You don’t have to be outgoing and extroverted to succeed in a career working with young children.
I’ve always enjoyed working with children. When I was younger, I would babysit often and was constantly eager to hold the babies in my family. My internships, too, took place in school settings. So it was a natural fit when I started working with children.
During my whole career as a speech-language therapist, I have worked with children in various school districts, primarily in early childhood education. And it’s an extremely rewarding career. But as an introvert and highly sensitive person, it can also be extremely exhausting. My schedule rotates between a different set of preschoolers every 30 minutes from the start of my day until the end. Never mind the extra school duties that require my participation. It can be a lot to handle for someone like me who gets drained easily by social interactions. But I enjoy it and I can’t see myself doing anything else as a career.
Many probably assume that working with children is just for those who are outgoing, extroverted, and gregarious. And there are those who fit that profile and are a great fit. But it’s not a requirement to have that personality type when working with children. Even though there are challenges introverts will face when working with children, there is a place for the quieter ones like myself.
The Main Challenge I Face as an Introvert Working With Kids
The hardest thing for me (or any introvert for that matter) is to be “on” for most of the day. I don’t know if you know anything about children, but they can wear you out. Children are loud, hyped-up little balls of energy that don’t seem to have an “off” button. They are miniature humans full of adrenaline and excitement. It can be a lot to keep up with them. There are some days when I am just worn out by the amount of overstimulation. But if you are an introvert like me, then there are ways that you can take care of yourself in order to keep coming back to it and avoiding burnout.
5 Tips for Working With Children as an Introvert
1. Be yourself — just because the children have nonstop energy doesn’t mean you need to.
Even though children are hyperactive balls of energy fueled by sugar, cookies, and juice boxes, I don’t have to be that way. Even though I do need to keep my energy up to facilitate my lessons, I don’t have to fake my personality in order to connect with young children. I don’t always have to match their tireless energy levels. That’s what their peers are for. They just need adults that make them feel safe and cared for. They need someone to listen to them (a major strength for introverts). I am able to provide those things for them. I’m here to meet their needs and help them reach their goals through fun activities. I can do that without overexerting myself.
2. Find moments to rest, even if they are brief.
Get in as many breaks as possible. Introverts need to find quiet moments alone to recharge their internal batteries. So I try to steal as many moments to myself as I can. In the morning, before I get out of my car, I will savor a few moments to myself and listen to my favorite radio station. Many of my coworkers will do this, too, especially on Mondays! I then get into my office early and mentally prepare myself while I check my email and get my materials ready. If a student is particularly challenging, then I will take 2-3 minutes for myself to breathe and get ready for the next group of children.
For longer periods of solitude, I will have lunch by myself a couple times a week (if not all week). I will usually play easy music in the background and enjoy my lunch with myself or with my introverted coworker. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t: It’s great either way. When I’m walking back to my office with my lunch, I notice that many of my coworkers are headed to their cars or to the empty conference room in order to have moments of peace and quiet. You gotta find it when you can. If a kid happens to be absent (which many in education can tell you never happens when you want it to), then I’ll get a quick walk in to clear my head. (Nature is so rejuvenating for us introverts!) On my walk, I will find my coworkers decompressing, too: getting some fresh air like me, relaxing in their car, or even doing yoga on the side of the building when the weather is nice.
Then, after work, I will take a lot of time to myself to get my energy back. My typical post-work routine is getting home, working out, making dinner, and relaxing on my couch for the rest of the evening. It’s so important for me to take the time for myself in order to endure long days with children. If I didn’t have the time to do that, then I probably wouldn’t be able to cope as well. (It also helps that I live alone and love it).
3. Take time off — use your vacation days, but also take personal days sometimes.
Americans rarely take advantage of their vacation days and that is a shame. I used to be guilty of this. My first year working, I only took one day off from work and that was to go to a conference. One day! My mentor actually scolded me for not using my personal days. Lesson learned! Now I use them. I call them my “mental health days.”
Our vacation days, too, are there to be used, aren’t they? Especially when we have seemingly endless stretches of work that make us feel drained and exhausted before we get started. I will schedule my personal days during those long stretches. And those days are for pure enjoyment only, no work allowed! I’ll only do things that bring me joy (get outside, read, go to a restaurant, binge-watch my favorite TV show, exercise, see a movie, cook or bake, take a nap… you get the picture!).
It’s amazing how much better I feel when I give myself a three-day weekend. I am also then more eager to jump back into work when I am well-rested.
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4. Show yourself some grace: Things will not always go as planned, and that’s OK.
Oftentimes, I have to remind myself to be flexible. This can be hard for me because I want things to go well. I guess I have perfectionist tendencies, which is common for introverts, especially when children are involved. But things are not always going to go as planned — and children are little wild cards. For example, I’ll have the perfect book to read and corresponding activity/game to complement it and I just know they will learn something new as a result. I’m also excited because I know that they are going to enjoy what I have planned…
But my student may be upset because another student took their toy away just before I came into the room. And I can’t just brush it off, that’s important to them! So I have to take the time and listen to why they are upset, calm them down, and maybe help them advocate for themselves. By then, time is lost and we can’t get through all that I planned. It is what it is. I’ll just do what I can.
So sometimes going off-course can’t be avoided. And when it happens, I just have to accept it and not beat myself up over it. Life goes on.
5. Remember your “why.”
There are some days when I am going through the motions and I’m just trying to make it through to the end of the day. There have been — and are going to be — many times when I hit a wall. And I have to remind myself that my job is important and needed. As a speech-language therapist, I’m helping children overcome their speech and language deficits in order to communicate more easily. My job checks many fulfilling boxes: meaningful, creative, and significant. There are a lot of people who don’t feel that way about their work, but I do, and for that, I am grateful. So when you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember your “why.” I think it’ll help keep you going.
No matter what your role is, working with children can be a challenge. It’s not for everybody, but it works for me. I love it. And as long as I make taking care of myself a priority, then I’ll be able to keep at it for a long time.
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