My mojo had gone AWOL.
I had become a robotic and brittle childminder. I was snappy and impatient. Of course, if I’d heard another childminder talking to children with such exasperation I’d have given them a cuddle.
But I was too grumpy to give myself sympathy.
If you work with kids, have you ever felt like this? Are you tired of through the motions?
Working with families and young children is always a balancing act. On one hand witnessing curious young minds is a delight, on the other we tire of relentless wiping of bottoms and noses.
We love getting to join in the celebrations as a preschooler successfully puts their coat on by themselves, but we also endure the long, loud crying sessions caused by whatever happens to be the deeply felt need-of-the-moment.
On one hand there is the pride and satisfaction of seeing a child achieving hard-earned milestones, on the other hand we experience tension and stress from official inspections and mundane paper-work.
My Buttons Were Being Pushed All The Time
After 15 years of working in childcare, and having two of my own children approaching school age, I slowly came to the realisation that I was burning out.
Back then my buttons were getting pushed. I found looking after other parents’ babies and toddlers poured a steady stream of poisonous potions into my bubbling cauldron of frustration.
I would find myself silently berating a parent for what I perceived to be a problem of their making, that I was left to deal with.
A child who wanted to bring all the toys to the lunch table and play instead of eating, a voice in my head told me, must only do so because they were allowed to do the same at home.
A child who cried every time I left a room must do so, I fumed, because their parents carried them everywhere.
I also struggled with feeling like others were judging me. If a child in my care was seen in public crying I would feel condemned by those watching. What kind of carer was I if the children in my care were unhappy?
Not to mention feeling like I was failing my own children. Any energy I did have for playing, any patience and generosity I had, was used up during work.
I had so little left for my kids.
And so, on top of everything, I told myself I was a bad parent too.
My feelings of bitter judgement increased as I became more tired and emotionally drained.
It dawned on me one afternoon that I wasn’t actively enjoying my time with children nearly enough to make it worthwhile. The perpetual cycle of changing nappies, dressing, feeding, settling to sleep, managing behaviour, maintaining routines, encouraging social skills and manners, keeping everyone safe? It was endless, tedious and depressing.
So Much To Do, So Little Recognition
The title “childminder” (which is most close to an at-home daycare in the US) encapsulates the most ridiculous and varied set of skills.
From the marketing, admin and accounting skills that are required to be business owners, to the knowledge and professionalism that is needed to care for small, vulnerable children, we provide stimulating, safe, and secure environments that allow small humans to explore, experiment, learn, and develop at their own pace.
It’s work that takes patience, keen observation, and requires never-ending kindness and understanding. In the UK, childminders are permitted to care for up to six children, aged eight or under. Every day is busy, physically demanding, and asks us to be pragmatic, organised and to multitask on an industrial scale.
To top it all off, our work, as it is with parenting, is often undervalued and underpaid.
The crux is our work is emotional. We support parents and children emotionally. I’ve learnt that it is impossible to “give” all day, everyday, without resourcing ourselves first so that we can continue to be emotionally connected with the children, and their parents.
We also need emotional support. But how do we find it?
Finding Support Turned My Burnout Around
When I discovered Hand in Hand parenting, I did it to help my son with his ongoing anxiety. I had no idea that the approach would help me as a parent or that it would support my work with children.
Yet, suddenly, I had transformational knowledge about what life really feels like for children day to day.
I learnt about their natural, instinctive emotional process. That the crying and upsets were not bids for my sympathy, or to annoy me, but could show me they felt safe enough to work on shedding their hurts and fears. I found new ways to respond that supported them when it happened.
I acquired simple, although at times challenging, tools to assist me in managing tricky behaviour. These tools began to work immediately.
But the biggest surprise was the revealing information I discovered about what was happening for ME emotionally when I was parenting and caring for children in my work.
It was like finding the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
Now today, I use all of these tools everyday in my work with children, but the tool that supports me the most is Listening Partnerships.
I laughed in disbelief when I heard about this tool.
In a Listening Partnership, two adults agree to hold space for each other, taking turns to talk about the places where life feels hard.
There were doubts in my mind about how something so simple could ever be effective.
But, I was game. I needed support. So I found someone who could listen to me without interrupting or offering advice.
And soon, I felt safe enough in that non-judgemental, confidential space to speak about my feelings towards responsibility, resentment, inadequacy, frustration, exhaustion, fear, and loss.
Yes, there was a lot in there!
I used that space to figure out for myself what actions, if any, I needed to take, based on my own wants and fears, not judgements or opinions from others.
And importantly, it became a rare time to celebrate the joy, satisfaction, love and pride that working with children continually brings. (And that I’d almost forgotten).
I even began listening in a similar way to parents of the kids I work with, my childminder colleagues, my own family and my husband. Even better, my husband started listening back.
