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The Struggle To Be Real

Tanya Valentin

When I started writing my blog today I had a different subject in mind but for some reason, I kept on being pulled to this photo… So I decided to shelve the blog that I was halfway through and follow my heart and write this instead. This is a bit more of a personal blog from me, but I felt that it was something that I really wanted to share.

I have been challenged by my mentor to have more of “ME” on my website. To let you all get a glimpse of who the “REAL ME” is. This meant spending a morning being followed by a photographer, while she captured me and my story. I worked with the amazing Nykie Grove-Eades who was super fun and easy to work with. She took some amazing pics as you would have seen on my new, fresh looking website.

But this is something that I really struggled with( because if you know me, I am really more of a behind the scenes type of girl).

Acceptance

Amongst all the amazing photos that Nykie took that day this was one of them. Now I have to confess (this is going to sound a bit vain), that at first when I saw this photo all that I saw was all the chins! I immediately wanted to reject the photo because I didn’t look perfect and I was worried about other people would think. In fact a year ago I wouldn’t have dared to post such a chinny photo of myself anywhere, let alone on a blog for everyone to see.

However, I have been doing a lot of work on accepting myself and loving myself for who I am. So I chose to view it through a kinder more loving lens. And what I saw was ME! This is the real me – no filters, no air-brushing, happy, having fun at one of my favourite places in the world, the beach. When I look at myself through this lens, I see someone who is grateful for her health, her body, her life, her purpose. I see all the hard work that I have put into feeling better about myself.

Expectations

There is so much pressure out there to live up to expectations of what we should look like, who we should be and what we should say. Through-out my life I have really been challenged by this and the need to please others. I battled crippling self-doubt when I first started blogging. I fought against myself to write what was true for me and not what I felt other people wanted to hear. Discouraging and down-right mean thoughts would flood my brain each time that I would go to post anything. However, I became aware that these thoughts are just my brain’s defence system. Instead, I chose to be vulnerable, to be courageous, to trust my community and myself and forced myself to post regardless.

I do this because I know that I am not alone in this. I see others struggling with this all the time too and I know intuitively that through sharing my thoughts, ideas and fears I am able to help others to find their voice and to speak their truth. To find the courage be more true to who they are too. Thankfully, I have become better at managing my inner critic and posting has become much easier for me now, but it was really difficult for me at first.

I know that there are many people who struggle with just being themselves and speaking their truth. It is all too easy to get caught up in what others will think about us or give in to the fear of rejection. This fear can hold us back and make us tolerate things in our lives or behaviour from others that we know in our hearts that we shouldn’t. We can get so caught up in the fear of being found out to be lacking, flawed, “not perfect”. These are the primary reasons why people don’t challenge bad practice or avoid have those “courageous conversations”.

The need to be accepted and to belong is a strong innate drive in all of us. In my own learning journey, I have learnt to pay more attention to my intuition and what feels right for me. This has required of me to consciously let go of years of cultural programming, others expectations (or perceived expectations) of me and ideas of who I thought that I should be and to simply BE ME.

In my quest I have found inspiration the words of Brene Brown:

Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you make it your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you are not enough. You will always find it because you have made it your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods, we don’t negotiate their value in the world. The truth of who we are lives in our hearts.

Brene Brown

Lessons from my journey…

I would like to share a few lessons that I have learnt while I worked to love and accept myself:

  • We all battle with doubts, the fear of rejection or being seen to be an imposter – Speak your truth anyway.
  • We think that other people are watching us and judging us… But really most of the time they are so preoccupied with what is happening in their own lives that they fail to see what is going on for us.
  • If someone does judge you or says mean things it is a reflection on how they are feeling inside about THEMSELVES.
  • Sometimes it is your fault. We all make mistakes, it is part of being human. Although it is important to learn from our mistakes, recognise that mistakes are part of the learning process. Don’t use them as a self-torture device and let them occupy unnecessary room in your mind and your heart. Learn to be self-curious, not self-critical.
  • Hurt feelings aren’t fatal – objectively take the lesson from other’s comments and move on.
  • Just giving yourself permission to be yourself is incredibly scary at first, but once you get more confident it is really freeing and empowering.
  • When we are honest and authentic this inspires others to trust us, which inspires change.

