8 strategies for maintaining happiness and success in your day care job

Feb. 19, 2019

If you’re starting a new job at a day care, you’re probably wondering, “How can I make the most of this opportunity?”

For starters, having a good relationship with your employer is critical to your success — and there are many steps you can take to foster that. If your employer is a good boss, they will recognize your qualities and hopefully provide you with a rewarding career path at the day care.

Sabrina Walters, of U-GRO Learning Centres in York, Pennsylvania, says she started out as a teacher, then was promoted to assistant director and eventually became director.

“Each time I got a promotion, it was because I was just focusing on being the best I could at my current job, and I got recognition for that, not because I was constantly trying to climb a ladder,” she says.

Here’s some advice that can make your working relationship beneficial to both you and your employer — and maybe even set yourself up for a promotion like Walters’ one day.

1. Be reliable

Flaking out and not showing up for work has some pretty serious consequences when your job is at a day care. Angela Wolfe, owner of Children’s Lighthouse of Little Elm, Texas, notes that day care centers have to abide by state mandated student-to-teacher ratios, and if you’re not there, kids and/or teachers may have to be shuffled around. So show up on time every time, and not only instill confidence in your employer, but prevent stress for them. It will be appreciated.

Of course, you should call in sick when you’re not feeling well. It’s important not to spread your germs around the center. But give your director as much notice as possible so she can find a fill-in, and try not to call out often or unnecessarily. Also give plenty of notice when you want to want to take personal or vacation days.

2. Pitch in as much as possible

“Always be willing to help your team,” advises Amy James, franchise owner of Primrose School of Nashville Midtown and Primrose School of Brentwood in Tennessee. “Offer to help wherever needed with anything. That is the quickest way to learn the school and the surest way to grow with the company! A positive attitude and self-motivation go far in this business.”

3. Don’t let a tough day ruin your mojo

When you’re working with children, there are bound to be hectic and overwhelming days, says Wolfe. Let’s face it: Kids are unpredictable and, at times, uncooperative. You never know who’s going to bite their friend or slime you with their snot.

It’s important you don’t take kids’ behaviors personally. After all, they’re just kids. If you don’t love how they’re acting, try to remember that. And don’t take it too hard.

4. Put the kids first

In the same vein, you’re going to have some “off” days, as well. Even when struggles in your personal life are consuming your thoughts, you still have to show up for work, put on a happy face and maintain your patience.

“For kids, feeling loved and nurtured is important to their development,” says Mary Anderson, early childhood education program director at Bryant & Stratton College, which has several locations in the U.S. “And it’s really all about them every day. I don’t think it’s bad for kids to know you’re having a bad day or if you’re sad... But if you’re crying at work, it can cause distress in kids. You need to be able to put them in forefront of whatever else is going on.”

Knowing they can count on you to be strong and stable will help you earn kids’ trust.

“The more they trust you, the more smoothly the day will go,” says Wolfe.

5. Show your enthusiasm

Enthusiastic teachers get kids motivated. And employers love them, too. Wolfe encourages early childhood educators to show excitement for learning and for activities throughout the day. It will rub off on kids and get them charged for whatever’s going on in the classroom.

6. Communicate with your boss

If you’re really feeling overwhelmed, don’t hide it from your day care director. In fact, you absolutely should tell the her, says Wolfe. She may be able to help you with whatever’s daunting to you.

“This may be where extra training comes into play,” says Wolfe. “That’s the thing, we will provide extra training for our teachers. If you sit in a hole and feel miserable, you’ll never feel satisfied.”

7. Handle problems with grace

“It is something different every day in child care, but that’s what makes it fun,” says James.

Sometimes just accepting that there will be problems and that part of your role is to find the proper way to solve them can help. So can seeking help from your coworkers and supervisor.

“Find friends at work that you can problem solve with,” suggests Walters. “Communicate with your director when you need support.”

8. Participate in performance reviews

Your boss will likely set up a regular performance review to talk about how things are going. It’s standard practice to have these annually, says Anderson. She always has a performance review for new employees at six months.

“I want my staff to have input into their review, so we both fill out the same form and then we get together and discuss what we wrote,” explains Anderson.

You may be asked to score yourself on different tasks or competencies. Be honest.

“Employees should always be open and receptive to what their supervisor has to say, says Anderson. “Asking questions for clarification is encouraged... If there is a discrepancy in a score or answer, discussing it calmly is always the best way to go. Even providing examples of work that prove completion or success in that area would be helpful.”

Make note of what you can improve upon in the future. Set goals for the next evaluation period, so you have something to work toward. If you’re working hard to take things to the next level, your supervisor will almost definitely notice, and that can help you advance your career even further.

9. Take care of yourself in your downtime

And don’t feel guilty taking a break from the chaos when you can. Use your evenings and weekends to do activities you enjoy. Rest, recharge and find ways to relieve stress, such as exercise, hobbies and meditation. And remember that vacation days and personal days are meant to be taken.

“Schedule a personal day every once in a while to relax!” urges Walters. “[As they say,] ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,’ so make sure you find ways to take care of yourself so that you can best take care of your little friends.”

Read next: What caregivers need to know about online scams

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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