Once again, I remembered what I loved about working with children and their parents. I felt renewed and hopeful about my days.
Putting the Power of Listening Partnerships To The Test
And there have been times where I really put the power of listening Partnerships to the test.
One day I was busy preparing lunch for 3 toddlers when I felt my hackles rise. I was looking after a 12-month-old little girl and something was wrong with the way she was coughing. Leaning in, I noticed a wheeze.
She was having an asthma attack.
I messaged her parents, then rang them, and then insisted they collect her and advised them to take her to hospital.
Her breathing got worse. I thought she might stop breathing altogether.
While we waited, I weighed up, over and over, my actions, deciding whether I should call an ambulance, round up the toddlers and take them all with me to the hospital, or simply just wait for her mother to arrive with an inhaler. It was agonising.
Although the whole episode took 30 minutes, it felt double that. Once the little girl had taken a few puffs on the inhaler and was with her mum safely on her way to the nearby emergency ward, I knew she was going to be ok.
But I wasn’t.
I called my husband and when I heard his voice, I trembled and cried.
He held the space, like a good listener, as I told him, in fits and starts, what had happened. I mentioned the shocking thoughts that were still flashing through my head and how the experience reminded me of rushing, years ago, our own son to hospital with breathing difficulties.
I told him how scared I was, and how much the responsibility weighed upon me.
At one point, I started giggling about something, and I knew then that I had shifted enough fear to be able to relax a little, and look after the other children at home with me.
After that day, I had many Listening Times around that episode, where I examined my fear of responsibility and my resentment around the fact that the girl’s parents hadn’t told me about her asthma. I went over and over whether I should have questioned them more. I went back into my lingering pain and fear around our own children’s medical emergencies.
After shedding a lot of the hurt and confusion, I got to a place where I could acknowledge that I had done good things. I had spotted that her cough wasn’t normal. I had seen that her unusual breathing needed fast action. I had called her parents and made them see the seriousness of the situation.
Soon, I could see and accept that I had done a good job and that she was ok because I had made good decisions.
This is how Listening Partnerships help to effectively shift negative feelings that hold you back, and restores hope, energy, patience and play.
That moment of listening with my husband gave me what I needed to get back to the children still in my care, and care for them well, with all my attention.
Those times afterwards meant I fully processed the experience. I asked questions and I answered them, I shed the feelings the incident raised, and I cried tears that I couldn’t in the moment. I relieved the panic and wished it goodbye.
Without that time, I would have found it so hard to relax and be playful and connected to the children. Most likely instead, I would have taken my fear, turned it into anger, and aimed it at everyone around, including myself.
Stressful emergencies aside, Listening Partnerships help lift the overwhelm caused by daily negative stressors common in this work. Without them I'd be swamped and unable to appreciate the joyous, delightful, pleasure of spending time with young children.
Working with families and children is emotional work and it needs emotional support. (You can find many more supportive resources here).
If you also find yourself feeling overwhelmed, frustrated with parents, annoyed and exasperated when a child’s behaviour becomes difficult, or stressed and anxious about the huge weight of responsibility that comes with your work, then Listening Partnerships might just help you make a shift.
I’m truly grateful to have this tool to support my work with children.
Tired and Stressed? Try Listening Partnerships for Yourself to Shift the Gloom
- If you are feeling overwhelmed ask someone to be your sounding board. Tell them you want to try and voice all the thoughts in your head without interruption, and ask them to just listen. Let your mind wander, let giggles bubble and tears flow. Have them just hold the thought that you are good, and just need to offload, without offering advice, and you can feel a whole lot better.
- You can listen well too. When a colleague comes to you and tells you about something that has upset or bothered them let them talk, knowing that your good, warm attention is a valuable gift. Try not to interrupt, or offer advice and hold in your mind that they are smart and will figure it out. Chances are talking, laughing and crying with you will help clear their thinking and help them feel better.
Support Your Work With Children
If you want to support yourself and your work with children, this post explains the simple steps you can take to set up listening partnerships for yourself.
Supporting yourself emotionally allows you to emotionally support those you work with, so that you can give the best of yourself without giving all of yourself.
The joys of working with children are many and never ending. A child’s early years are so important and are such an honour to be a part of.
Good support helps you remember that.
Gain Tools To Help When Work Feels Hard
There is a proven trauma-focused approach you could quickly implement in your work that gives you the tools and the understanding to reach struggling kids and families, and see them thrive.
Over 8 weeks you’ll experience the profound and lasting changes that the five tools in this approach can bring to your work. They ensure that you meet parents and children where they struggle most and allow you to show up with compassionate solutions you can all use to reconnect and grow.
Learn more about our 8-week Professionals Intensive.