Showcasing your educators’ work to parents

By having clear expectations, educators will be able to take guilt-free breaks and maintain some balance while on the job. A mentorship program will help with training on the job, and having set career tracks will also help you build a team structure that has growth potential and pushes your staff to value their work. This is also a great way to retain top talent at your center.

Invest in your team

Continuous professional development is key to staying up to date with the various licensing requirements and trends in the field. Reinvesting into your workforce will translate to an increase in quality across the board and yield returns both monetarily and from a morale perspective.

If staffing is an issue for this, schedule designated professional development days during the school year so that your team can focus on them. Make sure that parents are aware of your commitment to improving the service that you’re providing them and it is a win-win for everyone!

See more up-to-date insights on the state of child care in the 2020-2021 Child Care Benchmark Report!

Running a childcare center is hard…

We’d love to make it a little much easier! Did you know that parents are increasingly evaluating childcare centers on whether they offer digital parental communication, shared photo and video updates, and contactless check-in and billing?

HiMama is an all-in-one app to help you with all that, and boost your enrollment! Get a FREE 10-minute tour with us here.

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!


  • Karen says:

    While this is very sound and great advice, what do you have for those of us whom have left the circle and embarked on our own?

  • Lauren says:

    At our center we have three minutes of each weekly staff meeting set aside for “Kudos,” where we give gratitude or encouragement to each other for work- and non-work-related things (telling that pregnant teacher, “I see you eating the healthiest snacks throughout the day; you’re doing such am amazing job taking care of yourself”, or giving the toddler teaching team a round of high fives for finally getting everyone to nap before 1pm). It’s at the start of our meeting, so people feel the glow of human connection for the rest of the meeting.

  • kerstin bandner says:

    Offer them more money and benefits to return. 🙂

    • Kayla Rideaux says:

      Surprised pay was not mentioned. That’s almost a number one issue. It’s hard to work in a demanding field like this when you are barely making more than a Taco Bell employee. Financial stress and work stress are hard for anyone to manage. And appreciation should be reflected in pay especially considering the high cost of childcare. Another big problem is the large numbers in younger classes that make learning, and classroom management nearly impossible. As a parent if you see more that 12, 2 year olds in a class, that is not a good sign. It shows the institution cares more about money than the children’s well being.

    • Vanessa says:

      That exactly what we need. And send Directors that actually cares and appreciate their staff.

    • Lila says:

      Yes!!!! I totally agree. 😊

    • Meysi says:

      That’s the great idea

    • Terese D Ragas says:

      I’m a child care teacher and i definitely agree

  • Lizzie says:

    Nailed it!! I taught preschool for 5 years before deciding to move onto the school district to be an Instructional aid for an elementary school autistic class. For the first preschool I was at, I was making $11.09 after 4 years, having my ECE associate degree plus a teacher permit. There were days where teachers were so sick they were throwing up in their classrooms, and the bosses would simply tell them that there isn’t anyone to replace them for the day. I got so sick one time, I took my temp at work and showed it to them, which read 102 degrees under my armpit. By the end of the day, they said “oh, I didn’t know you wanted to go home.” I went to the ER that night. Turned out I had swine flu!!
    Besides low pay and teachers being turned down of going home when sick, drama was always a big problem. Teachers were always talking bad about each other instead of supporting each other. I moved on to what I thought was a much better environment. It was a little bit better, since there were actually good benefits and decent pay. However, the drama and lack of communication still occured. After a year I had a review in which I was “released of my duties without reason.” This was after my boss found out I was taking my own personal notes of situations that were occuring so I would have proof if anything were to be brought up. I sank into a depression at home for several months before being able to have the energy to get back to work. I currently work for the school district, which is older kids, but with really good benefits and lots of support from all staff members. It’s really sad that I had to give up being a teacher because of low pay and drama. I am now an Instructional assistant, but a lot happier. I just had a preemie baby of my own, and the staff is really caring about it. I am just afraid of when my son gets to be of preschool age. Maybe I will just teach him everything he needs to know, then go straight to a kindergarten instead.

  • Lovesha Dubarrie says:

    As a former Early Childhood Teacher, I do agree with everyhing that is written in this article. For me, I love love children with my whole heart and I enjoy catering to their needs but I found that the profession was not rewarding especially when it comes on to monthly salary. It was alot of hard work and hours but little pay. I became drained in the process due to overwork. I lost weight and got little rest. It even affected me emotionally. I was stressed and depressed so I do agree with the article. We need support and also a fair schedule to work with. I stopped because of burnout. I miss the little ones so much and still think about going back but scared I may leave again cause the system has not changed.
    Thank you

  • Rebecca A Thompson says:

    Pay is a major issue for us in grants pass Oregon also. We can’t get full time either due to company having to pay insurance. Ridiculous. Can’t retire on this, yet people need safe structures for they’re kiddos to survive, and thrive.

