There’s overwhelming information in the media and parenting communities about the importance of self-care for adults. Most adults will attest that they understand WHY self-care is essential as parents. Still, many struggle to actively make it a priority, let alone have the time to consider ways to incorporate it into their children's lives. Healthy self-care is essential for your kids’ growth, but have you ever stopped to think about why it’s important and how to ensure them a great start towards looking after themselves in positive ways?
why you’ve got to love yourself from the inside out (and how it benefits your fam)
Parenting from the inside out (from the work of Daniel J Siegel M.D. and early childhood educator Mary Hartzell) says self-care starts from within. If you want to be an effective parent, you've got to do the self-work and develop self-awareness of who you are before employing the same to children. The theory focuses on brain care and delivers an informed understanding of the nervous system, its responsibility for human behaviour, and how we respond to certain situations and perceived threats.
Made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, the nervous system takes information through our senses, processes that information, and sends messages to the brain. Then it triggers a physical or emotional reaction. When our brains are overloaded with the information absorbed from the senses, this can lead to sensory overload and a state of distress.
Self-care really centres around supporting our brains and bodies from reaching sensory overload. And children reach this state more quickly than adults due to their underdeveloped brains and limited ability to control emotions. So, it makes sense that as parents, we need A LOT of empathy, patience, and kindness for our kids when they display BIG emotions and stress responses – A.K.A challenging behaviours.
so, how do we teach self-care to our kids?
Calm and connected parenting stems from a state of being rather than doing. We can introduce self-care into everyday interactions, movements, responses, and mindsets and bring our gorgeous kids along for the ride. It is a way of life, and developing rituals that become part of our everyday routine and embracing them as part of how we live can enhance our lives in this amazing world.
things like …
how we manage stress
Our children absorb information by watching how we manage situations and challenging moments. Children are incredibly visual. They gain knowledge from our very adult world through the sights and observations of people. They soak in our body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and responses. Families that adopt a growth mindset teach their children that mistakes are integral to learning and development as human beings. Each time we endure and overcome difficulties, we learn something new and incredible about ourselves.
what we put into our bodies
What we feed our brains directly impacts mood stability; we should be keeping blood sugar levels stable and committing to love ourselves by consuming foods that we know nourish us. Obviously, as the adults in the family, this is directly our responsibility for many years. Still, as our children develop impulse control and understand more complex language, we can start to encourage them to make those choices themselves. At around the age of five, children begin to onboard concepts related to making healthy food choices. They start to understand WHY consuming these foods is more beneficial to their brain and body growth and the ability to learn, and not just because their parents tell them that vegetables are good for them.
be a family that expresses emotions
Talking about our emotions and feelings does not come naturally to everyone, primarily if you were not raised in a family that modelled this for you. However, children are sensitive little humans, and all their behaviours come from their emotions. If we can be adults who openly share how we feel with our children, they can learn to normalise feelings as an essential part of human behaviour. Empathy towards our children when overwhelmed is vital to teaching emotional intelligence. It takes many tantrums, meltdowns, and moving moments for children to learn these skills, and the more we can hold space for them while also setting limits, the more they know to do this independently in age-appropriate ways.
and then name those emotions
As a parent or caregiver, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed some BIG emotions in children. Much of the time, those big emotions leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure how to respond. When we acknowledge how our children feel and label their feelings, something amazing happens in the brain.
Naming feelings is the first step in helping kids to identify them, and research tells us that the simple act of labelling emotions can help us feel calmer and validate a child’s feelings. And when children can name their emotions, they start to understand how to deal with them. Some feelings, like irritability, are connected to hunger or tiredness; if a child recognises this, they can act to make themselves feel better or self-regulate.
As caregivers, we must provide many opportunities to identify feelings in ourselves and others.
Research shows that listening to music can dramatically decrease moods, improve sleep quality, support brain function, enhance memory and reduce anxiety. Incorporating daily music rituals into your family will create a relaxed and upbeat environment that will increase overall mood stability.
So, first thing in the morning, go to music instead of putting the television on. Dance around the kitchen together, make up silly songs, pull faces, and bust some moves. Plenty of kid’s radio stations and playlists with fun music will get you into a rhythm in the mornings. It’ll help your mood stabilise, too, and set the whole family on a path of joy for the day.
