A mindful self-care practice is key to maintaining mental, emotional, and physical health, but children will need guidance and an example to follow when it comes to learning how to create and maintain their own.
Children as young as toddlers can be taught simple self-care practices that will benefit them for their whole lives. Here are a few simple ways you can establish a healthy morning self-care routine with your kids.
1. Make sure you set a good example of self-care
The first step in helping your children practice healthy self-care is to model this behavior for your child and then to talk about it with them.
Exercise in the morning. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout. Light yoga, a walk around the block, or a short jog, are all good practices. When you do, tell your child what you’re doing: I’m doing yoga because it helps my body stay healthy and it makes me feel good! Talk to your child about what you’re doing and why, and if they’re interested invite them to join you on your morning walk or in your yoga practice.
Make sure you get a good night’s sleep too. It’s so easy to push ourselves for the sake of accomplishment, but good mental and physical health should be considered an accomplishment as well, and getting good sleep is a big part of that. When tasks are done for the day, go to bed.
Make it safe for your child to talk about their emotions. Talking through your emotions and your child’s emotions is an important part of self-care. If your child has had a hard day at school, talk about it. Ask questions like, Why was today hard? What are ways we can deal with these emotions in a healthy way?
Help your children find productive ways of exploring and expressing emotions like anger, sadness, or frustration. Some children will find art and creative activities cathartic, other will need a physical release like play or exercise, and others will do best with verbalizing those feelings.
And if your kids want to participate in your self-care with you – let them! Activities like yoga, creative exploration, and play are wonderful, stress-relieving bonding activities. But make sure you take your time. Adults can work, move, and process more quickly than children, so go at a healthy pace for them.
2. Set a morning routine for your children
A simple morning will help your child get in the habit of self-care, and research has also shown that routine can mitigate stress in children as well.
Instilling morning self-care practices can be as easy as I do, we do, you do. Toddlers will need more assistance, of course, so you may be in the “we do” stage until they are more autonomous.
Prepare breakfast with your child (even if it’s as simple as yogurt and fruit) and for school-aged children, pack a healthy lunch. To begin the day on a positive note, discuss what you’re looking forward to about that day or week.
3. Spend time together in the morning
Spending time with your children is key to building the child-parent bond, and can even be stress-relieving for parents (provided you allow yourself enough time and keep the routine simple). Children will need self-care behavior modeled for them, so establishing and practicing this routine is best done together until they are more independent.
Doing fun things as a family is not only a great way to bond, there is research that suggests that laughter can lower stress levels. While time in the morning may be short, you can make the day more fun by playing music, being creative when making breakfast and lunches, talking about fun things the day will hold.
And for children who will stay at home during the day, simple, quiet, autonomous play can be a great positive note for the beginning of the day.
4. Encourage healthy autonomy
Encouraging older children to exercise healthy autonomy is a great way to help them maintain solid self-care practices over the long run. Autonomy is a good and natural part of a childhood growth, and can be encouraged by allowing your kids to experiment with choice.
You might say to a very young child, What would you like to wear today? It will rain, so we have to make sure we dress for the weather. You might also ask them What would you like to pack for lunch today? And offer them a few healthy choices.
By giving them positive options to choose from, you will teach your children to incorporate valuable and long-lasting self-care practices.
Matilda Davies lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes about health and wellness. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, hiking, and walking her dogs.