Teaching Children Self Care

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.

Exercising

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.

Laughter

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.

Reading

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.

Teach Mindfulness

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!

Outdoor Time

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.

Foster Friendships

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

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.

For more information visit The National Sleep Foundation website

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.

Balanced Children

We all want what is best for our children. We want what will serve them well presently and in the future. This way of thinking and the countless other pressures within the child rearing community lead us to think about the importance of getting children involved in after school activities, get tutoring on the weekends to get ahead, and have every moment of the day scheduled.

Now, more than ever, “home life” is dwindling. As adults, there is an urgency to spend nights and weekends “getting ready” for something: after a party is finished, there is another one to start thinking about; when a project has finally passed and all the preparations have paid off, there is the next project for another client; once the lasagna has been prepped for the week, it is time to start thinking about next week’s meal prep. All this has created a culture that spends a lot of time thinking ahead, but not enough time living in the moment. It has created a schedule that puts an individual more on the go, and less inside the home.

Unfortunately, this ideology is popping up sooner in life. How many times are three-year-olds signed up for soccer, ballet, or early coding “to help find their passion?” HINT: A child should be signed up for these activities because they can’t stop kicking any movable object at home, is twirling and moving to every kind of music, or are at least five years of age to truly start any valuable computer interactions. Children should dictate any extracurricular activity because passions are found through self-discovery.

Extracurricular

Every year during parent conferences, parents convey the pressure they feel to sign their kids up for extra classes after school and on the weekends because they hear other parents doing it. Unfortunately, an afterthought when planning extracurricular activities is the transition from one to another. Students come to school exhausted and unprepared to face the rigors of academia because they have spent 2.5 hours in traffic to get to their after-school activities the day before. Downtime is only actually relaxing when it occurs in a comfortable space. Parents of sleep-training children might remember that a nap in the car seat in between errands is not the same as a nap in the crib.  Resting in the car in between activities is not and should not count as “down time” for school-aged children.

Our advice is always the same: if your child does not actually need extra support, let them spend their extra time on something that makes them happy. Or better yet: let them figure out what to do with their own time. Some parents feel the pressure to be ahead in certain academic subjects, but what’s the rush? Kids are growing up way too fast and need more balance.

It might seem logical to think that your child will get an upper hand by being enrolled in any of the many tutoring programs that promise precious 1:1 time with your little one. However, in a culture that values the ability to effectively collaborate as a strong suit, your child will probably benefit more from spending his free time reading or playing by himself and bringing his discoveries to playdates with his peers. When children are genuinely interested in something, they have elaborate discussions about the topic with their peers, even more so compared to structured discussions in class. They recall events from books they have read or listened to or movies they watched, and dissect them with their friends. They might identify and enumerate all the spells from Harry Potter, discover patterns in the Percy Jackson series, or debate over which superhero has the best super powers. How many times have we seen children play house, where the parent takes care of the babies and the babies act extremely needy, wanting the constant attention of their mommy?

A child’s unstructured time entertains the possibilities of organically thinking through depth and complexity. Children who are given ample opportunities to “kick the can” make these valuable discoveries on their own. They might label and identify their thinking with icons in class, but we need to remember that these are prompts that naturally occur in the way children spend their free time–whether they are working on their own or interacting with their friends and family. It is important for children to receive information, whether it is from school, a walk around the museum, or a family trip to Yosemite. However, it is equally important for them to have time to digest all the information and interpret it internally or with their peers. This is when their curiosity peers through and new discoveries are made.

Home

Home is a safe space for children where they can rest, eat, play, and rejuvenate. Enjoy this time at home where you’re not rushing off to the next activity. Our children need this time to remain balanced. Find days when you don’t ever leave the house, stay in your pajamas all day, or have a movie marathon. Time when everyone is just reading for fun, or engaged in a board game with the whole family. This time is important for family units to connect in a fun, relaxed way.

It is equally important to have unstructured time at home and is a necessity for developing healthy kids. It fosters independence and responsibility. They need this time to be creative, to play, to go outside and explore. This is when they discover their passions. We have to give our kids the opportunity to just be children. We have to teach them balance by modeling balance. You can model hobbies by also spending time doing things you are passionate about. Now is the time to bake, woodwork, sew, or pursue something that will allow you to model for your child happiness and balance at home. Don’t be afraid to let your children be bored. They are smart, and they will realize the value of unstructured time.

School

Keeping a balance at school is just as important. School needs to be a place where kids develop a love for learning. It should be a joyous place where they can feel connected and part of a community. Yes, it is important to get through the curriculum so students are learning the academics and social emotional learning necessary for development. It is also extremely important for students to have unstructured time at school, time for choice, time for play, time for brain breaks, and time for passion projects. These things keep kids motivated and will create space for discovery, inspire creativity, and connection among peers.

We have to be aware that kids are at school 7 or 8 hours a day. Some even longer if they have working parents who drop them off early or need to send them to after school care. We need to be aware of how our students are feeling day to day and we need to create the balance they need to be successful and productive.

Students are doing school work all day long. It is important to keep homework to a minimum. If you do assign homework, make sure it is relevant and not just busy work. According to the National PTA “homework has the potential to negatively impact family and child interactions, and high quantities of homework not only add to stress, but do not necessarily lead to higher achievement outcomes.” They recommend only 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade and add 10 minutes of homework in each grade after.

Today more than ever, kids are growing up way too fast. We are raising kids who are stressed and depressed. It is our job as parents and teachers to help them create more balance and give them the space to be kids. We might only see our children or students for part of the day, but we need to make sure we are accounting for the entire day. Let’s all slow down, live in the moment, and stop rushing our kids through their childhood.