Young children find meditation challenging initially as they are still developing the ability to stay focused. Meditating alongside your child is a beautiful way to start forming the habit and increase the duration as they age. Investing in a pair of headphones that plays music is a great idea. Your kids can meditate in their rooms or while eating breakfast. It sets the tone and mood for the day.
breathe with me
Breathing techniques are a powerful emotional regulation tool.
Taking control of your breath helps to interrupt and redirect the flow of your emotions. The increased self-awareness associated with the practice of breathwork also helps to release tension and trauma stored in the body.
Teaching your kids a simple breathing technique such as the 5-5-5 method will give them quick access to a calm state of mind. Do this:
1. Breath in through the nose for the count of five. 1-2-3-4-5
2. Hold your breath for the count of five. 1-2-3-4-5
3. Breath out through the mouth for the count of five. 1-2-3-4-5
4. Then repeat three more times for a total of one minute.
5. Notice how you feel and ask your child to tell you how they’re feeling now.
Simple, easy, accessible!
mindfulness and creative activities
Many families avoid getting crafty with their kids at home due to the mess it creates, but I want to encourage you to give it a go regularly. I recently bought an adult Mandala colouring book and have enjoyed rainy days at home mindfully colouring with my children.
Creativity is also known to boost mood and improve children's social skills and cognitive functioning. There are no hard and fast rules regarding creativity – it’s whatever comes out of our brains. Artistic activities allow children to express themselves in their own unique ways.
spend time in nature
Getting up, moving outside, and being a family that enjoys spending time in nature is a form of self-care. Nature has incredible healing effects on our nervous system and provides the ability to stay regulated. It also evokes our emotions – so many sights, sounds, smells, and information are sent to our brains. Being in nature encourages curiosity and wonder about how marvellous the world is. Exploring rock pools, climbing trees, bushwalks, and time spent near the ocean are all easily incorporated into family life and regularly embraced to maintain good mental health.
Never underestimate the impact of quality sleep on children and their brains. Being a family that talks about how sleep helps our brains grow and develop encourages kids to view sleep as a positive rather than a negative.
Between kindergarten, school, sports, playdates, and all the other extracurricular activities we throw at them (or they become interested in), there’s no doubt that today’s kids lead busy lives. A good night’s sleep helps the brain to sort through emotions and their daily activities and allows the body and senses to reset.
spend time with people who bring you joy
Good friendships and strong family connections are imperative to a healthy life.
Spending time with people raising kids with the same values and expectations as you and who make you feel adequate as parents can help you face parenting challenges. Be open to friendships evolving and growing with your kids and family life.
Many children learn using visual prompts, and picture books are a powerful teaching tool that draws children into the discussion. Storytelling provides grownups with useful sayings and phrases that they can incorporate into everyday language within their families.
But don’t just read a book once and think the message was understood. Kids learn best from repetition, so they need many reminders about the concepts to be entirely concrete and solidified. Our kid’s brains are growing and developing all the time, so approach your child’s behaviour with the understanding that they will get things wrong, but that reading is an incredible opportunity for learning and brain building together.
Parenting is an ever-evolving process wherein we are bound to make many mistakes and get things wrong, but this is an integral part of our personal growth and development. We are giving our kids an incredible gift by teaching them that life is full of ups and downs and a rollercoaster of different emotions.
If you’ve enjoyed these tips and ideas about healthy self-care for kids, you might also like my picture storybook Love Your Brain as a gentle way to help kids learn about the importance of self-care and looking after their brains. I wrote the book specifically for families and educators to use as a tool to draw children into conversations about growth mindset, acceptance, brain care strategies, and age-appropriate self-care rituals. Because, after all, learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all, and it starts from within.
are you teaching your kids to love their brains?
Chrissie Davies is a child behaviour expert, speaker, author, trauma-informed educator, and parent. She’s a mama of two awesome ADHD wildlings and an enthusiastic child advocate. She is on a mission to change how the world views children’s behaviours and encourages grownups to think outside the box when raising kids in the modern world. She has a particular passion for supporting neurodivergent and adoptive families. She authored her book Love Your Brain as a tool for parents and educators to help children better understand their brain and how to love it each day. read more here: www.chaostocalmconsultancy.com