As protectors and guardians of our children, parents get used to taking care of all aspects of their kids’ lives. But as we all know, one day the parents will have to release the responsibility of caring for their children to the children themselves. That’s why teaching them to take care of themselves is one of the most important skills we can impart to them.
Luckily, today we know so much more about what self-care means that we can start our children on a positive path toward it from an early age. How to take care of themselves physically remains among the most important things to teach children, but today’s parents can also make major inroads into helping children care for themselves mentally and emotionally.
Here are 6 ways to help your child getting an early start on learning to care for themselves:
1. Getting clean, the earlier the better: Learning to brush their teeth, take showers and baths and dressing themselves are often the first brushes young children have with learning to do things on their own. They are not only critical for their health, but also instill in them the beginnings of a more ample self-care mindset and boost their confidence and self-esteem. Start them early and let them fumble their way to getting it right.
2. Connect with the physical: The earlier you can explain and illustrate the connection between healthy physical activity and how it makes them feel the better off they will be. Sports is a great way for them to learn how activity will increase their energy levels, but there are other ways as well. Go for a walk or run around the neighborhood and ask your child how they feel afterward. Indoor activities like dancing, playing hide and seek, and setting up an obstacle course are also mood improvers. Chances are they will feel good with their heart rates up and ready for the next activity.
3. Sleep for the soul: As good as your child will feel after taking part in exercise, they will feel just as good, if not better, after a good rest. Of course, there’s often nothing harder than trying to get your kids to sleep, or nap, but remind them how good they feel after a good rest and point out to them when they are low-energy after not getting enough sleep. Don’t expect your kids to be happy to get rest, but the earlier you can let them see the connection between good sleep and good wake, the closer you are to having them take care of themselves, even when not supervised.
4. Breathe in, breathe out: Even before the pandemic, studies found that anxiety in children was on the rise from 2016 to 2020, and at its height that percentage skyrocketed to as much as 24 percent for children and almost 40 percent for adolescents, according to the National Library of Medicine. Controlling their breathing is a fast way to get children settled. Deborah Farmer Kris writes in PBS Kids that, “most foundational technique is deep breathing. When we are stressed or upset, our heart rate increases and our breath becomes more rapid and shallow. We enter “fight or flight” mode. But when we take deep breaths, we send a message back to the brain: It’s okay to settle down. Mindful breathing can calm the storm a little faster.”
5. Feel it out: Your kids are often bundled up beings of energy and parents know that usually means they are happy or engaged. Conversely, they may be quiet and fatigued, which could mean something is weighing on them. When you can identify an emotion or feeling, talk to your kids about it, and let them know what you are seeing. That’s a great way for them to connect their outward and inner selves and a positive step toward them understanding and identifying their emotions.
6. Take care of yourself so that your child can take care of themselves: It’s one thing to talk about self-care or even force your children to practice it, but when a child sees their parent or caregiver taking care of themselves, they can see the benefits in real life. Make sure they see you practicing what you preach and talk to them about your own feelings. Explain to them what you are having a good or bad day, and what you are doing to control your own feelings and behaviors.
For more ways to teach your kids about the importance of self-care, look up the schedule of The Children’s Trust Parent Club where you can learn how to connect with your kids and other parents. Visit TheChildrensTrust.org/ParentClub.