Building Trust

In our profession, building trusting relationships is the most important aspect of our jobs. Our ability to build trust within our centre environments with the people in our team, with children and their families is vital to providing a safe nurturing environment for everyone in our setting. Without trust, there is no accountability, commitment or growth within our practice.

We can’t develop trust when there is no authenticity.

The more you allow yourself to be vulnerable and real the easier you make it for other people to be vulnerable and real around you. This is the beginning of the whole-hearted connection, relationships and trust with others.

Remember there is only one YOU. Even though you are imperfect and wired to struggle you are worthy of your own love and acceptance. The world needs the REAL YOU.

Our children are downloading from you, what it means to be human. They need the real you to make it okay for them to be imperfectly, beautifully, courageously real through your imperfect, beautiful, courageous example!

Have a wonderful weekend,

Kia Kaha

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Mind Those Unrealistic Expectations

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Teacher well being has been in the media a lot lately as well as many self-care ideas and strategies that we can utilise to look after our own well being.

These are all fine and well, but what I am finding more and more when working with tired teachers and managers are that these strategies are great and are something that can benefit us all…. But they don’t address some of the important issues at the heart of teacher and manager stress and burn-out.

I am talking about the unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves and others.

Our Expectations at Leaders

Let me share this example with you:

Lani is a teacher in an early childhood centre, she has 16 children in her portfolio group and her centre requires each kaiako to be responsible for leading an in-depth internal review during the year.  Lani is also completing her induction and mentoring programme towards her full teacher certification, as well as overseeing the health and safety of her room.

When she first started at her centre she used to get 2 hours a week to complete her planning, children’s learning stories, internal review and health and safety paperwork.  Getting everything done in the allotted time was challenging, but through innovative thinking, self-discipline and by implementing time management strategies, Lani made it work. 

During the year she has noticed that things at her centre things have changed.  The centre manager has created a new assessment system with the intention that it will make children’s learning more visible and strengthening practice but is more time consuming for teachers.

Added to this, due to the changes in employment law around compulsory tea breaks the centre owner has decided to cut teacher non-contact time to one hour a week in order to mitigate staffing costs to the centre. 

Lani does her best, but she is getting further and further behind with her planning and admin tasks.    She doesn’t want to take her work home with her but is finding that she is having to do this more and more.  The stress of this is getting to her and her colleagues and it has gotten to a point where this issue is all that they speak about with each other. This constant negativity has seriously impacted the team’s emotional hygiene. This is also causing tremendous stress and frustration for her and her fellow kaiako which is impacting on Lani’s health, her confidence as a teacher and her overall enjoyment of her job.  Lani is becoming so disillusioned with teaching that she is considering leaving teaching and retraining in another field.

If you are reading this, you might feel for Lani as this might be something that you are currently experiencing as a teacher or leader in early childhood education.

I know that there might be some of you that might be thinking, well that’s just part and parcel of being a professional teacher. 

This is a complex issue however, Lani’s example illustrates how expectation sometimes does not align with reality.  Her manager made a well-meaning decision which was intended to improve outcomes for children. However, when we look at the above example we can clearly see that the expectations on Lani – the amount of work that she is expected to do in the time that she was given to do it, is just not realistic and in many ways, she has failed before she has even started. 

We know through research that stressed out, distracted, over-scheduled teachers adversely affects learning outcomes for children, as teachers are focused on meeting compliance and admin expectations and worried about how they will do this. This distracts them from being emotionally available for children and they find it challenging to be attuned to the children’s needs. 

Your Expectations of Yourself

The other expectations trap that we can fall into is trying to live up to our own impossible expectations. 

