Why It’s Important to Support the Psychological Well-Being of Early Childhood Educators

It’s the first day of class and Marie is a brand new teacher. She has just finished her professional degree and has had some experience as an assistant teacher, but this is her first time being the head teacher in an early childhood setting and being fully responsible for the children in her care.    During her training she learned about developmentally appropriate practices and working with families and children from diverse backgrounds, but nevertheless she feels overwhelmed and underprepared to deal with the day-to-day challenges of being an early childhood educator.  Marie is expected to provide a high-quality experience for her children but her own anxiety and stress is getting in the way of her ability to provide the children in her classroom with a nurturing and positive educational environment.  Her anxiety sometimes spills over into her interactions with other teachers and parents which in turn affects the behavior and learning of the children under her care.

Does Marie sound familiar to you?  Do you know someone like Marie?  Have you yourself experienced some of Marie’s feelings early on in your career as an early childhood educator?  Do you still experience some of Marie’s anxieties from time to-time?  If so, what information do you wish you   had handy or currently could have  available that would help to support your teaching and the positive growth and development of the children in your classroom?

The Psychological Well-Being of Early Childhood Educators

Today, more than ever, early childhood educators are being asked to provide young children with access to a nurturing, enriched, high-quality environment that will support positive growth, learning, and developmental outcomes for all children.   While the focus has been on child outcomes, limited attention has been paid to the well-being of early childhood educators.  A recent review of the literature has demonstrated that a number of factors affect the well-being of early childhood educators:

  • work environment;
  • relationships in the workplace;
  • their satisfaction with their job
  • and their overall psychological and emotional health. 1

This blog specifically addresses psychological well-being.

Ten Resources Early Childhood Educators Can Use to Support their Transition into the Profession and Why It Matters

1. Training on how to work with  students with different developmental delays

When teachers are not adequately prepared for this, they might not be able to respond to all children’s needs effectively. Since each child might present differently, teachers would benefit from guidance on how to work with these children to maximize their success in the classroom.

2. An orientation for new teachers

Teachers often become overwhelmed when they do not fully understand their responsibilities in the classroom. This can be difficult to implement as teachers enter and leave the program throughout the year.
Teachers would benefit from an orientation and ongoing support on how to handle classroom situations as they arise.

3. The opportunity to observe teachers in different classrooms and see different teaching styles


New teachers would benefit from observing experienced teachers in their classrooms to assess what strategies may or may not work in certain situations.
This would provide teachers with more insight into classroom management and approaches to children’s behavior, especially new teachers.

4. More background information on children, especially those entering classroom mid-year

Often there is a lack of communication about the needs of a child entering the classroom for the first time. This lack of communication may lead to poor adjustment when a child first enters the classroom; teachers should be aware of certain information so they can be more sensitive towards the child’s behavior and needs.

5. Time to sit down and discuss classroom concerns and any issues with teachers; having a time to check in every week

When time is not given for weekly meetings, this can lead to a lack of communication among teachers and may hinder improvements in the classroom curriculum. While this is important, coverage is always an issue. Time should be set aside in the morning or after school at the end of each week once the children and parents have left to discuss concerns and issues that may have arisen during the week.
This check-in time is critical, as all teachers may not feel they are being heard or important issues are being thoughtfully discussed which can lead to feelings of stress.

6. A space where teachers can de-stress and speak openly about work related stress

Teachers may continue to feel stressed or isolated if they do not have a space to express themselves; however, there might be a lack of resources to provide this kind of support.
It may be useful for administrators to have an offsite retreat for staff once a year and designate an area in the center or program where teachers can take their break.

7. More preparation time before new children arrive, meeting parents before children begin the school year

Teachers are often rushed to set up their classroom and complete home visits.
It would be beneficial for teachers to sit down with parents at the beginning of the school year to review the classroom schedule, rules, and any other important information.

8. Guidance on how to speak with parents, what’s appropriate to discuss, how to communicate certain issues.

Teachers do not always know what is appropriate to discuss with parents, nor do they always have experience communicating with parents, which can lead to feelings of discomfort among both teachers and parents.
Ongoing support and guidance with both new and experienced teachers might be  helpful in alleviating some of  the stress in working with and speaking to parents about their children, particularly in situations that may involve sensitive issues.

