As parents, we try to teach our children everything we possibly can, while we can, to ensure that one day they’ll be equipt to create and maintain fulfilling, meaningful, and authentic adult lives. The morals of our stories are typically pretty standard stuff; good hygiene is a must, safety first, respect your elders, scratch that, respect everyone.
Yet, there’s one fundamental concept so imperative to the quality of our mental health, relationships, and overall well-being that, sometimes, we assume it’s a given in life: self-care.
Yet, caring for oneself is not an innate capacity accessible to human beings at birth. It is like any other set of behaviors exhibited by adults- entirely learned, developed, maintained, and eventually, engrained.
Nearly 1 in 5 children in the US alone have mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders, including anxiety and depression. Approximately 50% of which developed their condition before the age of 14. Equally upsetting, suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people from the ages of 10 to 24 years old.
The Wrong Direction.
Perhaps, the only data more discouraging than these statistics on mental health and children are findings that suggest that these statistics are not decreasing but rather, are increasing over time. Proactively engaging in acts of self-care at a young age can reduce the risk of developing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. The earlier your child learns how to care for themselves (not only physically, but emotionally), the more likely they are to maintain healthy emotional practices throughout their entire lives.
Here are a few concrete ideas to implement self-care practices at a young age that will last a lifetime.
Take baby steps.
Parents often assume their kids are getting enough exercise while playing at recess or after school with their friends, but this is not necessarily always true. And even when children are engaging in ample physical activity for their specific body type, a particular child’s mental state may benefit from the increased endorphin production and social interaction offered by additional exercise.
Health and happiness are holistic.
When it comes to nutrition and self-care, the rewards are twofold. Improving nutrition not only improves overall health but also provides an accessible and affordable opportunity for families to increase the amount of quality time they spend together.
Be of service.
That warm and fuzzy feeling that follows a random act of kindness isn’t exclusive to adults. Studies suggest a strong correlation between well-being and compassion. Volunteering at an age-appropriate venue after school for an hour or two once a week can provide your child with a sense of agency in the world, a valuable perspective, and a sense of gratitude for all that they are fortunate enough to have in life. It is important to remember that this is only true in the case that children are “not overwhelmed by helping tasks,” so be sure to apply this self-care suggestion with your child and their unique circumstances and characteristics in mind.
Consistency is Key.
Setting routines and sticking to them, even seemingly small changes, like consistent wake-up and bedtimes, as well as meal, homework, free play, and chore schedules, can provide children with the structure they need to understand, process, and predict their environment. With all the unknown factors our children face in today’s world, a set schedule provides children with a sense of security, reduced anxiety, and more seamless transitions throughout their day.
Share the Load.
Chores don’t have to be laborious or time-consuming to be effective- in fact, they shouldn’t be. They only need to be consistent. Merely doing the dishes or putting toys away before bedtime can provide children with a sense of accountability that will allow them to take responsibility for their actions throughout their entire lives.
While, in our modern world, carving out time out of our busy schedules to do absolutely nothing can feel counterproductive, the reality is quite the opposite. For example, early bedtimes result in a deeper, more qualitative level of sleep in children, which, in turn, leads to higher levels of concentration the following day.