Sometimes, looking after ourselves is the best thing we can do for our children…
Wellbeing is a much-used term these days, but it actually means a myriad of things, which are highly personal and gloriously intangible. It underpins the very structure of our lives. It frames the relationship between mind and body. It influences how we see ourselves and how we give ourselves permissions or restrictions to live our lives.
Therefore, it impacts our attitudes to work, rest and relaxation, as well as how we cope with illness, and form and build relationships.
It’s just as important for us as it is for the children we look after
Wellbeing is nurtured in childhood, in our experiences and in our local and wider environment. And those of us who are lucky enough to work with children know how important it is. However, we are also acutely aware of how quickly joy can turn to stress, and the negative impact that can have.
Understanding yourself, and knowing how to manage your wellbeing, is a form of self-regulation. It’s just as important for us as it is for the children we look after.
‘Looking after our wellbeing’ is often packaged up as attending the odd fitness class, reading a mindfulness book or watching a yoga video going to bed. But for nursery staff and leaders, wellbeing is embedded in the very experiences we have at our setting.
It’s not something to do before and after work — it’s a whole life approach that threads through each and every day. What makes children happy and calm is also good for the adults who care for them - this means thinking carefully about the choices you make, and how they benefit both you and the children.
For example, we encourage our charges to drink water throughout the day, but do you keep hydrated, too? We like to be outside with our little ones, but do you ever go out by yourself, lie on the grass and just listen to the birds and the wind?
When there is dancing, do you truly join in, or do you remain a little awkward at the side?
You can plan all sorts of wonderful activities that are sensual and calming for adults and children alike. For example, we recently made soap, wrapped it in lovely offcuts of fabric and shared it with parents and staff (which also encouraged discussion about how a long bath or an invigorating shower can help with wellbeing).
One sure way to ensure wellbeing is by being kind. Kindness comes with a serotonin kick. Neuroscientists can see how the warm glow which comes from doing something rewarding activates the striatum part of the brain.
And there’s even better news, too: because seeing someone else smiling, or being kind, automatically activates the same areas of our own brain. It’s as if we are experiencing the emotion for ourselves. It really is a case of smile and the world smiles with you.
Every employer has a duty of care towards its staff and every employee has a duty of care towards the organisation. This should be the basis of your relationship with each other. It’s about creating a warm, positive and open culture to help deliver a positive and nurturing ethos, especially when the organisational policies and procedures in place are easily accessible and have wellbeing woven through.
Getting the voice of the staff is very important. Some organisations have employee committees or wellbeing groups, which give stakeholders a chance to have their opinions and experiences heard. I am currently developing an apprentice council as I want to understand their perspectives as the newest members of the team.
Just step back and ask, does this policy seem fair and kind? Opportunities are everywhere when you work in the openly creative world of Early Years; so think about wellbeing as the foundation of your ethos, not just another buzzword.
June O’Sullivan MBE is the CEO of the London Early Years Foundation.