For those of us who look after children in some capacity, we’ve probably read a fair few articles and books over our time in the hope of raising them to be healthy, well-rounded individuals. The concept of ‘self-care‘ can be a tricky one to explain to little ones – it’s a broad topic, interchangeable as life changes and evolves. By gently guiding and encouraging our children to embrace different aspects of self-care, we can help them to build it in as part of their life from a young age, without having to explain exactly what ‘self-care’ is.
Children love routine. They might test the boundaries and challenge it at times, but routine can help them to feel safe and settled.
Morning and bedtime routines can be particularly helpful. A good morning routine can be used to kick-start our day, setting it up in a positive way. Bedtime routines can help our mind and body recognise that we’re preparing to sleep which can help us to drop off more quickly.
Morning routines could include things like waking up at a certain time, making our bed (or at least straightening out our duvet), getting dressed, cleaning our teeth, washing our face and/or having a shower, having breakfast and taking our medication in a particular order, and talking about what our plans are for that day. We could chat with our kids about what they’ve got coming up that day.
An evening routine could include having a bath/shower, popping our PJs on, cleaning our teeth, reading a book, turning on our night-light and then jumping into bed. Doing this routine at a similar time each day can help our body to get into a regular sleep-wake cycle.
2. Boundaries And Opinions
Kids can be stubborn. ‘No’ can be one of their favourite words. They’re often very good at sharing their needs and asserting their boundaries. Kids are rarely shy in telling us if they’re hungry, tired, bored or thirsty. They’re also not usually subtle when they don’t want to do something.
As we grow up, we are taught to develop a filter, to minimise our needs and to stop saying what we think, and to ‘just do it even if we don’t like it’. We develop our own opinions on things, but may well be told that these opinions are ‘wrong’, and experience instances where our opinions and boundaries aren’t respected.
As much as we need to encourage our children to be kind, and that they do sometimes have to do things that they don’t want to do for the good of their health, it’s important to help our young people learn that they are allowed to develop their own opinions, and they can assert their boundaries.
Additionally, boundaries are a two-way thing. Our children need to learn to respect our boundaries and those of others such as their friends and teachers.
We can absolutely challenge and discuss these boundaries and opinions – in fact, it’s pretty vital that we do because it allows our children to explore their thinking. It’s also okay for them to challenge us. Teaching them to always ‘do what they’re told’ without thinking can become dangerous and disempowering. Having the space to explore their boundaries and opinions can help them to figure out their values.
3. The Great Outdoors
Helping our little ones to get outside and develop a love of fresh air and exploring different places can serve them well throughout their life. Encouraging them to interact with nature, explore, and get excited about it can help them to develop a love of nature.
We’re often quite ‘weather-phobic’ these days. It’s ‘too hot’, ‘too wet’, too cloudy’, ‘too windy’, or ‘too cold’ to go outside and do stuff. Weather is often talked about as in inconvenience. None of us like de-icing our cars, squeezing the rain out of our socks when we arrive at work, or coping with the umbrella battle in windy-rain.
Our children can learn from this and become fearful or resentful of spending time outside. Encouraging them to explore nature in all seasons and all weathers (providing it’s safe and they have the right clothing) can help them to find things that they enjoy about each season. The way the heat gives us a golden hour as the sun sets, the wet weather provides droplets on plants which make the world look upside down, the cloudy weather gives us a game of finding shapes in the sky, the wind makes us feel alive, and the cold weather turns the world all sparkly. Looking out for things helps us to take both us and our children ‘out of our heads’ and into the world around us.
4. Skills To Calm Down
Managing emotions can be tricky and become overwhelming.
There are all sorts of different calm down tricks and ideas out there for when things get ‘too much’. Different things will work for different people, so if the first ‘calm down idea’ doesn’t work, then we can always try something else.