9. More one -on -one social-emotional support for certain students, someone who has been trained in the area of mental health counseling, psychology, or social work to serve in this role. 

It is often the case that some children who do not qualify for services may still need one-on-one support throughout the day. When teachers do not have this skillset, it can lead to stress among teachers and children as well as disproportionate time and energy spent on one child in comparison to other children whose needs may not be met. Moreover, there may be a lack of resources for this service and support.
Administrators should work with teachers to creatively address these concerns to ensure all children are receiving the attention they need to reach their potential in the classroom.

10. More overall support for teachers

Early childhood educators are under a good deal of stress to provide high-quality education for the children in their care. Supervisors and a mental health team should check in with teachers regularly. They should be receptive to teachers’ concerns about their work environment and the children in their care. Providing such supports will allow teachers to be at their best which, in turn, is in the best interest of the child.

Call to Action

In order to support the psychological well-being of early childhood professionals early on in their careers and as they continue to transition into the profession, it becomes essential to provide them with professional development. This assistance will help guide, support, and enrich their experiences in working with the children in their care, their peers in the work environment, and parents that they come in contact with on a daily basis.  While the optimal way of supporting early childhood educators is to provide professional development in-person and continuously throughout the year, it should be noted that this may not be possible in certain programs or centers due to fiscal constraints, geographical area, or lack of trained staff to provide the service.  If this should be the case, education directors and directors of early childhood programs can make available virtual and online resources that  teachers can use alone, in a group, or with the guidance of an administrator to address their questions and concerns and minimize the uncertainty and stress they may be experiencing.     For examples of possible resources see the section on resources below.  Remember: the goal is to support the psychological well-being of teachers so that they are physically and emotionally healthy and can provide a high-quality experience that will support and enrich the learning and development of young children.

Available Resources to Support the

Well-Being of Early Childhood Educators

Stress Related Resources

APA – Teaching Is Fundamental: Ideas for Friends and Spouses Supporting Teachers’ Early Career Challenge

APA – Teacher Stress Module

APA – Violence Prevention for Families of Young Children

Classroom Related Resources

National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning (NCECDTL)

Teaching and Learning: Tools for Teachers

Child Mind Institute – For Educators

Dealing With Bullying / Teacher Competencies

NAEYC – Teaching Young Children

Administration for Children & Families – Tips for Early Care and Child Care Providers

The Backpack Connection Series by TACSEI

Supports for Students

CDC – Go Out and Play Kit

When to Seek Help for Children’s Problem Behavior

Guidance for Talking with Parents

Tips for Talking with Parents



About the Author

Roseanne is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She received her PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and more recently an Advanced Certificate in Public Administration and Public Policy as well as a Certificate in Health Care Policy and Administration both from the CUNY School of Professional Studies. She is also a Faculty Associate of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College as well as a member of the Human Rights faculty. Roseanne was a National Head Start Fellow in the Office of Head Start in Washington, DC in 2009-2010 where her work focused on research, practices, and policies that influenced children, families, and communities. In 2009 she was also a Visiting Scholar at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ where she worked on assessment, research, and policy. In 2011 she served as a reviewer for the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge Grant, and in 2014 as a reviewer for the Preschool Development Grants. Roseanne was also a member of the 2011-2012 class of the American Psychological Association Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology, and the 2013 co-chair of the Committee on Children, Youth and Families. Roseanne is currently a member and the 2017-2018 chair of the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education at the APA. She also serves as an ECOSOC Representative to the United Nations for the APA and is a member of the NGO Committee on Children’s Rights, New York. Roseanne enjoys reading children’s books, making jewelry and listening to classical music.
Sarah is a graduate student in the Masters degree Program in General Psychology at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology and Spanish from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. During her time at Smith and since graduating, Sarah has worked with children and adolescents from diverse backgrounds in both classroom and nature-based settings. She currently teaches for a Head Start program in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During her free time, Sarah enjoys cooking while watching cooking shows, spending time with her pets, and trying her best to garden.