Let me give you an example:

Mira is the centre manager of a large centre.  Her centre is licenced for 100 children and she has twenty kaiako in her team.  Mira’s role is very demanding, and she often feels like she is just treading water and putting out fires.

Often when she is busy on the floor in her centre, kaiako will come to her and ask her for advice or ask her to do things for them.  Mira doesn’t want to disappoint anyone or let anyone down, so she says “yes” to everyone and all requests that come her way without considering if she can realistically follow through with all of them or not.

Mira has so much to do that she often forgets what she has promised to do, so things don’t get done. The kaiako feel frustrated that she hadn’t followed through with what she has said that she would do.  They start talking amongst themselves and gossiping about how unreliable and incompetent Mira is a centre manager. They feel that she doesn’t value them and can’t be trusted to keep her word.

In the account above Mira over committed to the people in her team and then under-delivered. This caused the people in her team to lose trust in her and to doubt her integrity as a leader.  Mira’s expectations and what she could realistically do were out of kilter. 

 

Beware the “Expectation Trap”

Other “expectations traps” that we might fall into that can be destructive to us and our relationships are:

The expectation that we can control life and every situation or person whom you encounter. 

The expectation that we have to be perfect or do everything perfectly and never make any mistakes.

The expectation that things, events and other people will make us happy.

The expectation that we will be or have to be right all the time, or that we will have or are expected to know all the answers like some amazing, all-knowing, all-seeing oracle.

A big one for a lot of us is the expectation that we are “superhuman” – you might know this one….

You (like me) might expect that it is realistic to run on full energy all the time, always busy always rushing- giving, giving, giving without any time to relax or to take care of yourselves.

Or we expect that we have super immunity and we are never going to catch a cold or a virus or need a sick day.  Not only this, but we put ourselves down for being “weak”, getting tired or needing a bit of recuperation time. 

I was extremely disheartened and saddened to see a Facebook poll recently where the question was asked of early childhood teachers:  “Do you feel that you can take time off when you need to when you are sick?

There were about a hundred respondents and most said “No”. 

Now I know what this feels like and a few years ago I probably would have said “No” too.  

From my own experience, I know that I would have answered “No” because I didn’t want to let anyone down. Or, if I would have taken the time off and I would have been so wracked with guilt about not being at work and would have phoned my centre several times a day to make sure that everyone was okay.  I know now how counter-intuitive this as to why I would have needed the time off in the first place…. 

Yes, my expectations of myself were out of whack.  Thinking about it rationally now,  I realise that I deserved to take time off to meet my needs and that there were amazing teachers in my team who were perfectly capable of running things smoothly while I was gone.  I know now that my worrying while I should be resting and ringing into the centre was not only damaging to my wellbeing but that I was also sending a message to my teachers that I didn’t trust them or doubted their capability which was not my intention. 

I can now see that I was a victim to some more subtle (but equally destructive) unrealistic expectations.  I am talking about my expectation that I could control every situation, by not taking time off from work or phoning into the centre while I was away.  I was also of the disillusioned expectation that I by being a martyr, I could control people’s perception of me.

Kindness and compassion starts with how we treat ourselves. You are person first with human needs, however our unrealistic expectations stop us from tuning into our bodies and meeting these needs for ourselves.  When we treat ourselves badly we unknowingly perpetuate a cycle of unrealistic expectations self-abuse through our role modelling. 

When our expectation doesn’t align with reality this erodes the love and passion that most of us felt when we started teaching, breaks down our confidence (we all want to do our best), our self-esteem and ultimately we pay the price with our health and wellbeing.  We are losing great teachers and leaders in our profession because of this.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

So what can we do about it?

Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t have high expectations for yourselves or those around you, what I am saying is that we need to check to see if our expectations are realistic.  Here are some ways that you can achieve this:

Be realistic – Consider, “can this task realistically be done in the allotted time?” This applies to our expectations of ourselves and others.  Be honest with yourself and others.  We are all human beings and we need to have balance in our lives order to stay healthy.  We are all given the same 24 hours and there is only so much that we can realistically do.   