If we have space, it can be a nice idea to have a corner or place where our child can go to calm down. Having something to focus such as a mindfulness jar, lava lamp or glitter lamp can help us to feel calmer. If we have fish then watching the same fish wiggle its way around the tank can help to focus our mind. Textured blankets can help us to focus on the sensation of touch. There is evidence to show that heavy or weighted blankets can calm us down and reduce our levels of anxiety. Headphones can be helpful when our children are struggling – they can help us to control our world and to play something that helps us to settle (or just to dampen the noise of the world). The benefit of headphones is that our child can use them even if they’re not at home. The same applies to something to fiddle with – fiddly things can help us to fiddle-out some of our stress and anxiety, and can be taken out of the house with us.
Sometimes our child might find that the best way to burn off their upset, anxiety, or anger is to be very physically active. This might involve running around the garden or using a punchbag.
Helping our children to express the feelings that lead to them feeling ‘worked up’ in a healthy way can carry them through life, helping them to manage difficult situations once they’re in their teens and into adulthood.
5. Talk About Emotions
Trying to keep the lines of communication open with our child can help them to come and talk to us when they’re worried or upset. When we talk about our emotions and name them, it can help our child to identify their own emotions, put a name to them, and talk to us about them. It might help to discuss the purpose of our emotions with our child, to help them to feel more accepting of them and less afraid. For example, anxiety can keep us safe.
6. Growth Mindset
‘I can’t’ is a common cry from children. They often become very frustrated when they can’t do things that other people can, which can lead to them giving up because they just feel like they’ll ‘never be able to do it’.
Trying to instil a growth mindset from a young age can help to develop our children’s confidence and resilience. Growth mindset involves things like turning ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can’t yet’. A fixed mindset is a belief that our level of intelligence is ‘fixed’ and that there is nothing we can do about it. Alternatively, a growth mindset is the understanding that through perseverance and effort, our abilities can improve and we can learn new things.
Helping our children to understand this, can help them to keep chipping away at things they find difficult, and to feel more confident in their ability to learn.
7. Sleep And Rest
Some children are not a big fan of sleep – they feel like they’re missing out on things. Many children also struggle to rest during the day. By bedtime, they’re beside themselves and overtired because they haven’t had any downtime.
Encouraging our children to set up a sleep routine and practice good sleep hygiene can help them to nod off quickly and sleep well during the night.
Sometimes, sleeping at night isn’t enough and they need more rest during the day, too. Helping our children to learn to listen to their body and to rest when they need it can help them to understand their needs. We could encourage them to sit down and read a book or watch TV for half an hour after each meal or to stop every couple of hours, have a drink, and sit down for ten minutes. Balancing their time (and our time!) to try and get a mix of active activities and calmer, sit-down activities can also help both our children and us to manage our energy levels.
8. Responsibility For Their Space and Belongings
Most children will have some form of space that they see as ‘theirs’. Some might have their own bedroom or a shared bedroom. Many will have their own bed. Some might have a particular seat that they prefer when watching TV, or might go to the same place each time they’re upset.
Many children will have at least one belonging which they’re attached to. It could be a comfort toy or blanket, something to fiddle with, or a particular item of clothing which they always wear.
Some of us like clean and tidy places, others feel more at home the less carpet they can see. Leaving our children to it (providing it doesn’t harm anyone else and doesn’t become a health hazard), and encouraging them to look after their space and belongings and to take responsibility for them can help them to feel a sense of ownership over their surroundings.
9. Kindness All Round
Teaching our children to be kind to others is very important, but so is talking about being kind to ourselves. One of the adages we often use when we discuss kindness is ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’, but if we don’t really like ourselves and rarely show ourselves any kindness then that doesn’t mean much.
Kindness to ourselves includes all sorts of things. From ensuring that we meet our basic needs – such as getting enough sleep and eating a reasonably balanced diet, to fixing or recycling broken clothes, using that nice-smelling soap that we’ve been ‘saving for a special occasion’, and asking for help when we need it. It’s all about treating ourselves with some compassion. It can often be helpful to flip that adage on its head, and to ‘love ourselves as we love others’.
