When it comes to self-care, the majority of the conversation centers around adults. Justifiably so as 2,000 American adults recently polled by OnePoll on behalf of Sensodyne stated that they only feel relaxed for approximately 40 minutes per day, with 47% claiming they get even fewer minutes of peace than that. Many American adults are continuing to struggle with finding the all elusive balance of responsibilities and self-care. So, what about American youth? It’s important to ask how this adult struggle might influence self-care for children and teens.
Our nation’s continued lack of self-care is an understandable, albeit unfortunate, reality. When you’re being pulled in a million directions daily, it can feel like a selfish luxury to take a breather. However, consider for a moment who might be watching. Children and teens (yes, even teens) observe us far more often than we think. We often teach, preach, and (hopefully) model the essential lessons of life for our children, such as performing well at school, taking care of chores, eating vegetables, and brushing teeth. These are all forms of self-care for our children and ourselves. But what about other types of self-care, and how can they benefit our young people? For the sake of simplicity, throughout the remainder of this article, children and teens will be collectively referred to as “youth” or “young people.”
Why Self-Care is Important for Young People
When you think about self-care, what comes to mind? Often thoughts of bubble baths and candles, but at its root, self-care is simply the regular act of taking the time to recognize your needs and meet them consistently. Therefore, the earlier young people learn self-care, the better off they will be in all aspects of life.
Adults know that to take better care of others and responsibilities, you must prioritize yourself first. Young people do not often have the same obligations as adults, but learning ways to destress, relax, and prioritize themselves is just as important. In addition, stress and anxiety caused by school, peers, family, etc., need healthy, proactive outlets.
Caregivers Role in Youth Self-Care and Six Ways to Add More in Their Life
Self-care looks different for young people compared to adults, but the goal remains the same: learn your needs and how you can meet them. This lesson is learnable by allowing youth to explore different types of healthy activities that bring them peace, joy, or happiness. Your role as caregiver is to place beneficial fences, or boundaries, around things like screen time, junk food, proper hydration, sleep schedule, relationships, and hygiene. In addition, youth need ample time to explore their needs and ways to meet them. Sometimes, this might mean allowing them to test these boundaries, like exploring how it makes them feel to stay up too late watching TV!
If you and the young people in your life need some self-care inspiration, here are six ideas that everyone can start with:
Spend time outside: Nature can profoundly affect our minds and bodies, so send young people outside when possible and consider spending some time out there yourself!
Start a regular writing practice: A journal, or diary, is a safe place to write out the emotions and complex feelings that young people inevitably experience. Writing can also be a perfect time to teach the importance of gratitude journaling or mindfulness.
Creative exploration: Young people typically engage in performance-based art activities at school. This emphasis on grades often masks the real purpose of art: A powerful way to explore emotions and individual expression. Helping young people learn different ways to use art to express themselves can be liberating for them.
Exercise: Young people should get at least 60-minutes of nonconsecutive physical activity every day, but any amount of activity is better than none. Activities can be as simple as completing house chores, walking, having a dance party, engaging in an exercise class; the list can go on and on! The point is to help young people find physical activities that they enjoy.
Limit screen time: We know as adults that screens can be intoxicating. They lure you in, and before you know it, hours have passed, and you feel brain zonked. Too much time in front of screens can also increase feelings of anxiety, isolation, and depression. Young people are no exception. They must learn the benefits of digital detoxing. As caregivers, we can place boundaries that encourage the time and space to detox and model the behavior.
Let young people find their unique healthy stress reliever: All of the ideas listed above are helpful ways to introduce daily self-care into the life of young people; however, this depends on age and personal preference. Your young person may find the most self-care benefits from taking time to play quietly by themselves with blocks, sitting in silence, practicing yoga/meditation, reading, or even gardening.
As with most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all regarding self-care. As caregivers, we need to be aware of how we project our preferences and attitudes regarding self-care onto the young people in our lives. We also must be mindful of the observations young people might be making and what they are learning from us. If we consider our struggles with self-care, we must consider our young people’s struggles and how we can do better for them and ourselves.