Overcoming Burnout In Child Care

Overcoming Burnout In Child Care

Burnout & Turnover In Preschool – It Matters!

It is an unfortunate fact that teacher burnout is the norm in child care. Some might even see burnout as an occupational hazard, part and parcel of the job.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you are an in-home provider, a teacher, director or teaching assistant, it takes a special kind of person to pursue a career in early childhood. To be successful, you will need a lot of patience, love, solid communication skills, an organized mind, boundless energy, strength and soul. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone.

Amidst early education receiving a lot of press and public attention, the field is going through a labor crisis. A lot of teachers are leaving the field because they are burning out. In the 2018 Child Care Benchmark Report, child care business owners identified labor as the #1 organizational risk. This, coupled with the rising demand for child care is creating a tough situation for business owners, teachers, parents and everyone (especially the kiddos) involved.

As attitudes towards the relationship between millennial parents, career and family change, early childhood professionals are positioned to become a key support system for the backbone of our economy. So, let’s tackle this issue of burnout in the field shall we?

Reasons For Teacher Burnout

Teaching preschool is so much more than showing up to look after the kiddos. Educators wear many hats in their roles: guardian, friend, first responder, counselor, cook, janitor, entertainer, mediator, the list goes on. All while making sure that the children under their care are safe and happy. Here are some reasons why burnout is so common in child care.

Lack of Training and Support

Child care professionals come from different educational backgrounds. From high school to post-graduate degrees, the level of experience varies from educator to educator. This, coupled with the requirements that come can put pressure on teachers and administrators to perform in a role without the necessary knowledge of best practices.  

Between transitions, different shifts, a hasty lunch, talking to parents, putting out fires and making sure the kids are safe and happy, it is a lot to squeeze in training. That’s a lot of responsibility to have on one plate!

This brings us to the topic of support. Early educators are often siloed in their classrooms and don’t always have the strongest support system be it within the center or externally. When your team is constantly on the go and overworked, morale can take a hit across the board and burn out.

Preschool Teachers Are Nurturing People

There is definitely a personality profile that excels in the role of a preschool teacher: Someone who is nurturing, has a huge heart and is always there for their kiddos and families.

For better or for worse, this personality type can sometimes be the main contributor to burnout. Teachers that are so keen to please and help the families that they serve often forget to prioritize their own work-life balance.

Anyone who works in a child care setting will tell you that being sick all the time is pretty standard. Substitute teachers are difficult to schedule and the hassle of catching up is often seen as not worth it. The longer a teacher pushes themselves to be available for their kiddos and families, the more ill they become. This can turn into a toxic cycle that is not sustainable for a teacher’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Underappreciation And Self-Worth

Early childhood professionals are relationship-driven people. I mean the job requires a whole lot of heart! Despite that, it is one of the most underappreciated and undervalued professions by society.

Negativity often comes from many sources:

  • Friends/family: “Oh, being a preschool teacher isn’t a real job”
  • Parents: “It’s just glorified babysitting”
  • The general public: “How hard is it to play with kids all day”
  • Yourself: “I guess I am just a preschool teacher”

This incorrect association of value and identity not only contributes to a feeling of apathy at work, it also impacts the way in which teachers view themselves. That, on top of pay that doesn’t correlate to the hours and effort required for the job, it isn’t a stretch to see why teachers leave the profession.

How to Avoid Burnout In Child Care

Now that we’ve covered some key contributors to teacher burnout, let’s talk about some strategies to prevent and minimize this. In the long run, a healthy and high-functioning team means a more sustainable business with minimal employee turnover, better quality care and a workplace that’s more fun!

Build A Culture That Raises People Up

Source: GIPHY

Given that child care is a field that is underappreciated, shifting your perspective makes a world of a difference. Think of your center in the frame of a family and take pride in your team and the families you serve. A simple “great job” goes a long way in making someone feel acknowledged for their hard work.

This doesn’t have to fall solely on the shoulders of leadership either! Every single person on the team has the capacity to shout a team member out, support a colleague who might be struggling with something and even mentor each other. An engaged team will organically raise the quality of your center and become more established in the community.

Get Organized and Communicate Expectations

Child care administration and leadership can have a huge impact on this front. A simple way to combat burnout is to provide tools to optimize time management and make tasks easier. If you have a team that works really hard already, set boundaries for your teachers to make sure that balance becomes a priority. Communicate expectations clearly and stick to them.

