A few weeks ago, we posted a blog on Balanced Children. We want to revisit this idea with a specific focus on how to teach self care to children. Just as parents and teachers need to practice self care for their own benefit, we also need to teach kids how to CONSISTENTLY and INTENTIONALLY engage in self care activities. Teaching kids how to take care of themselves now, will equip them with the tools they need later. Kids need to learn how to manage stress in healthy ways.
Encourage movement any chance you get! You don’t need to put your child in every after school sport for them to get exercise. You can encourage and model exercise in ways that don’t cost anything. Take walks, ride bikes, go on a hike. Encourage kids to dance, jump rope, roller skate, and hula-hoop. They also have free websites that encourage movement like GoNoodle and plenty of free kids movement videos on YouTube. Modeling the fun in exercise and movement for children will set them up to continue the practice as they grow up.
Find every opportunity to laugh with your children. Laugh when things are great, but also try to find laughter when things go wrong. Children are going to make mistakes and if you laugh with them when they make simple mistakes like accidently spilling their milk, they will be less stressed about always having to get everything right and will be more open to taking different risks.
Encourage them to play fun games that make them laugh. Here is a great list of games that encourage laughter from Deep Fun. We also found a great list of board game that the entire family can enjoy from Toy Notes.
Help your children find books that they enjoy. Of course we want our kids to read “educational” books too. However, finding a book, an author, or series that your child enjoys to read for pleasure is wonderful for children. If your child is reading something that they are interested in, then it is making them feel good. Reading for fun is a great way to help kids manage stress. It is pretty easy to setup a little cozy reading space with pillows, blankets and some of their favorite stuffed animals. There is nothing like forgetting the stressors of the day by getting lost in a good book.
There has been a big buzz around this word “mindfulness” in education and business recently. Mindfulness helps teach kids how to regulate their emotions. It can improve their ability to pay attention, can help them calm down when they are upset, and can help them make better choices. There are apps and websites that lead you through short mindful moments. Head Space is one of those options. They even have a series for kids. We have used these in the classroom, and students and teachers alike enjoy the mindful moments.
Mindfulness isn’t something you should force and definitely shouldn’t be used to punish kids when they have done something negative. Our advice is to keep it simple and help your children develop an awareness of thoughts, how their body is feeling, and what is happening around them at different moments. Often times, it seems like we (not just kids) are always wanting to focus on what is coming next. It is important to teach kids an awareness of what is happening right now.
Another component of mindfulness that is really wonderful in teaching self care to kids, is to focus on gratitude. This is really easy because you can do this anytime. It could be part of your bedtime ritual, dinner time talk, or you can encourage a gratitude journal. They have some excellent gratitude journals for kids on Amazon!
Get your kids outdoors! Spending time outdoors helps with the obvious, like getting sun exposure which gives us essential vitamins, and it encourages exercise, which we discussed earlier. But these aren’t the only benefits. According to the Harvard Health Blog, spending time outdoors also helps kids develop executive functioning skills, encourages risk taking, promotes socialization, and gives children an appreciation for nature. There is space for kids in nature to get in touch with their creativity. They build forts with sticks, play hide and seek, climb trees and rocks, or if the weather allows it, have snowball fights. This generation of children are over scheduled and plugged in since infancy. Spending free time outdoors is essential for development and will fuel adventure and creativity in kids.
Last week we wrote about our Teacher Tribe, and how cultivating a group of people who understand and support you can enhance your life. Friendships are important for children too, feeling a part of a community or group gives children self esteem and people to talk about their feelings to, other than their parents and teachers. This is especially important as they reach the upper elementary grades, where adolescence is on the precipes. You can ask your child’s teacher about who your child is playing with, or any recommendations about children with whom they might have a connection with. Setting up play dates and times outside of school where your child can make connections with other children is important to foster these friendships.
Manage Screen Time
This is probably one of the most difficult self care tools for parents to manage and model. We live in a world, where devices are in our hands and surrounding us all day. Everywhere your child goes, they see people staring into their devices, and this has been their world since birth. By around 1 year old a baby knows to slide to unlock a phone, by 2 or 3 they know apps and can get onto Youtube to find the videos they like. Devices are fun, they are a distraction from the real world, however, as teachers, we cannot stress enough, how important it is to manage screen time for your child.
“Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. The new warning from the AHA recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.” (CBC News) The best way you can do this is by modeling for your child. Put your own devices down and talk, read, play, or exercise together. Engage them in other activities that do not involve devices.
Sleep and mental health have a close connection. We are all guilty of scrolling instagram at bedtime, but more and more studies are showing that to improve sleep you should stop using a device up to two hours before bed. If you can’t swing that, even 30 minutes to 1 hour will help improve sleep. Having a device box or a location where kids put their devices at a certain time, will help set an expectation for the family that can help improve sleep for everyone.
All of these things that we are talking about seem very basic and obvious. And most of these things naturally took place when we were kids. We didn’t have devices and we were always outside playing. We didn’t call it self care for kids, we just called it being kids. As our world continues to evolve and advance, we need to take steps to ensure that we are aware of the effects that these changes have on our kids. Many studies are showing kids and teens are depressed and stressed and unable to handle normal things that life throws at them. We need to take a step back and make sure we are giving our 21st century kids the basic skills they need to manage stress and practice self care in this ever changing world.