Before you make changes think them through – how is this going to impact on you or the people in your team?  Will you be able to give your kaiako enough time to accomplish this?

Also consider how realistic your expectations are on individuals, bearing in mind that we are all at differing stages of our professional journey as teachers and we have varying strengths, skills and abilities.  Encourage open and honest feedback with-in your team.  Let your fellow teachers know that it is okay to say if something doesn’t feel realistic and that you are open to creative ways to overcome barriers.

Work smarter not harder – Do you or someone in your team have the mindset that things always have to be done a certain way because that’s the way it has always been done? Or, do you promote a learning focussed culture where teachers are encouraged to think outside of the square and come up with simpler, smarter ways of doing things?  Is there a way that we can support each other to be more efficient with our time and energy?  Can we use the same bits of paperwork in multiple ways?  Are there apps or computer automation systems that we can use that can make our lives a bit easier?

Prioritise – If you have a lot to do try listing your tasks in order of priority.  Or if you are short of time ask yourself, “what is causing me the most pain?” or “what is the smallest thing that I can do that is going to have the biggest impact?” and do this first.

Beware of self-imposed stress – So often we play the mind-reading game were we presume to know what other people are thinking of us and this can create self-imposed stress.  I know how difficult this next line is going to be for some of you… but, stop worrying about what other people think about you!  The majority of the time it isn’t even real it is just our perception.   

Set boundaries and say “No” – I know that this can be challenging for all of us “people-pleasers” out there.  I feel your pain! You might not like saying “No” as you feel that you are letting people down.  However, the truth is if you say “Yes” and you can’t deliver you will let people down anyway.  I am not telling you to stop helping others, but I am advocating for being realistic and selective of what you say “Yes” to.

If you are truthfully being honest with yourself you can’t and shouldn’t do everything for everyone.  This behaviour can rob someone else from an important learning experience and you of your emotional and mental health and can be another source of self-imposed stress.

Perhaps it is time for a bit of introspection – how realistic are your expectations of yourself and others?

I would love to hear your story and some of the things that have worked for you.

Until next time,

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Are You a Resilient Leader?

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE services

I can clearly remember the first time that resilience was mentioned to me in terms of leadership.  I was in a really low point in my life after suffering a setback and my manager at the time suggested that I start a leadership growth assignment on building my resilience. 

Thinking back to this time I can clearly see how far I have come and the significant difference that intentionally working on and growing my resilience has made in my life. This has been a catalyst that has led me to want to make a difference in the early childhood profession. It has prompted me to work to support the building of resilience and well-being of leaders and teachers in our profession. 

With all that is going on in our professional and personal lives, resilience (or our ability to cope with change and stress and to recover) is a vital quality that all of us need.

Resilience can be broken down into the following dimensions:

Physical resilience:

Which can be broken down into – Physical flexibility, endurance, strength and vitality.

Emotional resilience:

Which speaks to – Our emotional range and how flexible we are, our self-regulation abilities, the quality of our relationships and how adaptable we are to change.

Mental resilience:

Which can be broken down into – How flexible and adaptive we are to mental challenges, our ability to focus on a problem and to find a solution, how optimistic we are and whether we are able to see things from other’s point of view.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
Dimensions of Resilience

This blog is mainly focused on our emotional and mental resilience and the good news is that most of us already have a natural human survival skill to experience stress and to recover from it.  In some of us, this is stronger than in others, however, resilience is a skill that can be learnt and developed and we are all capable of this.

Life is a mixture of good and not so good moments.  We all have to live with disappointments and sometimes experience loss and devastation in love, life and work.  Resilience does not mean that you won’t feel devastated, hurt or pain or be affected deeply…It is rather your ability to experience the loss or disappointment and then to recover and thrive again.

There are no quick fixes and magic pills, but rather a series of small intentional steps that accumulate over time.  You can’t just want to be more resilient – you have to put in the work.