  • Lindy says:

    Why not talk about the real reason preschool teachers are leaving the field. I was a preschool teacher for 19 years and just left to go into an office job. The reason, AFTER 19 YEARS TEACHING I WAS STILL NOT MAKING A LIVABLE WAGE. What other industry after working for 19 years would you still not be able to make enough to pay your bills. Start paying decent wages and maybe the preschools would be able to keep good teachers.

  • Crystal Vines says:

    I was an Assistant Teacher for 9 years in Preschool and I know that I am not cut out for this job. I tried finding other employment to no avail. I was miserable all the time and I have a Master Degree and was making minimum wage. I never want to do childcare again

  • Cynthia W Jeffries says:

    Now that the nation has deemed our jobs as “essential” hopefully things will change. I do not really see it changing. People tend to use you when needed and revert back to the old way after the crisis is over. This profession does not pay a cost of living wage and yet so many parents depend on us. The work is hard and very tiring if done correctly. We are not considered “real” teachers even though some of us have the same or
    more education than public school teachers. Good staff is hard to find because of the low pay and lack of benefits. I have been an early educator for 40 years. This is not daycare. We educate and prepare children for their next steps up the educational ladder. We deserve better and should demand it!!!

  • Carollon says:

    I strongly agree to everything that has been mentioned. I have worked in the Early Childhood Profession for 30. years and o truly don’t know why sometimes. I have been terminated twice for not allowing providers take money from me that i had earned. When you go above and beyond in this industry ot seems to do mpre harm than good. The children is what count especially when you see them reach the. necessary milstones needed that will last them a lifetime. But with that being said who is truly lookong out for the early childhood educators. No One.

  • Christy Flores says:

    I have been in ECE for 20 plus years and decided to open my own childcare. Although, this has been most rewarding I am making less money than when I was teaching. This industry needs and should be subsidized so that:
    – all families, despite their economic status, can afford quality childcare
    – teachers can live above poverty levels independently
    – teachers can afford and justify the cost of higher education because it does make a difference
    – children can receive the strong, loving foundation for a lifetime of growth
    Preschool teachers should not have to bear the brunt of societies need for safe and healthy learning for our youngest people.

  • Anita says:

    I have been a Director with my own child care center for 25 ,years i always treat my girls with respect and they know what regulations we need to follow. We stayed open when others were closing, and even though our numbers dwindled down- I wanted them not to worry about their bills. We are doing fine, still not operating at 100% because of the governor’s instructions. We will be ok and continue to work together, laugh together, share lunches together and look for opportunities to build each other up. God Bless all our parents who build us up and help us feel valued. It can be done, stop the bashing and love the job

  • Sandee says:

    I was a Administrator, pre k lead teacher, grocery store shopper, bank dropper, holiday shopper, and morning cook, cleaner and everything else you can think of. I am burnt out. I have my ECE for 7 years and it took me all seven years to earn $12an hour. Only for parents to fight you,call you out your name, not be appreciated for taking care of their children for almost 10 hours s day. I love love children. But I can no longer continue in this field. I have been in the business of child care since 1996.
    It’s not only that but the paper work, classes, overturns in staffing, in Ohio the work has increased by Star status. the more you have the better you are rated. And the paperwork is excruciating.
    I don’t know what I will do, I am 50 years old, and starting over is scary

    • gail f Stiger says:

      You are not telling me anything new. The paperwork is just awful here in Ohio! I have been a in home child care provider for the state for 34 yrs. It is a thankless job. So much training is needed. I am a 1 star and i am not going for a2. So in 2025 the state will take away my license.

  • Danielle B says:

    No one mentioned the inadequate pay. All the other reasons are true but low pay is an issue. I could work at Target for a considerable amount more than what I make.

  • Caisey Ryans says:

    I often find it frustrating that this profession is underestimated. After all, it is in fact a complex and unpredictable job that requires full involvement and commitment.
    Burnout is a normal phenomenon for any profession. But you have to think about what you love this job for and find a reason to continue. For me, it’s the children themselves – they’re wonderful and inspiring. When you see their success, you realize that you are working for a reason.

