“Self-care” may seem like a distinctly adult activity — after all, it’s your job to take care of your kids, and one of the reasons you take care of yourself is to be able to better take care of them!
But children need to learn about self-care early so it comes naturally to them as they grow up and especially once they’re on their own. After basics like brushing teeth, tidying rooms and helping out with meals, you can gradually introduce less concrete, but equally important, concepts like understanding their own emotions and dealing with stressful moments.
Modeling for them how it’s done and including them in your efforts when possible is one of the most effective teaching tools you have. Here is a rough guide to age-appropriate times and ways to introduce self-care actions to your kids.
Toddler through preschool age
Most of the milestones through this period will be pretty obvious from picking up their first bottle or spoon to brushing teeth, getting dressed and taking ownership of simple chores. This is also a good age to establish the importance of “quiet time” spent relaxing with family without distractions. This can include reading to each other or singing together, praying or meditating together, or anything that promotes mindfulness.
Elementary school age
You can start encouraging kids to finish tasks on their own when they can, even as they ask for help, to bolster their self-sufficiency and feelings of competence. They can also learn about managing emotions with comforting toys, objects or routines that help them calm down from anger or fear. Make sure time is set aside for enjoyable physical activity, preferably outside, to establish it in their minds as an important part of their day.
Middle and high schoolers
It’s time to introduce self-compassion techniques that can help them cope with stress after making a mistake or simply reacting to something in a less-than-helpful way. As their screen time inevitably grows as they get further into school and a tech-centered society, hands-on activities like fitness and art become even more important, along with meditation and other opportunities for mindfulness.