Helping our children to develop resilience

Building resilience starts right from when we are babies.  Every time that a baby cries, they experience stress and when their need is met in a respectful, responsive way, or they are comforted or cared for by an empathetic caregiver they recover growing their resilience.  Children learn resilience by actively doing – free play and nature-based play is important for supporting children to develop a host of skills including resilience.

It is not our job to shield our children from adversity but to allow them to have opportunities to experience challenge, take safe, age-appropriate risks and make mistakes and then to be there for them and to support them to recover.  They learn this through repeated experience and by our role modelling, our empathy as well as our attitude to mistakes and failures. 

“Remember always that our children are learning how to be human by watching you”

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

As teachers and leaders, this can be challenging than at times – especially during times of stress when our ability to bounce back can be diminished. 

We can all use a little boost from time to time, here are some ways that I have found have helped me to boost my resilience over time.

RECOGNISE  

I get in tune with your internal cues and acknowledge your feelings when they come up.  Studies have shown that people who allow themselves to experience a full range of emotions are more resilient because of it.  

Try keep things in perspective recognise whether the thing that you are worried about is in fact something that is in your influence to change or if it is something that concerns you, but you are unable to change at this point and time.

An example of this might be:  You might be concerned about the prevalence of workplace bullying and the general wellbeing of early childhood teachers in the profession.  However, it is probably not in your power to do anything about this for the whole profession.  What you can directly influence is your thoughts, your mindset, actions and interactions at your place.  You can control how you promote teacher wellbeing in your setting, how you support the teachers in your team or the example that you set as the leader for the other teachers in your setting.  

When we spend time worrying unnecessarily about things out of control, this just causes us unneeded stress and anxiety about things that we can’t change.  This can really deplete our resilience levels. 

When we work within what we can influence we are more likely to experience more success which in turn energises us and empowers us and those around us.  The changes that we make within this space accumulate over time.  This can end up having a positive trickledown effect which influences others and can indirectly influence some of the things that are in our area of concern.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

REFRAME

Learn to change your mindset around mistakes.  Mistakes are not the end they are just part of the learning process.  Try to nurture a positive view of yourself as a curious researcher on a life-long journey of discovery. Many well-known inventors made many mistakes along the way to success.  

Research has shown that truly resilient people don’t take their failures and mistakes personally, because they know that to learn is to fail.  Instead of beating themselves up about their mistake and asking “Why?” they look for the lesson – instead, they ask “What is this here to teach me?”

THE OBSTACLES ARE THE PATH – Remember our children are watching, stay courageous and curious!

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

Albert Einstein

REFOCUS

It is a universal truth that what we focus on grows.  Take stock of your attitude and what you are focussing on.  If we are focussed on the negative aspects of our lives and our jobs, we will experience more negativity.  If we are instead focussed on the positive aspects of our day, our lives and the people around us we will experience more positivity.  I urge you to get into the practice of looking for the GOLD in every situation – there is always something to be grateful for even if it is small.

Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.

Tony Robbins

REINFORCE

Often when we are going through a tough time, our self-esteem can take a bit of a knock.  Spend some time making a list of all the things that you are good the obstacles that you have already overcome and the problems that you have already solved in the past.  Now list all the skills that you already have to solve this problem.  Reinforce this message by feeding yourself positive comments, such as “You can do this”, “I am great at solving problems” or “I am good at my job.”

RELAX, REST, REFUEL, RECHARGE

Give yourself permission to rest when you need to.  As teachers, leaders or parents we often place our happiness and joy way down on the priority list.  As people who are outwardly focussed on caring for others, we can sometimes think that prioritising having fun or focusing on what brings us joy as selfish, frivolous or unimportant.  However, resilient people place a priority on their own happiness and on the things that energise them.

Joanna Barsh, author of “How Remarkable Women Lead” worked women leaders including those from fortune 500 companies. During her research, she discovered that resilient leaders manage their energy by identifying what saps it and what recharges it.  They make strategic adjustments to allow for this in their environment and schedule. 

