Stress and Abuse in Child Care

October 30, 2015 by Kayla Olson

A new story about abuse in child care centers pops up just about every day. And these stories span the country; from New York City (where a provider was caught on camera treating toddlers roughly at a Montessori school) to Albuquerque (where a longtime caregiver was caught shaking infants in her classroom). These videos are hard to watch and it’s very disheartening to see children being treated this way.

No child care provider wakes up and decides that this is the day they're going to hurt a child. And no child deserves being hurt by his or her caregiver no matter how much they misbehave. So why does this continue to happen?

Let’s face it, working in child care is exceptionally stressful. Have you ever tried getting twelve two-year-olds dressed in their snow gear to go outside? Have you ever spent the whole day with eight crying infants? I have. I spent close to a decade working in various child care centers. It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

Being a child care provider is a tough job that requires an unimaginable amount of patience. Child care providers are human and have bad days just like everyone else. Unfortunately, their bad days sometimes have bigger consequences. One impatient moment can leave a child with an injury and a teacher without a job.

So what can a child care administrator do to keep kids safe? And what can parents look for? While centers must have a rigorous hiring process that includes background checks and references, this won’t catch someone who’s perfectly qualified and just has a stressful day.

Creating a Supportive Culture in Child Care

What does a supportive culture look like at a child care center?

  • Teachers are trained on how to handle their stress and how to manage a classroom. It doesn’t do any good to pretend that only bad teachers get frustrated. Very good and experienced teachers are not immune to stress. Acknowledge this and give teachers the skills to cope. Teachers can learn techniques to manage their classroom in a positive way.
  • Teachers get regular breaks throughout the day. Especially important are breaks away from the kids, not in the classroom. Naptime is not usually a break for teachers, especially if some of the kids don’t sleep. Getting out of the classroom to breathe and regroup is essential.
  • Teachers are encouraged to ask for help. Sometimes the only way to calm down is to leave the situation, but a teacher often cannot leave the room without a replacement. Administrators are available to give a teacher an unscheduled break if they need it and do not make the teacher feel bad about it.
  • Teachers are looking out for each other. If a teacher notices a co-worker getting frustrated, they aren’t afraid to step in and help or call someone to give that co-worker a break. Not to get someone in trouble, but to keep the co-worker and kids safe.
  • Administrators or extra staff are available during stressful situations in the classroom. Often transitions are the most challenging times (getting ready to go outside, transitioning from lunch to nap, etc.). In addition to providing teachers with training on how to make transitions smoother, just having an extra set of hands can make a huge difference.

These are all things parents can look for at their child’s center. Are teachers getting breaks? Do administrators spend time in the classrooms? Do classrooms seem to run smoothly with a good routine? Child care centers with a supportive culture will be a place where teachers like coming to work because they feel confident in their abilities. This in turn will allow them to help their children grow and learn safely.

Share Your Stressful Experiences

I'd love to hear about some of your most stressful experiences in a childcare setting and the things you did to work through it.

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