Be a self-caring leader

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As a psychotherapist I place great attention on my self-care. This is something strongly encouraged by the counselling profession.  It makes sense; caring for others can take its toll and have profound effects. It is also important one is fit and sufficiently healthy to support clients.  It is the same in early years leadership.  We are charged with looking after children and their parents and families; and of course we hold a key responsibility for the health and safety of staff and volunteer teams we are privileged to lead.  This is a demanding set of tasks, which requires us to be the best we can be.

Often leaders have no-one who looks out for them in the same way line-managers support a team member.  Our needs can seem like the least priority – at the end of a long list of other things to do, which means we can be at risk of not healthily managing our working hours or priorities.  It also risks our work: life balance, and our physical and emotional health at work and at home.  As senior workers, our bodies also change, and we must change our behaviours across all areas to ensure we care for ourselves differently.

I encourage everyone to have self-care plans, like personal business plans.  They should set out goals and actions to achieve self-care. Just like a business plan, it doesn’t need to be a 24-page document sat on a shelf.  A self-care plan can be a set of actions on the fridge door; they needn’t cost a lot – whatever works for you.  And it’s something to return to throughout the year; unlike New Years’ resolutions we make at one of the most difficult times of the year, and then don’t adhere to.

First start with a personal stocktake.  

  • Who and where is your support at work and at home?
  • What are your working and non-working hours looking like?
  • How are you really spending all your time? If you’re not sure, try a diary log for a few days, these can be quite revealing.
  • What are your preferred working patterns?  Are you better in the morning, or the afternoon, what gives you satisfaction at different times of the day?
  • Are there things you are continually not achieving, is this a problem?
  • What is your diet, weight and fitness feeling like?

Then ask questions about the changes you need to make.  

  • Are there different things you can do?
  • Are you getting enough support at home and at work?
  • Should you be working more, or less?
  • Could someone else do those things you aren’t managing?  Or how could you change to ensure you do?
  • Is your time managed in ways that are supporting who you want to be?
  • Should you be planning more time for yourself, personally or professionally?

Then set out your ideas and plans. 

  • Who can mentor you, or offer informed support?
  • How can you restructure your time?
  • What do you need to do more or less of?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • How can you improve your diet or eating habits?
  • How is exercise built into your day, your week, month, or year?
  • What can you do to regularly stop, relax and completely switch off?

I guess, some of you will be reading this list and thinking it all sounds ‘well-and-good’, and asking ‘when do I get the time to do such thinking?’  If that’s you, then there really is a need to stop and to be realistic.  Set short, medium and long term actions.  Choose some that are easy, some moderately difficult one, and some that are more challenging.  It’s your plan; own it, and make it work.

This blog is based on an article first published in Teach Early Years Magazine.

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