Preparing students for the ‘emotion work’ of early years practice

Full reference
Solvason, C., Hodgkins, A. & Watson N.  (2021). Preparing students for the ‘emotion work’ of early years practice.  NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 23(1), pp. 14 – 23.

Page 14

Original Commentary

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Preparing students for the ‘emotion work’ of early years practice

Carla Solvason, Angela Hodgkins and Nicola Watson
University of Worcester, UK


This article explores the emotional demands made upon the early years practitioner. It is primarily a discussion paper, but it also draws upon empirical evidence from previous, small-scale research carried out by the authors with early years student practitioners. Our discussion explores the wide-ranging inter-personal and emotional demands placed upon the early years professional within a context of low status and limited acknowledgement of the complexities inherent in the role. We focus upon the demands of advanced empathy and the emotional aspect of working with children, parents and families. In this article we ask just how well-equipped early years students are for the emotional requirements of their future role and what we, as tutors, might do to better prepare them.

Key words: Role, emotional demands, professional practice, wellbeing.



Working with children, parents and families in the Early Years (EY) can be complex and challenging. This paper, written by three experienced practitioners (currently training the future EY workforce in a university setting in England) explores the emotional demands placed upon EY practitioners and asks whether it is possible for us, as tutors, to better prepare students for this aspect of their role. We suggest that EY practitioners need to protect their own emotional wellbeing if they are to act as effective advocates for children, families, and, equally importantly, themselves, and consider how, as tutors, we might better support them in doing so.

In recent years in England ‘professionalisation’ of the workforce has multiplied the responsibilities placed upon practitioners, to the extent that Campbell-Barr and Leeson (2016) refer to EY practitioners being “all things to all people” (p.63). This can result in the sacrificing of practitioners’ own wellbeing, due to excessive demands upon their emotional resources (Solvason et al., 2020). In England, legislation exists for the further training and support of EY qualified practitioners through supervision, as required by the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) (DfE, 2017). However, Hodgkins’ (2019) research found that this can be something of a lottery in terms of the quality and effectiveness of support offered to individual practitioners.

We deliberate upon how students studying for a qualification as EY practitioners can be prepared for the role by being encouraged to value themselves whilst maintaining a role that involves continually ‘giving’ to others.  The discussion has three key areas of focus: the first is the empathetic role that a practitioner assumes when working with young children; the second is the lack of preparedness EY students and practitioners often feel for the responsibility of generating and maintaining positive relationships with parents and families. We recognise that we are only able to touch upon these within the limitations of this article.


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