This has been on my mind this week- the idea of self-care for younger kids. Typically, when we think of the word "self-care," we think of adults who may need help managing the chaos in their life. I'd say that this is an accurate definition; self-care is often most applicable to the grown-ups of the world. However, kids can benefit from some self-care as well. Sure, kids can and should look to adults to provide peace and comfort, but I don' t think that means they can't also learn ways to self-regulate and help themselves feel better.
Kids can have hectic lives too. I think we sometimes forget that. From an adult lens, childhood can look so simple and structured. But if we think back to what it was like to be a kid, we start to remember that all of the so-called small problems felt like big huge monster problems. People's perception is their reality, and that extends to children too.
Practicing self-care helps children build emotional regulation skills from an early age. Here are a few ways that we can start to help our kids learn about healthy, age-appropriate self-care practices.
Journaling is a powerful self-care activity for kids. Not only is it a great way to express their feelings, but it also gives them a double dose of writing practice. Practicing the same skills that they are learning in school can be helpful in their academic growth. My experience working in schools has taught me the value of integration when it comes to counseling, wellness, and academic education. Anytime you can get kids to read and write outside of school is going to improve their educational experience.
Kids can use journals in so many different ways. Just like an adult self-care journal, it can be used for daily reflection, goal setting, writing down ideas and dreams, drawing, doodling, or simply just venting. Oh, and don't forget about decorating the cover- these journals have self-care written all over them.
There's a reason that children are required to have recess and physical education at school. Kids need unstructured time to wind down and casually socialize with their peers. It's necessary for proper brain development and fosters a healthy brain climate. We all need to do a better job remembering that our brain is a part of our body. It has needs too.
Okay, so this is my soapbox. I don't know if it's like this everywhere, but where I live kindergartners don't get nap time. I find this crazy. I operate on a siesta mindset, so I think nap time, or at least a time for rest, should be universal for all ages. However, there's no question that kids need rest. Not only is it vital for physical and developmental growth, but resting also helps us to manage stress better.
Having kids begin to identify when they need a break to rest and self-initiate the process is a considerable step in emotional development. One of the most common behavioral goals for students is to help them learn to know when they need a break and appropriately ask for it. If we teach our kids to practice awareness of their mental and physical needs, they will be better prepared to grow and handle natural challenges.
"I'm taking care of myself right now."
The key to making all of these things self-care is to help kids identify it as self-care. In my practice with adults, I have found myself repeatedly reminding my clients to make sure that they recognize the self-care that they are already doing. We often take these things for granted, and it can help to start rewiring our brains to notice the self-care nature of our day to day tasks and activities. The trick is being mindful and proclaiming aloud any bit of self-care that we experience. The earlier in life that we can instill this way of thinking, the better; it's much easier to wire than to rewire.
Amanda Smith is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on identifying and capitalizing on existing inner strengths and using them to help formulate a personalized plan for wellness. Amanda is a school social worker who primarily works with teens and adult who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and general life concerns. You can find out more about her in her bio .
What's "NO" got to do with it?
Boundaries. Such a small word for such a large task. I often wonder why there wasn’t a class in school or
a manual handed out? In a world that urges us to say “yes”, “no” has become a four-letter word. When
did boundaries become passe’ instead of necessary?
Boundaries teach people how they are allowed to treat us and how they are not. They are about
protecting our space, energy and person. Sometimes they are hard to set. Have you ever said yes to a favor and
then think later, “Why did I do that?” Enter that gut feeling, that lets you know your boundaries were
So, here is a tip: when someone asks you for something next time, instead of immediately
saying yes, allow yourself time to think about what you want and what works for you. Tell them, “I’ll
think about it and let you know if that’s feasible.” Don’t allow the pressure of an immediate answer to
coerce you into to giving more than you are able. I often hear people say, “But, it’s mean!" Here is another way to look at it - when you say no, it also gives the other people in your life permission to say no too. Saying “no” can make “yes” more meaningful.
So, here is the manual we never got in the hopes that boundaries become easier to navigate.
Step 1: Know what your boundaries are and listen to your gut. Take some time to figure out how you want other people to speak to you, interact with you emotionally and even touch you. Think about how much time you have
available to give to others and how much energy you need for yourself. Pay attention to what your body
is telling you. If your gut says no, listen to it.
Step 2: Communicate your boundaries. Try to educate the people in your life about what actually works
for you. This can save you from awkward conversation later because, essentially, they already know
what you are going to say.
Step 3: Give yourself permission. Sometimes people need to be reminded of our boundaries but this
shouldn’t happen more than once. If it does, there is manipulation at play. A person that respects your
boundaries is not going to ask why you have them. And you don’t need to explain. Read that again.
Boundaries need no explanation. If you find yourself justifying why you have said “no”, stop. And “no”
doesn’t require an apology either. Save the apologies for when you have actually done something
Step 4: Enforce them. This is the hard part. If you have set a boundary, you have drawn an invisible line
in the sand and people need to know what happens if they cross it and you have to follow through. This
is a good time to let your behaviors speak for you. End conversations that are unhealthy. Walk away
from toxic situations. Put your energy into the things and the people that respect your limits.
And remember, boundaries, are the best form of self-care available to us. They are a proactive way to
prevent later crisis or misunderstandings. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships and don’t
let anyone tell you otherwise.
Shanna Dickens is licensed clinical social worker in Wilmington, NC. Shanna has been a therapist for over 12 years specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults who experience trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and secondary trauma in helping professionals.
The Therapist Blog
Musings from the other side of the couch