How to Teach Children Self-Care

You have likely heard about the importance of self-care and some ways to practice it. Every adult should practice self-care to give themselves a break from their hectic lives, refresh, and take care of themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically. While we all know that self-care is important for adults, it is also important for kiddos!

It is a critical time for children and teenagers to learn the importance of taking care of themselves and their communities. Self-care can help kids of all ages become more introspective and aware of their physical and emotional needs. It can also prepare them to effectively handle future stressors. 

Even small acts of self-care and self-help can decrease stress, improve relationships, and promote wellness of the body and mind.

Practicing self-care routines at a young age can reduce the risk of developing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

The best self-care habits for kids are those that can be practiced regularly, provide relief from stress, and support the maintenance of a healthy body and mind. From painting and tennis to journaling and meditation, there’s bound to be a self-care habit your child can get excited about.

Parents, educators, and caregivers can teach their children healthy self-care habits at any age. Adults can do so by helping children schedule self-care breaks/check-ins throughout the day, enacting daily or weekly check-ins throughout the day/week, and role modeling. We can model self-care by acknowledging your own needs as a parent. Kids often learn more from what parents do rather than what they say!

Sometimes, it can feel easier during a stressful moment to take the reins and complete a task for your child. When this happens, children miss an opportunity to build self-confidence and problem-solving skills.

If a child asks you for help, consider if it is a task they could try on their own or with limited support. It might help to encourage and let them know you will be there to support them. Consider saying something like, “I believe in you. I’ll be here if you get stuck, but you try it first.”

Remember to start small. When it comes to encouraging kids to explore self-care on their own, consider their age and developmental level. 

1. Start by teaching your child basic skills they need to follow to keep themselves healthy. If you are feeding your kiddo healthy foods, giving them baths, and helping them brush their teeth, you are helping them to develop a foundation for taking care of themselves as they grow. 

These are things that your child will have to learn how to do eventually and if you work with them early on, you can help them develop healthy habits. While these may not seem like huge self-care habits, they are some of the most important and they show your child that you must take care of yourself to keep yourself healthy.

2. Nowadays, kids often get lost watching episodes of their favorite TV show, playing video games, or consuming too much screen time. While technology is a huge part of the future and your child’s life, you should also encourage them to nourish the mind and get away from the TV or tablet for a while.

Buy toys that get your child to think, allow them to practice imaginative play, or work on some crafts. 

These all can help them develop different skills and allow them to work things through in their minds. 

Take it a step further and have them practice yoga or something else that helps them get in touch with their inner selves with you. This is a great way to help them gain insight and awareness.

3. Movement and creative activities can provide an emotional outlet and foster connection. 

Activities like painting, coloring, or molding clay are less likely to feel like a chore.

Music and dance can have huge positive impacts on your child’s cognitive development, self-awareness, and physical health. As your child moves their body to the music, their brain releases endorphins to promote well-being and improve mood. Consider playing background music to try to balance your child’s mood; if they are struggling with anxiety or frustration, play softer or more uplifting music.

Don’t be afraid to get silly! Offer to let your child be the expert and have them teach you a new dance move. 

4. Sometimes families need to share a laugh together. Play a game, make a pillow fort, watch a funny movie, or try a puzzle together. Try your best to put away distractions and truly be present in the joyful moments. Having fun together helps families feel more connected and lets you learn more about your children’s likes and dislikes.

5. Spending time outside can help you and your kiddos refresh and is another great self-care practice. Spend time outside with your kiddos whenever you can. Have fun outdoor adventures that allow them to explore and enjoy time outside. By making the outdoors a major part of your family life, you can help your child develop a love for it and use it as a self-care tactic as they grow.

6. Exercise is a great self-care habit that is easy to teach your child. While it is unlikely that you will bring your toddler to the gym and teach them how to lift weights, there are so many ways you can encourage an active lifestyle.

Play soccer or basketball with them, bring them to the park, go on bike rides, go for long walks, do yoga, the list goes on and on. When you live an active lifestyle, you are more likely to be healthier mentally, physically, and emotionally. Help your children learn that being active can help them destress and feel better. They will carry this into their future.

