Your Own Oxygen Mask First…Taking Care Of Yourself While Taking Care Of Others

Whenever you fly, the flight attendant always directs you to put your own oxygen mask on before attempting to help anyone else. Likewise, only when we first help ourselves, can we effectively be emotionally present and physically available to the families we serve. Caring for ourselves is critical, but is too often last on a home Visitor’s “to do” list.  As a home visitor, often on a daily basis, you will witness the trauma, loss, disappointments and struggles your program families are experiencing.  Have you found yourself taking on a family’s pain and suffering and do you sometimes feel guilty for not being able to do more?  While this is normal, it’s not healthy for any of us. And, this too often leads to emotional exhaustion, feelings of lack of accomplishment and burnout.

So… what can we do to help ourselves?

Taking care of ourselves involves implementing a variety of strategies at several levels, including:

  • Developing trusting and transparent relationships with your supervisor, your peers, and the families you work with
  • Spending time reflecting on the challenges you and your families are facing, putting them into the context of the professional boundaries you have learned are important to establish and maintain
  • Building a support system that includes immediate family, friends, or other members of the community whom you feel comfortable reaching out to for support and meaningful breaks from the suffering you’ve absorbed during your work day/week
  • Establishing self-care routines, such as:  healthful nutrition, physical activity, mindfulness/meditation, non-work related activities you enjoy

Let’s talk about some factors connected to feeling overwhelmed, which can put you at risk for burnout.  According to Nancy L. Seibel, a consultant who specializes in coaching human service professionals and small businesses, helping professionals are at particular risk for burnout, as they often come to their work with high levels of commitment and passion and have jobs requiring that they respond empathically to others dealing with significant life difficulties. (Seibel, 2014)

We know that many families that join your program will have experienced unhealthy relationships throughout their lives and could be unsure about what constitutes a healthy relationship.  One way to support healthy interactions between you and the families in your caseload is to remind yourself constantly of what your program goals are, what your role is in achieving those objectives and what professional boundaries you will not cross.

Supervisory support is essential for helping you balance the demands of your role. Reflection and emotional support are important components of the supervisory relationship. Sharing your accomplishments, challenges, frustrations and other feelings will allow your supervisor to truly support you. This is a strategy central to reducing burnout. Additionally, your supervisor will explore professional boundaries, as well as ways to keep you anchored in activities and interactions that will motivate parents to build their parenting and other life skills. As families grow skill sets and become more self-sufficient, Home Visitors feel less burdened and less emotionally drained.

When you feel challenged by a family’s perceived lack of progress, asking yourself the following Growing Great Kids-specific questions may create some new opportunities for you and the family to feel a greater sense of accomplishment:

  • What Growing Great Families modules could  I plan to facilitate with the family that will uncover and make me and them more aware of their strengths?
  • How often have I touched back to “Our Family Values” completed handout, with a focus on enrolling parents in identifying just one of these values to put into practice during the coming week?  Could I plan to spend 5 minutes doing this during every visit, being sure to accentuate any/all efforts family members have made to “Walk Their Talk” since our last visit?
  • Do I regularly refer back to the parent(s)’  “What I’d Like for My Child” completed handout to remind parents of the characteristics  they are growing through their practice of the Daily Do’s and GGK Child Development Activities during and between visits? How could I set reminders to do this?
  • Do I frequently think about which growing Great Families modules will best build a particular family’s problem-solving and communication skills and encourage them to bolster their community support network? Could I make a GGF Module Plan, to include the next 5 GGF Modules for each of my families?
  • How can I do better with linking families to other community resources, while encouraging them to trust other helping professionals? Could I work with my supervisor and co-workers on building these skills?
  • Have I utilized the Growing Great Families Blueprint 2…Supporting Goal Success with Families? This resource provides some very specific strategies for checking in with families in regard to taking steps toward accomplishing what is important to them. Are there 2 families I could try this with next week?
  • Have I sought support from my supervisor aimed at exploring my relationship with a family that is resulting in my feeling over-burdened? When will I do this?

Seibel also reiterates that burnout is costly and damaging. It negatively impacts agencies or organizations, a decrease in job satisfaction or performance usually results in turnover. (Seibel, 2014) When staff leaves, the families and children are also impacted by the disrupted relationship.  Burnout can be prevented through individual activities and supervisory support. Here are a few preventive burnout recommendations and tips:

Home Visitors can:

  • Remember what inspires you
  • Ask for help when it’s needed
  • Create boundaries between work and personal life
  • Schedule time for activities you enjoy and that you find renewing
  • Get involve in team activities i.e. Have lunch with co-workers, join a book club, or coffee club, etc.

Supervisors can:

  • Discuss stress and self-care individually and in team meetings
  • Meet regularly with each staff member for reflective supervision
  • Support each team member’s strengths, professional growth, and development
  • Encourage use of vacation and other time off
  • Facilitate team building activities

If you are a supervisor, you need to feel competent to support your staff. Great Kids, Inc. offers a broad spectrum of Professional Development opportunities including seminars and specialized workshops to advance supervisory and staff competency development. In particular, one seminar that you might find useful is RE-MAP: A Model for Supervising Home Visitors focusing on the 3 primary functions of supervision including administration, education, and support within the context of:

  • R-Relationship
  • E-Explore & Educate (reflective & clinical supervision)
  • M-Motivation
  • A-Administration
  • P-Professional Development

This skill-driven supervisory model creates a strength-based, results-focused work environment.  It supports supervisors to incorporate elements of both clinical and reflective practice. When all staff are supported to be self-aware in regard to their thoughts and feelings, they are more attentive to how it impacts their work and, consequently are more proactive about self-care.

Remember that you matter…your work matters! Steve Jobs once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” (Chowdhry, 2013) The work that you do as a home visitor is so great and meaningful; remember that taking care of yourself is one way to continue loving what you do.

Works Cited

Chowdhry, A. (2013, October 5). Lessons Learned from Steve Jobs. Retrieved from

Seibel, N. L. (2014, April 3). Keys to Change: Parenting Services Burnout: How it Happens and How to Prevent it. Retrieved from



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