They also utilise “flow” – a phenomenon that happens when your skills are well matched to an inspiring and challenging task and you or working towards a clear goal.  She discovered that “flow” reinforces resilience. 

We have all experienced this at some point in our life – when we are doing something where we are totally focused and present, busy, effortlessly enjoying and in “the zone” with what we are doing.  Some people experience this during exercise, some during creative pursuits, perhaps you experience this while cleaning, pottering in the garden or walking attuned to nature or your surroundings?

Take some time to think about things that bring you joy and energise YOU. What things that sap your energy?

How are balancing energising activities with ones that sap your energy?  Are you doing things that bring “flow” into your life?

Perhaps it is time to rediscover some of these things and make more place for them in your life?

It is okay to take some time to reflect, re-evaluateand regroup.

RECONNECT

What is your purpose, do you know what motivates you and what your values are?

Resilient people have a strong sense of purpose and meaning.  They know “why” as well as “what” the end goal is.  This sense of purpose gives their life, their work and their struggles meaning. A sense of purpose helps them to keep going and push themselves towards their goal when things get tough.

In his book “A Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor Frankl survived and remained resilient as a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.  In his book he describes his experiences, and how he survived his ordeal by identifying a purpose in life, creating a positive feeling about this purpose and immersively imagining that outcome. 

Viktor connected with his purpose and his end goal.  He focused on the fact that the war wouldn’t last forever, that he had the power to choose his attitude and on his end goal which was seeing his wife again and delivering an academic lecture on the horrors of being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.

“Pain is only bearable if we know it will end, not if we deny it exists.”

Viktor Frankl

RELATIONSHIPS

When problems arise, we can often not want to bother other people with our problems or appear weak or vulnerable by asking for help or leaning on someone else.

Studies have shown that resilient people have good support systems.  They recognise the importance of strong relationships with family, friends, colleagues and within their communities.  Good relationships are critical for physical and mental health – they draw strength from these connections. 

To be vulnerable, it means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you are feeling. To have the hard conversation.

Brene Brown

When times are tough it can be part of our cultural programming to push people away.  However, fight against this and reach out, vulnerability strengthens connection – don’t isolate yourself.

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but it doesn’t have to rule your life.  Remember to have self-compassion – building your resilience is a skill that you will continue to grow and develop over time. 

For more great information about building your resilience visit  The American Psychological Association for lots of great tools that might be able to help you build your resilience.

I would love to hear your resilience story why not email me at tanya@tanyavalentin.com?

Until next time…

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How To Raise Emotionally Literate Children?

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Services

Yesterday was Gumboot Friday, a day where we are all encouraged to “Gumboot Up” and walk through mud to support people with depression and mental illness. The particular emphasis of this awareness was to raise money for children’s counselling.

It shocked me when I was doing the research for this blog, to find that New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and that it can take up to six months for kids to get help from a counsellor.

What can we do?

This really made me think…. Although I think that children having access to counselling services is important and essential, this is only one part of the picture. I think that it equally important for us to look at how we are supporting children to develop the tools that they need to develop emotional literacy and resilience.

This is not a new bit of thinking and there are many studies that prove that when you build your resilience you have a reduced risk for depression, anxiety and PSD. You will also improve your longevity, happiness and satisfaction in life. So, if we know this, then why do we not place a greater emphasis on teaching children emotional self-help skills?

How do we empower our children to prioritise their own emotional hygiene and teach them that it is okay to ask for help when they need it?

I think here of a TED talk that I watched recently where Guy Winch speaks about the disparity between the priority that we place on caring for ourselves physically vs how we care for ourselves emotionally. He relates a story of how he observed a five-year-old brushing his teeth and slipping and scraping his leg. The boy then without asking for assistance reached into the medicine cabinet and grabbed a plaster and covered the wound. We teach children self-help skills all the time on how to take care of themselves physically, yet do we place the same emphasis on teaching them self-help skills to care for themselves physiologically?

