Which exhausted 2020 cliché shall we start with, then? “Oh, what a time to be alive!” “Unprecedented.” “The new normal.”
I am an early childhood teacher in Rhode Island, where we’ve been living the mask life for 10 months. We are all muddling through these waters (hey—new cliché!) as best we can.
After being back to in-person learning for a few months, I held conferences with the parents in my class. Overwhelmingly, the biggest loss expressed by parents was not being able to walk into the classroom.
For me, this message rang true. This time of isolation has caused a deficit in connection. The feeling of seeing people’s smiles instead of watching them cross the street to avoid you. Gathering in groups. Being close. Carefree dinners at local restaurants. Anyone remember hugging?
As a teacher, it’s important to me that I show up fully and joyfully for my students and their families, especially now. That means taking relentless care of myself so that I can do this. While I won’t claim to be perfect at navigating a pandemic, I’ve recognized some ways to help foster deep connection when the news is shouting PEOPLE ARE POISON! (Also, maybe watch less of the news?)
Connect with yourself. What do you need? Our self-care has to go beyond bubble baths this year, folks. Do you have a therapist? Self-awareness is an absolute necessity. Have a place where you can bring your fears, your frustrations, and truly work through them.
What can you do to support your body? Day to day, moment to moment, our nervous systems are going through, well… unprecedented times. Exercise and meditation are good places to check in. Good sleep. Drink water! Think back to basics.
Strengthen your values. What do you value during hard times? Humor? Faith? Get clear on what your guiding light is and infuse more into your day.
Communicate joyfully to your community. Speak from your joy, not from your fears. As author Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “Your fear is the most boring thing about you.” We ALL have fears. Many of them very appropriate. Do the work necessary to keep your fears in check when you’re speaking out to others, so you’re not projecting all day (Have you gotten that therapist yet?). In working with small children, it’s a priority of mine to recognize that these little energy sponges don’t need my fear. They need my joy. They need my hope. And can I tell you a little secret? Grown-ups are just large children with briefcases.
Forgive your humanity. On days when joy feels hard to access, give yourself grace. No one is expected to be their best every day. Give yourself a dose of gentleness. The aim is not to turn into a perfection robot overnight (perfection is just fear, too). The goal is to take care of yourself so that you can show up for yourself and for others.
Whether you are leading a team online from your couch or caring for tiny humans all day, your community and your connection will only be as strong as your self-care.
Kate Licciardello, MA is an early childhood educator, writer, and mental health advocate based in Newport, RI. When not teaching, Kate writes for her website, Pocket Calm, where she shares tools in mindfulness, child development, and how to infuse compassion into parent-child relationships.
Kate is the lead toddler teacher at Bloom Preschool in Middletown, RI, which emphasizes nature and free play. Kate has completed many Lifeways courses and uses Mary O’Connell’s Observing Young Children – A Tool for Meaningful Assessments book for her student evaluations!