  • Carol says:

    This and all the reasons stated above are all very true ,I started working in child care long before it became a good place to consider sending your children. I worked in this field for over thrity plus years with yes you are correct with little pay ,but my main reason for staying was the children they need good loving teachers too ,the money matters but it’s not the reason you have teachers staying we truly do love the children and seeing them grow and learn as little individuals. If covid19 hadn’t come into our world I know for a fact that I at age 61 would still be with my babies.
    Stay safe every one and fo what you love

    • Kent, WA says:

      I’ve been telling myself for over 20 years that living at poverty level is ok because i love the kids. Living our lives to work while we are an invisible cornerstone of society. Covid has shown me how our health, our work life balance, our needs STILL do not matter. One thank you from a parent doesn’t erase the 35 negative ones from that day. Asking for preschool teachers to do more work, but a kudos meme do not equal out. Parents think distance learning is hard. Try 15 kids, age 5 to 12. Can’t even get parents to provide earphones for their kids or charge their laptops at night. Yet charged their phones. Parents upset their kids have missing assignments, not doing well in class, or not wanting to do any part of their schooling. That is put on the child care teachers. They risk their and their families health doing this job The pay increase would be a Good send. But what is killing my love and endurance for my *essential* job is the lack of respect or acknowledgement.

  • Raymonde says:

    I agree. The low pay is one and the number of children in the classroom is another factor. I have been in the field for over 20 yrs the lack of communication and professionalism from supervisors are also contributing factors of high turn over.

  • Kent,WA says:

    Corporate and parents can watch us – Stream us live – while we do our jobs. How many people work under that scrutiny? Every movement and action being monitored. Expectations being increased. Parents and corporate questioning any and everything.

  • RP says:

    What intrigues me is that just about every article regarding ECE mentions more training, but no one mentions pay (or barely mentions it). In many other fields, usually training positively correlates with pay. But not in ECE. We ask teachers to go through copious amounts of training and certifications, yet don’t compensate them properly. When someone has a master’s degree and hundreds of hours of training and experience underneath them, but barely makes more than a part-time retail store employee, there is a serious problem. The field of ECE is experiencing a silent but steady “strike” from its workers as more teachers leave the field. I am all for affordable, quality childcare for families; but, if affordable childcare means teachers making poverty wages, then the ECE field will not last for much longer.

  • LaDonna Cannon says:

    All of this is a great idea but I believe its a little bit more complicated. While these techniques work the reward must be greater. We can do so much better in early childhood and people arent. I eventually will be leaving the field but I do love it.

  • Beth Rupert says:

    I am thankful that I have awesome teachers, and I try to help them the best I can so they do not burn-out. I totally AGREE that preschool/childcare teachers should make more money, and they are underpaid for all the valuable work they do. The problem isn’t that the center owner or directors do not WANT to pay them. I am sure every owner and director would be happy to give their staff more money. I know I sure WOULD! The problem isn’t a WANT, it is a CAN. School districts are funded by TAX dollars; thus, they are able to pay teachers and aides a livable salary. Centers, especially small, non-franchised, centers cannot afford to pay those salaries. Consider this, in the narrative above, the average teacher gets paid $27,156 USD/year which comes to about $13.05/hour, $520/week, $2080/month. These numbers do not even take into account Workers’ Comp payments, taxes, health care, PPE, insurance, etc. If the average parent is paying $225/wk (obviously depends on the age of the child and center location), the center would have to have at least two children (if not more) to cover just that ONE salary! Compound that with other bills such as mortgages, gas, light, insurances, taxes, COVID impact, etc, and you can see the problem. The old adage that you can’t get blood out of a turnip is fitting. Parents are already struggling to pay for childcare so raising rates, although a solution, would not be the answer. Without government funding childcare centers/preschools, the situation is not going to improve. Believe me, having to find qualified staff, train them, and retain them is extremely difficult, stressful, time, and financially consuming (an ad on Indeed for one position can range over $1000+ just to find one teacher!). As a small business owner, I try the best I can with words of support, small financial gifts, notes, quality training, etc to compensate for the inability I have to pay a “teacher’s salary.” My teachers are worth that and more<3

  • Towmeah C Eubanks says:

    So true

  • Terese D Ragas says:

    I’m a child care teacher and i definitely agree

  • Christina says:

    At my center we do Wow Wednesdays every week for the teachers. Little something to let them know we appreciate them.
    I’ve been in childcare for 30 yrs and I feel like the past couple years some parents don’t appreciate us like they used to.

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