I believe that we need to start teaching our children emotional literacy from a very young age and that this starts right from when they are infants.

The Dyad

In his video on the importance of relationships in children’s brain development Nathan Wallis speaks about the significance of the dyad relationship (this simply means “two”) between the infant and the most significant adult in their lives.

The first relationship that children have with their primary carer – whether it is Mum, Dad, Grandma, Aunty is crucially important to helping a baby to develop a healthy, complex brain. This first relationship is where the infant learns about self-regulation, trust and the world around him or her. The quality of the learning and the brain connections the infant forms is dependant on how en tuned the adult is to the infant.

Our children are constantly downloading from us. They are taking in our words, our actions and our energy. We are the windows from which our children view the world and therefore the quality of role-modelling is extremely powerful.

Our children are learning from us through our every word and action, about love, relationships, empathy, generosity, gratitude, patience, tolerance, kindness, honesty and respect. Most profoundly they’re learning about themselves, their abilities, their worth and their place in our hearts and in the world.

Janet Lansbury – Elevating Child Care

How do we teach this?

  • Empathy and Respect – This starts with even the youngest infant and our perspective of them. Do we view them as a whole, complete, holistic human being worthy of our respect? When we look at infants, do we view them as “helpless” or do we view them as dependant, but already capable? This is important, as it sets the tone for our relationship with our children and supports them to develop their identity of who they are. If we respect someone, then we put ourselves in their shoes and ask – “How is this experience for them?” or “how would I feel if I was being treated like this, or in this situation?” This is one of the first ways that we communicate to our infants that what they feel matters, that we trust them and that we value what they are communicating to us. Remember we learn empathy by experiencing empathy.
  • Self-Awareness – One thing that I am really grateful to my training as an early childhood teacher for, is that it caused me to reflect on my upbringing. This caused me to challenge my “operating system” of how I was parented, in my interactions with children. Just as we are powerful role-models in the lives of children, we once upon a time had powerful role-models in our lives too. Some of how we were parented was great and some of it was not so great. Until we become self-aware to this, we just repeat what we know.

Do the best with what you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou
  • Pay Attention to Your Attitude to Mistakes and Failure – How do you respond to children making mistakes and their failures? Are these treated as learning opportunities or do we respond with anger and disappointment? Our children learn how to deal with disappointments and obstacles in life through our example. There is a correlation between how children view mistakes and failures to how resilient they are, as well how likely they are to take risks. Your attitude to mistakes and failure are also really important if you want your children to come to you for help when they are feeling overwhelmed by a situation and can’t cope on their own. What is equally important to note in this instance is that it is not just how we deal with our children’s mistakes and failures that are important, but also how we deal with our own mistakes and failure. Remember our children are always watching and downloading from us.
  • Give Full Attention and Communicate About the Small Things – Often our children will tell us things that seem insignificant and unimportant to us. These things might be small to us; however it means the world to them. Don’t dismiss your child’s concerns or fears because they seem silly to you. Instead acknowledge how they are feeling in this moment and time. Try responding with, ” That must be really scary for you.” Our children need small moments of our full attention, these are important times to top-up their emotional tanks. If we invest in our children in this way, we communicate to them that what they say is important to us, that they are important. In doing this our children will be less likely to try to get our attention through negative ways such as bad behaviour. If we make time to listen to the little things, they are more likely to share the big stuff with us when the time comes.

Telling a child that something that matters to them isn’t important doesn’t convince them that it doesn’t matter. It just convinces them that it doesn’t matter to you, it often makes them feel that they don’t matter, either. Remember, caring about the little things that matters to little people creates big connections.