7. A huge part of self-care revolves around mental health and emotions. While talking to your toddler about emotions will be different than talking to a teenager about emotions, it is a great way to help them develop the right skills to identify and manage their emotions.

When your child has a tantrum or is feeling sad, help them talk about their emotions and figure out ways to manage them. By helping your kiddo better understand their emotions, they can understand how to handle them, even as an adult. This is a great way to practice self-care and get in touch with their emotions.

8. It is important for families to carve out space for quiet time. A few minutes of singing to your child, reading a book together, or listening to a kid-friendly YouTube meditation can strengthen your connection. Particularly for younger children, consider incorporating a “slow down” time in your family’s routine; this will also help train their brain to make mindful choices.

Don’t teach your child that downtime is bad. Sometimes the best self-care practice is doing nothing. Especially in the fast-paced lives we live as adults, sometimes all we need is a break from it all to do absolutely nothing. Allow for your kiddos to have some downtime, whether that means just cuddling with them on the couch for a few minutes, reading to them, or sitting outside and watching the clouds float by. Teaching your child that it is okay to take some downtime and that it can help them slow down their busy lives when they become adults.

Even creating structure around mealtimes can dramatically help your child understand the importance of giving themselves time for healthy essentials. Have a set time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and work to keep those meals as distraction free as possible.

9. Spending time with loved ones is not only a great self-care act for adults, but also for children! Make it a habit of spending some quality time with your children every week and doing something fun. Get some ice cream, play a silly game, or do some other fun activity. Not only can it work as a self-care practice, but it can also help you bond with your child!

10. Some children respond well to having their own “calm-down box”. Include items that are soothing to the senses, for example: fidget toy, stuffed animal, lollipop, stress ball, bubble wrap, plastic snow globe, scratch & sniff stickers. When you observe them on the verge of a meltdown, encourage the child to utilize the items in the box to help regulate their emotions. It can be helpful to think of these items as “special tools” rather than for normal play. Make sure that you are encouraging the child with positive language rather than making it part of a consequence. The goal is for the child to eventually recognize on their own situations where they could use the box to calm down!

11. ‘Leave it at the door’ exercise

Every time you enter a doorway in your home, take the opportunity to have a positive mental shift. Remind yourself to leave the past behind and stay focused on the present. This may make your teenager roll their eyes at first but if you begin by practicing this together, they may make a habit of it on their own.

12. 3-step self-compassion break

During or after a stressful event, practice a three-step, self-compassion break with your adolescent or model it for them to practice on their own. 

  • The first step is to acknowledge this is a difficult moment. This is stressful. I see you feel overwhelmed. That was difficult for both of us.
  • The second step is to acknowledge that stress and suffering are parts of life. Other people feel this way. You/I’m not alone.
  • The last step is to ask yourself, what can I do to be kind to myself? It might help to think about what a loved one might tell you May I accept myself as I am. May I be strong.

13. Engage the senses without a screen

Encourage your teen to put their phone, tablet, gaming system, or computer away. Try taking a few deep breaths and lighting a candle, listening to music, playing with sand/play dough, baking something, meditating, going for a walk/run, stretching or yoga, playing a sport, eating something healthy, creating art just for YOU, etc.

14. Do something for others

Sometimes doing something for another person and taking the focus off ourselves can clear our heads. First, think about someone (a friend, teacher, coach, or family member), and ponder what they appreciate. Then, make or do something nice for that person like drawing a picture or doing the dishes. Doing nice things for others can also help us like ourselves even more.

Also, remember that your idea of self-care may differ from your kid’s idea. Parents should watch out for how children respond to the self-care activities. It could be that their children do not find the same benefits from the parent’s self-care activity of choice. Expose your kids to a variety of strategies so that they can discover what suits their needs best.

While teaching your child self-care habits, don’t forget to take care of yourself. You may feel like you’re neglecting the many demands on you when you take time for self-care but taking time to recharge and re-center can provide reserves of energy for work and family tasks. And setting this example is important as children may learn more from what we do than what we say.”

Every family is different. There is no one right way to practice self-care for kids by age – see what works for you. The earlier children can practice healthy self-care habits, the easier it will be for them to integrate these practices in their future lives and manage whatever stressors come their way.

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