By Cheryl Ichikawa
Working with children in need can be extremely challenging and emotional. We have some who arrive so dysregulated that they act out physically and must be individually supported because they are more likely to push, hit or bite. We also have children that act out when teachers set limits by yelling, screaming, rolling on the ground, or taking out their frustration on anything around them. For a teacher who is responsible for the safety and welfare of all the children in the classroom, having to constantly contain one or more child can be stressful and draining, especially if it happens on a regular basis. However, what connects me to these children is the fact that I get it. I feel it. I know the deep sadness, frustration and lack of control they feel. I understand the fear and the anger, because I too experienced trauma as a child.
While some days are exhausting, there are others when the children are calm, easily engaged and happy. I never know what the day will bring, which can be extremely stressful. However, I also know how exhilarating it feels to watch children learn something new about the world or about themselves and how energized you feel to be part of that growth.
This is how I feel about “my children” at Play House West. I approach each day with a very simple goal… to help “my children” find their smile. This is when they are able to engage in activities and interact with peers. This is when they learn skills that help them become more independent and confident in their own abilities. And yes, that takes work, thoughtfulness and planning. It takes preparation and dedication, which can deplete a person over time. However, I believe that part of self-care is finding something that you are passionate about, and for me, working with children (this demographic, in particular) touches my soul in a very powerful way and makes me excited about coming to work each day.
In Dora’s last blog post, Compassion Fatigue and the Importance of Self-Care, she wrote about how the nature of our work can be emotionally and physically draining, which can affect our personal and professional life. She also wrote about the importance of self-care and peer support. I understand how vital it is to be able to disengage from the work we do because it is so emotionally charged.
I believe that self-care is not just about what we do, but more importantly, it requires us to have an understanding of why we do it. I know that the families we work with are dealing with some very traumatic situations. However, I also know that if I allow myself to get caught up in things that I have no control over, “burn out” can be a definite possibility. Over the years, I have learned how to care for myself, to know when I feel over-stressed and what I need to do to help minimize those feelings. Therefore, I approach my work each day focused on the children. I focus on helping them find their smile and showing them how special I think they are. I focus on giving them opportunities to learn about themselves, their abilities, and the world around them.
For me, self-care is also about finding that something that makes you smile all over. It could be walking on the beach, hand-in-hand with your daughter, shooting baskets with your son on a Saturday afternoon, or waking up at 3:00 in the morning to enjoy the silence and solitude of the coming day. It’s not about quantity, but quality. It’s about intention and purpose. While most people would not make it a habit to wake up at 3:00 a.m., for me, it is in those early morning moments that I clearly see what is important to me and to my life. And in those moments… life is good.
Self-care is about finding what gives you balance and strength in your daily life. For some, it might be traveling or spending time with friends. For others, a massage or regular exercise might do the trick. For me, an annual family vacation gives me something to look forward to throughout the year and my 3:00 a.m. ritual allows me to decompress and re-energize before starting my day. I believe that if you can start each day with a smile on your face, then you must be doing something right.
Various members of the Children Today staff contribute to these blog posts.