FOSTERING RESILIENCE IN THE EARLY YEARS

by

Caroline O'Riordan

24th July 2020

The unprecedented outbreak of the Covid-19 Pandemic created upheaval, uncertainty, and disruptions in our lives. It has been a perplexing time, especially for children, whose lives have been transformed and whose routines have been disrupted. The closure of services on 12th March 2020 generated many questions, anxieties, and a fear of the unknown.

My thoughts quickly turned to how we could support the children’s social and emotional wellbeing and ensure continuity of care, while also fostering children’s sense of identity and belonging. Throughout our closure we maintained strong contact with the children and parents. We gave children the opportunity to see each other, chat to each other and to stay connected with their friends and their preschool. This was facilitated through regular zoom sessions, virtual ‘show and tell’ and stories. Additionally, we shared activities and resources regularly with parents through a whatsaap group.

The pandemic initiated me think about how we, as Early Year’s Professional’s (EYP’s) support and prepare children for such challenges and how we can further help children to develop lifelong resilience. Many authors believe that resilience can be taught from infancy and strengthened throughout life. According to Archdall and Kilderry (2016, p.58) “Without appropriate strategies to cope and to manage daily stressors, children’s learning and development may be affected; therefore, skills and strategies need to be taught as soon as practicable so that children are prepared for potential adversities”. Kane and Walsh (2015) suggest that the first three years of life are a critical time for learning coping skills and building resilience.

In services, all over Ireland, EYP’s have demonstrated great professionalism in their ability to be creative in supporting children’s wellbeing and resilience, through many varied and innovative practices. This is also supported through our Curriculum Framework-Aistear, which places strong emphasis on the holistic well-being of children. The development of the AIM programme has further supported educators to become more confident in their abilities to help children develop coping strategies and skills. While there is ample evidence of services supporting children to develop resilience, it is significant to consider the importance of making resilience a key focus within the Early Year’s Curriculum.

Supporting EYP’s to increase their own resilience is also essential. As EYP’s we are dedicated to ensuring that children are nurtured, supported, educated, and cared for in stimulating learning environments. Yet, our dedication to the profession often means that we neglect our own physical and mental wellbeing. While working in the Early Years Sector has many rewards, it also comes with many challenges and these are often exacerbated by the changing and complex demands in relation to governance, regulations, inspections, and other paperwork which has created heavier workloads as well as tensions and stress within the whole sector.

To combat the risk of stress and burnout, self-care is an essential component of an EYP’s mental health. To be capable of providing children with responsive and consistent care, we must first ensure that we are in good physical and mental health. During the pandemic, the importance of practitioner well-being has been promoted through many campaigns. such as through the ‘First Five’. This has been a welcome support; however, it is important that EYP’s have consistent access to such supports throughout their professional career. It must be noted that the support that EYP’s have given each other, especially over the past year has been invaluable. We are fortunate to be part of such a strong community of innovators, leaders and advocates.

When services reopen it is important to consider how we can foster and increase resilience among the children and the EYP’s. For example, introducing more mindfulness techniques into the classroom will promote positive mental wellbeing and support resilience among children and adults, which in turn will create a positive care environment. It is also important for EYP’s to think about developing their own individual self-care plan. This should involve taking regular time out to focus on your own mental health and wellbeing. This could involve mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises, meditation, listening to relaxing music, or keeping a journal to record emotions and events. There are many guided meditation apps on the market which can support EYP’s to engage in mindfulness and relaxation techniques. By developing self-compassion, practicing self-care, and maintaining positive thinking, EYP’s can become more resilient which subsequently will support and enhance the quality of whole early year’s learning environment.

References:

Archdall, Kerryn and Anna Kilderry. (2016) Supporting Children’s Resilience: Early Childhood Educator Understandings. Australasian Journal of Early Education. Vol. 41. No, 3. pp. 58-65 Available at https://doi.org/10.1177%2F183693911604100308. Accessed 4 May 2020

Walsh, O., and Kane, J. (2015) ‘Nurturing Resilience to help Children flourish in the Early Years’. International Journal of Practice-based Learning in Health and Social Care, 3 (2), 77-85. doi: 10.1852/ijpblhsc.v3i2.198.

Caroline O'Riordan graduated from University College Cork in 2006 with a BA (Hons) Degree in Early Childhood Studies. She is the manager of Súgradh Preschool and Afterschool in Ballygiblin, Mitchelstown, in Co Cork. She is also participating in the Masters Leadership and Advocacy Programme through Sligo IT. She has just completed her first year and looking forward to her second year.