Self-care isn’t selfish — it’s a basic need of being human! By teaching your child simple acts of self-care and including nurturing routines into your family life, you can show that taking care of ourselves, and each other, is important.
Caring for yourself isn’t simply taking a bubble bath (though it can be!), but it’s building in sustainable routines of taking breaks, naming feelings, and caring for your body. Creating healthy habits of rest at a young age empowers kids to continue to be resilient in all life brings. What a gift to give your kids!
As a parent, it’s easy to get so caught up in my grown-up problems that I forget my kids have struggles of their own. It can also be easy to forget that children absorb grown-up tensions, too. My family of six has been balancing remote learning along with the disappointments of not being able to gather with friends and family as we’ve used to, and it hasn’t been easy on any of us.
Thankfully, establishing healthy self-care habits for kids doesn’t have to be complicated — and it can be a lot of fun!
Here are 11 easy strategies to help kids practice self-care:
Take belly breaths. Don’t underestimate the power of a deep breath to reset. When you sense that your child needs a break, pretend that you’re holding a bowl of soup. Ask them to breathe in through their nose like they’re smelling a yummy soup, and then ask them to blow through their mouth to cool the soup off. Sometimes, my kids pretend that they’re breathing in the smell of a delicious cake and then blowing out birthday candles. This self-regulation strategy is something they can do on their own, wherever they are!
Get silly. When a child is having a tough time or cycling through big emotions, I ask silly questions to help them reset. Asking a concrete question they know the answer to helps re-route their thinking. Ask questions like: What color is the sky? What did you have for breakfast? Where is your shoe? Even if they answer incorrectly, you’re helping their brain and body calm down and get back into the zone. Encourage your child that when they have big feelings, they can pay attention to the room around them and name five things they see as a way to “reset” their brains.
Drink more water: When our houseplants get a little droopy, we water them, right? People need water, too! Empowering kids to stay hydrated is a simple way to teach them a self-care habit to last a lifetime. If they’re tall enough, encourage them to refill their own water bottles.
Be proactive: When I start to see signs that one of my kids might be stressed, or I know there is a big change coming, or if they’ve had a particularly challenging day, I give them a special mission to complete. Perhaps it’s cleaning up the blocks for a younger child, or asking an older child to carry books into another room. This helps them see that it’s okay to take a break — and in fact, getting their bodies moving is a form of self-care. Slightly older kids may find a good reset in helping feed a pet or get the mail.
Incorporate rest: Even the most extroverted child needs time to rest on their own. Think creatively about your child’s unique personality, age, and interest to brainstorm small pockets of rest in their daily routine. Perhaps it’s a time with books in their bedroom, or a ten-minute coloring break at the kitchen table. If siblings share a room, consider creating special time in the day where one can play quietly alone. Though I’m an on-the-go kind of parent, I’m working on ways to normalize rest in my life, too, to model it for my kids.
Get the wiggles out: Sometimes we just need to move our bodies. Not only does it get our blood pumping, but it can be a great mood balancer, too. Try a one-minute dance break or challenge your child to 15 jumping jacks. I love these these ideas for releasing kids’ energy while staying indoors.
Write (or color) it out: One of my sons loves processing life through hand-drawn comics. His brother loves drawing and watercolor painting. I’m a writer, so I gravitate toward words to help me process my life and take care of myself. Consider giving older kids a journal to write in — or provide a drawing pad to younger children. Dedicating time (We’re going to spend 10 minutes taking a break to draw or write!) and space — like the kitchen table — shows kids that getting our thoughts and feelings out matters. I find that providing prompts (When your brother knocked down your tower, how did that make you feel? What was the happiest part of your day?) helps them stay focused. Freewriting and drawing without any constraints is a wonderful form of self-care, too — for kids and grown-ups alike.
Take a break: Simply asking, Do you need to take a break? Or saying, Let’s take a break!, when I notice a child having a hard time has done wonders. (I’m always trying to channel Mom Tiger.) I make sure not to shame and we try to normalize taking breaks as a way to keep ourselves healthy. Having a designated break spot to go to is helpful. And as they get older, the goal is that they’ll be able to name when they need to take a break. Consider making this mindfulness jar and timer for your child to use.
Have a healthy snack: I find myself a bit on edge when I’m hungry — so why do I often forget my kids are the same way? We try to opt for grab-and-go snacks that have protein (cheese sticks, nuts, greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, or crackers with peanut butter). Help your child think about how emotions look and feel with this activity that doubles as a healthy snack!
Get clean: It’s amazing how an impromptu bath can provide rest for young and old alike. Depending on their age, they may like extra bubbles, a bath bomb, bath crayons or paints, or extra toys. My youngest loves playing with cups and bubbles in the tub, while my older elementary-age kids love to reset with a hot shower. Caring for your body is important! (This DIY creature made out of a sponge makes a fun bath buddy!)
Try affirmations: Breathe in and breathe out a positive phrase or empowering mantra. When your child breathes in, have them repeat something like: I am creative and kind. On their exhale, they can say, I can make good decisions. Have them repeat this a few times. If a child is feeling anxious about going to school, create an easy phrase they can silently recite as they breathe in and out, like Learning is fun; my parents will pick me up soon. Older children can brainstorm their own self-care affirmations to memorize — or perhaps write on a sticky note and place somewhere where they can take a break to read it, like on a bathroom mirror or bedroom door.
Equipping kids with self-care strategies is empowering them to be mindful of their emotional, mental, and physical health.