10. Learn To Love Learning
When our kids are little they often love learning. Unfortunately, as they grow up, they often begin to resent learning. It becomes equated with writing, homework, and being stuck behind a desk. Many children develop a fear of making mistakes which can often manifest as anxiety over getting things wrong, or an unwillingness to try.
Encouraging a love of learning can help our children to connect to the world around them and to keep a sense of wonder. Perhaps they’re forever taking things apart and (hopefully) putting them back together, love learning new tricks on their bike or making up new recipes.
Whatever it might be – encouraging this sense of interest and learning can help them to grow their knowledge and enthusiasm around subjects that they’re genuinely interested in. These might not be things that they can get a GCSE in, but that doesn’t mean that this learning isn’t valuable.
It’s also helpful to reinforce the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes. So often, we tell ourselves that we’re ‘failures’, we’re ‘rubbish’, we’ll ‘never be any good at anything’. But mistakes are all part of learning. They are often better teachers than our successes. They can fast-track our learning and help us to keep on growing. Mistakes aren’t something to be ashamed of – they show us that we’ve tried.
For some of us, creativity can see us through the darkest of times. It can be a release and help us to express ourselves and have fun.
Creativity can come in all sorts of forms – paint, stand-up comedy, drawing, music, singing, dance, signing to songs, doing skateboard tricks, sculpture, gardening… the list goes on. Sometimes when life gets busy, creativity gets pushed out. The time that we would spend being creative is instead filled with all the other things we have to do.
Encouraging our children to hold onto their creativity and to use it when life gets stressful, can encourage them to keep using it as a tool for managing their mental health as they grow into adults.
12. Food Talk
Food and diet are often topics of conversation. Many of us discuss our body image struggles and desire to eat ‘healthier’ around our children without really thinking about it.
These sorts of discussions can have a big impact on our kids – how they feel about themselves and how they feel about food.
Although getting our five-a-day is important, it’s also important to teach our children that food doesn’t hold any moral value. There’s no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. A balanced diet doesn’t mean cutting out all fat and sugar – it means having a balance of different food groups. Additionally, we can’t change our bodies to resemble photoshop perfection. We can only work with what we’ve got, and it’s far more achievable to learn to love who we are than it is to try and change our body beyond what is healthy for us.
Getting our kids involved with food – with meal-planning, shopping, cooking and baking (even if it’s a tad messy) from a young age can help them to develop a healthy relationship with food, and to learn important life skills in the process.
13. Be A Child
Kids grow up so fast. At the age of four (in the UK) they head off to primary school and start spending less and less time at home.
Giving our children a chance to play – whatever their age – and to be free, can be such a gift. We could give them a choice over what we do during weekends and holidays. Encourage them to get muddy, to run and to play pretend. Sometimes kids forget how to play. They might look to us for instruction as they’re so used to being told what to do. Encouraging them to be bored and to make their own fun can help them to feel free and to learn their own mind. There’s no rush to grow up.
14. Family Time
If we’re lucky enough to have a family in some form – whether we’re a single parent or guardian, a temporary carer, a ‘family by choice’ or have some other arrangement, then it’s good to spend time with one another.
Having a life outside of the house is important and there will be times when commitments take us away from our families. But our family unit is our original support system. We can create a safe space for our child to come back to – however old they are and whatever is going on in our lives or their life. Having tea together whenever we can, chatting before bedtime, having some family time at weekends, or even having breakfast together each morning as we slowly wake up can all help us to feel closer as a family.
Life can become so busy and we spend so much of it multitasking that we often forget to stop and appreciate what we’ve got.
Helping our kids to learn to appreciate things – whether it be the intricacies of a spider’s web or the fact that they have a roof over their head, can help them to pause now and again and notice the world around them. It can help us to feel grounded and connected.
That’s not to say that we can’t struggle or find things hard. Other people’s struggles don’t erase our own, and appreciating what we’ve got doesn’t mean that we can’t go through rough patches or find things difficult. We can both appreciate our situation and want to strive for better. But the appreciation part can help us to feel safe and secure in what we have, to stop, to notice, and to breathe.
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