Some of these things can be:

  • Setting clear shift times
  • Using technology for paperwork
  • Staffing classes in pairs / small teams
  • Creating a mentorship program
  • Showcasing your teachers’ work to parents

By having clear expectations, teachers will be able to take guilt-free breaks and maintain some balance while on the job. A mentorship program will help with training on the job, and having set career tracks will also help you build a team structure that has growth potential and pushes your staff to value their work. This is also a great way to retain top talent at your center.

Invest In Your People

Continuous professional development is key to staying up to date with the various licensing requirements and trends in the field. Reinvesting into your workforce will translate to an increase in quality across the board and yield returns both monetarily and from a morale perspective.

If staffing is an issue for this, schedule designated professional development days during the school year so that your team can focus on them. Make sure that parents are aware of your commitment to improving the service that you’re providing them and it is a win-win for everyone!


Despite the fact that burnout is common in child care, there are ways for early childhood professionals to change the status quo. What do you do at your center? Share your tips in the comments below!

The Complete Guide to Hiring & Retaining ECEs

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

20 comments

  • Karen says:

    While this is very sound and great advice, what do you have for those of us whom have left the circle and embarked on our own?

  • Lauren says:

    At our center we have three minutes of each weekly staff meeting set aside for “Kudos,” where we give gratitude or encouragement to each other for work- and non-work-related things (telling that pregnant teacher, “I see you eating the healthiest snacks throughout the day; you’re doing such am amazing job taking care of yourself”, or giving the toddler teaching team a round of high fives for finally getting everyone to nap before 1pm). It’s at the start of our meeting, so people feel the glow of human connection for the rest of the meeting.

  • kerstin bandner says:

    Offer them more money and benefits to return. 🙂

    • Kayla Rideaux says:

      Surprised pay was not mentioned. That’s almost a number one issue. It’s hard to work in a demanding field like this when you are barely making more than a Taco Bell employee. Financial stress and work stress are hard for anyone to manage. And appreciation should be reflected in pay especially considering the high cost of childcare. Another big problem is the large numbers in younger classes that make learning, and classroom management nearly impossible. As a parent if you see more that 12, 2 year olds in a class, that is not a good sign. It shows the institution cares more about money than the children’s well being.

    • Vanessa says:

      That exactly what we need. And send Directors that actually cares and appreciate their staff.

  • Lizzie says:

    Nailed it!! I taught preschool for 5 years before deciding to move onto the school district to be an Instructional aid for an elementary school autistic class. For the first preschool I was at, I was making $11.09 after 4 years, having my ECE associate degree plus a teacher permit. There were days where teachers were so sick they were throwing up in their classrooms, and the bosses would simply tell them that there isn’t anyone to replace them for the day. I got so sick one time, I took my temp at work and showed it to them, which read 102 degrees under my armpit. By the end of the day, they said “oh, I didn’t know you wanted to go home.” I went to the ER that night. Turned out I had swine flu!!
    Besides low pay and teachers being turned down of going home when sick, drama was always a big problem. Teachers were always talking bad about each other instead of supporting each other. I moved on to what I thought was a much better environment. It was a little bit better, since there were actually good benefits and decent pay. However, the drama and lack of communication still occured. After a year I had a review in which I was “released of my duties without reason.” This was after my boss found out I was taking my own personal notes of situations that were occuring so I would have proof if anything were to be brought up. I sank into a depression at home for several months before being able to have the energy to get back to work. I currently work for the school district, which is older kids, but with really good benefits and lots of support from all staff members. It’s really sad that I had to give up being a teacher because of low pay and drama. I am now an Instructional assistant, but a lot happier. I just had a preemie baby of my own, and the staff is really caring about it. I am just afraid of when my son gets to be of preschool age. Maybe I will just teach him everything he needs to know, then go straight to a kindergarten instead.

  • Lovesha Dubarrie says:

    As a former Early Childhood Teacher, I do agree with everyhing that is written in this article. For me, I love love children with my whole heart and I enjoy catering to their needs but I found that the profession was not rewarding especially when it comes on to monthly salary. It was alot of hard work and hours but little pay. I became drained in the process due to overwork. I lost weight and got little rest. It even affected me emotionally. I was stressed and depressed so I do agree with the article. We need support and also a fair schedule to work with. I stopped because of burnout. I miss the little ones so much and still think about going back but scared I may leave again cause the system has not changed.
    Thank you

  • Rebecca A Thompson says:

    Pay is a major issue for us in grants pass Oregon also. We can’t get full time either due to company having to pay insurance. Ridiculous. Can’t retire on this, yet people need safe structures for they’re kiddos to survive, and thrive.

