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Stress-management techniques for educators

In a recent webinar, we welcomed Dr. Donna Housman and Emily Stone from Housman Institute. Donna and Emily joined us for a conversation on “The Power of Emotional Intelligence for Early Childhood Educators.” Dr. Housman and Emily helped us to understand the impact our emotions have on our classroom each day and they shared strategies for how we can understand and manage our own emotions and those of others. This is critical in our ability to identify our feelings in the present moment,  problem-solve, think critically, manage our emotions, and navigate challenges. They explored how emotional intelligence helps educators to develop a positive sense of self and empathy, both of which support their own mental health and well-being, and in turn, allow them to provide the best support for children in their care. 

Watch the webinar that inspired this article here

Now more than ever, educators are struggling with high levels of stress and burnout. The emotions that come from heightened stress can impact your everyday life both in and out of the classroom. Emotional awareness is key in supporting educators to be and do their best for themselves, and for the children they teach. 

How does emotional awareness relate to educators’ careers?

Young children develop within the context of relationships with the key adults in their world. Children are emotional detectives, picking up and absorbing our actions, reactions, responses, and behaviors as they look to us for cues as to how they should react and respond in situations. 

Children learn by:

  1. Imitation
  2. Observation
  3. Guidance
  4. Modeling
  5. Contingent reactions
child playing

Before we can model for and guide them in their emotional development we must first have the skills to understand and manage our own emotions. We need to develop our own emotional awareness.  In order for educators to teach children the skills of managing their emotions and persisting in the face of challenges and stress, they need to develop these skills themselves. 

When we speak about emotional intelligence, we refer to the ability of children and adults to effectively identify, understand, express, and manage their many emotions and feelings. Emotional awareness ties all of these skills together. Educators can practice the six levels of emotional awareness to support and enhance their emotionality, and in doing so, also mitigate the feelings that come from stress, anxiety, and burnout.  

What are the six levels of emotional awareness?

Level 1: Awareness – Being aware of your emotions by first knowing that a feeling is present. You may notice physiological changes, such as sweaty palms or an increased heartbeat. It is important to tune into what your body is doing and become aware of it. 

Level 2: Acknowledgement – Acknowledging that you are experiencing a feeling, even if you don’t yet know what that feeling is. This ability prevents feelings from reaching their boiling point. 

Level 3: Identification – Being able to label what you are feeling, identify it by name, and take the next steps to find a solution. 

Happy child eating

Level 4: Acceptance – Knowing that all feelings are okay; it’s what we do with them that matters. Accepting your feelings in the present moment gives you the permission to have a feeling. It is easier to make positive changes in our lives when we learn to accept our feelings in the present moment. 

Level 5: Reflection – Reflecting on what caused a feeling guides you towards finding an appropriate solution. The sooner we can reflect on the emotional experience and what caused it, the sooner we can take action for next time. 

Level 6: Forecasting – Predicting when these same feelings will arise and being able to choose the best course of action. When you know the cause of heightened feelings, you are better able to anticipate that they will arise during similar experiences. This ability allows you to learn from your mistakes, think, process that information, and not make the same mistake twice. You may come up with strategies to regulate your feelings. Forecasting also extends to others – when we develop emotional awareness ourselves, we are more likely to develop compassion and understanding and recognize what another person might be feeling. This is the core of empathy. 

When we as educators put in the work to become more emotionally aware, we make space available and become open to implementing techniques to manage our stress:

Stress management techniques

child yoga meditation
  • Self-reflection – The ability to examine one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Ask yourself, “What could I have done differently?” “How can I do better next time?” When we practice self-reflection, we are able to think clearly in order to problem-solve, address challenges, and make a plan to do things more effectively next time. Self-reflection is a key component of self-awareness, and of emotional awareness. 
  • Reflective journaling – A written account of yourself with no right or wrong answers. It promotes practicing self-awareness and self-reflection and allows you to think more clearly when you see it on paper. Reflective journaling helps you understand the tangible items behind emotions –  the challenge you experienced, your related feelings, how you handled the experience, what worked and what didn’t, and even how you wished you dealt with it.
  • Physiological regulation – These techniques include taking deep breaths, practicing yoga, or engaging in mindfulness activities. The link between these techniques is that physiological regulation allows you to focus on the present moment, connect to your breath, create space for self-reflection and emotional awareness, and focus on putting yourself first. 

It all starts with you! Training is key

Educators need to have the training and the opportunities to develop and foster these skills as a part of their everyday teaching practices. With these tools in your toolkit, you can better recognize children’s emotions and experiences. This will allow you to provide them with the support to develop their own emotional awareness, understanding, regulation, and empathy – all skills which are necessary for lifelong learning and success. This all starts with YOU as the key socializer for children. When educators like you have the skills to practice self-awareness, emotional awareness, self-reflection, and stress management, you can model, guide, and teach these skills to the children in your care. Not only does this support your ability to be the best version of yourself at work, but also makes you a calmer, content, and happier person. Allowing you to be your best and do your best each day which makes for a happier classroom for all. 

Watch the webinar that inspired this article here!

Want to learn more about important topics in early education such as hiring and retaining educators? Sign up for the next webinar below, it is FREE! Even if you can’t join live, you will be emailed the recording and slides just for registering!

Dr. Donna Housman

Dr. Donna Housman, Ed.D has over thirty-five years’ experience as a psychologist in the field of child development and early childhood education. She founded Housman Institute and its lab school, Beginnings Child Development Center, based on emotional foundations of learning and cognition.

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