L.R. Knost
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services
  • Accept and Encourage Children’s Emotions – One thing that I notice with a lot of adults (myself included) is that we are often frightened by our children’s emotions. One of the reasons that we are so confronted by our children’s big emotions is because triggers something within us. We might feel anxiety, unease, fear, guilt, shame, anger or fear in response to our child’s big emotions and we try to look for the quickest way to solve the problem. We want to help our children, but we also want to stop feeling the emotion that has been triggered in us. Some of the things that we might do, would to be to try to stop our children from experiencing the emotion by saying things like “Stop it”, “Don’t cry” or “Turn that frown upside down”. Or we might try to deflect or detract children from their feelings, by saying things like “let’s go play with the blocks” or “let’s find all the pink things in the room.” If we practice empathy and put ourselves in our children’s shoes in this situation, then we probably wouldn’t feel too great if our friends or partners spoke to us in this way if we were feeling sad or angry. If we relate this to a physical reaction like limping because we broke our leg, we wouldn’t find it helpful if someone gave us advice to “walk it off” or for someone to to try to distract us from the pain. When we are responding to children in these ways about their feelings, what are we communicating to them about the value of their emotions, their perspectives and how we value them?
  • Acknowledge, Acknowledge, Acknowledge – Another learning for me, has been that I don’t have to be the “fixer” of my children’s feelings. A powerful example in my life has been helping one of my children through a tough time in her life. In the past when she expressed her sadness, anxiety or fears to me this set off the “fixer” in me. I wanted to stop her pain (and my own) and I reacted with “helpful” suggestions and strategies that she could use to “fix” the situation. I was being a “Mum” and what she wanted was a friend. She just needed someone to cuddle her, comfort her, listen to her, to acknowledge her feelings and to tell that it was okay to feel this way. She wanted someone to tell her that it would be okay. It is the same with young children – we don’t need to “fix” them out of their problems. For example, if a toddler is upset because their mother just left for work, it is okay to say, “I can see that this is really upsetting for you. I know that you wanted mum to stay. I will sit with you until you feel that you are able to go and play.” Acknowledging children’s feelings, especially for our very young children, might feel a little bit strange to us at first. However, once again when we practice empathy we realise that this is how we all like to be treated. We like to feel that someone values our feelings, understands us and what we are going through and will be there to support us if we need them.
  • Mirror, mirror – Young children cannot differentiate between their feelings and themselves. It is our job to teach our children about emotions and that a full range of emotions are part of the human experience. When we are teaching our youngest children about their emotions one of the ways that we can do this is by mirroring their emotion back to them via our facial expression. For example, if they are feeling sad, we mirror a sad expression back to them when we are talking to them. Or we might add words to our mirroring – sad expression + “I can see that you are feeling sad”. This way the child learns that this feeling that I am experiencing is called “Sad” and it looks and feels like this.
  • Books – We can talk to children about emotions while reading books to them or looking at pictures and discussing how the characters in the books are feeling. We could support children to think about a time when they might have felt like the character in the book.
  • Help Children to Develop Problem-Solving Skills – Generally once children feel that they have been understood and that we have accepted their emotions they are more likely to be open to problem-solve and think in a reflective way. It is important for us to accept all emotions and to not label some as “bad” and some as “good”. However, it is up to us to teach children how to regulate their emotions so that can manage the behaviour that may be a consequence of their emotions. As the adult in the situation it is up to us to set the boundaries. We might say something like this, “I know that Sam made you feel really angry when he took your toy, but it is not okay to hit. Let’s think of what we might do next time.”

These are just some ways that we can help to teach children emotional literacy and support them to build resilience. Have you used any of these strategies with the children who you teach or perhaps your own children?

Let us never loose sight of the amazing human beings that our children are and view our children through the eyes of gratitude and love. Let us feel privileged that out of all the other billions of people in the world, we have been chosen to play this important role in the life of a child.

Until next time….

References:

Elevating Child Care – Janet Lansbury, 2014

How to Practice Emotional First Aid – Guy Winch ( TED 2015)

The Crucial Dyad Relationship for Infants – Nathan Wallis (Storypark 2017)

5 Steps to Nurture Emotional Intelligence in Your Child – Dr Laura Markam (2019)

Teaching Young Children About Their Emotions – Dr Kaylene Henderson (Storypark 2017)

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