  • Lindy says:

    Why not talk about the real reason preschool teachers are leaving the field. I was a preschool teacher for 19 years and just left to go into an office job. The reason, AFTER 19 YEARS TEACHING I WAS STILL NOT MAKING A LIVABLE WAGE. What other industry after working for 19 years would you still not be able to make enough to pay your bills. Start paying decent wages and maybe the preschools would be able to keep good teachers.

  • Crystal Vines says:

    I was an Assistant Teacher for 9 years in Preschool and I know that I am not cut out for this job. I tried finding other employment to no avail. I was miserable all the time and I have a Master Degree and was making minimum wage. I never want to do childcare again

  • Cynthia W Jeffries says:

    Now that the nation has deemed our jobs as “essential” hopefully things will change. I do not really see it changing. People tend to use you when needed and revert back to the old way after the crisis is over. This profession does not pay a cost of living wage and yet so many parents depend on us. The work is hard and very tiring if done correctly. We are not considered “real” teachers even though some of us have the same or
    more education than public school teachers. Good staff is hard to find because of the low pay and lack of benefits. I have been an early educator for 40 years. This is not daycare. We educate and prepare children for their next steps up the educational ladder. We deserve better and should demand it!!!

  • Carollon says:

    I strongly agree to everything that has been mentioned. I have worked in the Early Childhood Profession for 30. years and o truly don’t know why sometimes. I have been terminated twice for not allowing providers take money from me that i had earned. When you go above and beyond in this industry ot seems to do mpre harm than good. The children is what count especially when you see them reach the. necessary milstones needed that will last them a lifetime. But with that being said who is truly lookong out for the early childhood educators. No One.

  • Christy Flores says:

    I have been in ECE for 20 plus years and decided to open my own childcare. Although, this has been most rewarding I am making less money than when I was teaching. This industry needs and should be subsidized so that:
    – all families, despite their economic status, can afford quality childcare
    – teachers can live above poverty levels independently
    – teachers can afford and justify the cost of higher education because it does make a difference
    – children can receive the strong, loving foundation for a lifetime of growth
    Preschool teachers should not have to bear the brunt of societies need for safe and healthy learning for our youngest people.

  • Anita says:

    I have been a Director with my own child care center for 25 ,years i always treat my girls with respect and they know what regulations we need to follow. We stayed open when others were closing, and even though our numbers dwindled down- I wanted them not to worry about their bills. We are doing fine, still not operating at 100% because of the governor’s instructions. We will be ok and continue to work together, laugh together, share lunches together and look for opportunities to build each other up. God Bless all our parents who build us up and help us feel valued. It can be done, stop the bashing and love the job

  • Sandee says:

    I was a Administrator, pre k lead teacher, grocery store shopper, bank dropper, holiday shopper, and morning cook, cleaner and everything else you can think of. I am burnt out. I have my ECE for 7 years and it took me all seven years to earn $12an hour. Only for parents to fight you,call you out your name, not be appreciated for taking care of their children for almost 10 hours s day. I love love children. But I can no longer continue in this field. I have been in the business of child care since 1996.
    It’s not only that but the paper work, classes, overturns in staffing, in Ohio the work has increased by Star status. the more you have the better you are rated. And the paperwork is excruciating.
    I don’t know what I will do, I am 50 years old, and starting over is scary

  • Danielle B says:

    No one mentioned the inadequate pay. All the other reasons are true but low pay is an issue. I could work at Target for a considerable amount more than what I make.

  • Caisey Ryans says:

    I often find it frustrating that this profession is underestimated. After all, it is in fact a complex and unpredictable job that requires full involvement and commitment.
    Burnout is a normal phenomenon for any profession. But you have to think about what you love this job for and find a reason to continue. For me, it’s the children themselves – they’re wonderful and inspiring. When you see their success, you realize that you are working for a reason.

  • Carol says:

    This and all the reasons stated above are all very true ,I started working in child care long before it became a good place to consider sending your children. I worked in this field for over thrity plus years with yes you are correct with little pay ,but my main reason for staying was the children they need good loving teachers too ,the money matters but it’s not the reason you have teachers staying we truly do love the children and seeing them grow and learn as little individuals. If covid19 hadn’t come into our world I know for a fact that I at age 61 would still be with my babies.
    Stay safe every one and fo what you love

  • Raymonde says:

    I agree. The low pay is one and the number of children in the classroom is another factor. I have been in the field for over 20 yrs the lack of communication and professionalism from supervisors are also contributing factors of high turn over.

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