Self-care refers to intentional activities that are aimed at promoting and maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While the particular experience that best suits an individual may vary greatly, most approaches share a common goal of managing or reducing stress; honoring physical, psychological, and spiritual needs; and/or engaging more fully in valued activities and relationships.
Self-care activities do not need to be expensive, time-consuming, or elaborate, but they do work best when practiced frequently and consistently. At first, it may feel like a chore and require a lot of conscious effort; overtime, self-care becomes a habit, or automatic, like brushing your teeth.
Self-care is not just about treating yourself; in fact, the best self-care activities tend to have a longer-term impact than indulging in a cupcake or buying a new scarf. While these may feel pleasurable in the moment, it tends to be fleeting and it sets the person up to look for the next source of external “happiness” (or pleasure). Instead, by engaging in activities that are aimed at taking care of the self on a deeper level, you support long-term wellbeing by making healthy and meaningful choices that encourage growth, connection, expression, and stability.
Children, just like adults, benefit greatly from consistent and deliberate engagement in self-care activities. Even if they are not currently distressed, developing the habit of prioritizing well-being will help ensure that they have the skills to manage future stressors in healthy and effective ways.
Below are 5 family-friendly ideas to get you started (bonus points for putting your phone in airplane mode during these activities!)
Indulge your body. Give your body the love and attention it deserves! Consider giving each other shoulder or foot rubs, taking 10 minutes after dinner to stretch, practicing deep breathing together, or going for a long walk. Check-in about how your body feels from 1 – 10 before and after the activity to explore the impact and learn about your bodies.
Have fun. Play a board game, read a new book, tackle a difficult puzzle, draw with sidewalk chalk, laugh at a funny movie, or build a couch fort. Allow yourself to be fully present by focusing on the activity and the experience you’re sharing with your child. Use the opportunity to discuss your strategies, thoughts about the characters or storyline, or experience of the activity.
Get outside. Fresh air does wonders for our minds and bodies! Go to the park, play handball together, take a nature walk, or complete homework in the backyard. Take a few moments to lay in the grass and look up at the sky together. Are there patterns in the clouds? How quickly are they moving across the sky? How does this experience make you feel in your body and your mind?
Help others. It feels good to do good! Perform a random act of kindness for someone you do not know (put an extra few dollars on an expired parking meter, volunteer for a valued charity, or choose a few items to donate to those who are less fortunate) or for someone valuable in your lives (call grandma on the way to school to say “I love you,” send a hand-written thank you card to someone who has been kind to your family, take the garbage cans in for a neighbor who is under the weather).
Deepen connections. Brainstorm every day activities that encourage bonding such as taking turns listing 3 things you’re each grateful for in the car on the way to school in the morning or discussing the highlights and challenges of the day during dinner each night (“pits and peaks” or “highs, lows, & buffaloes” are fun family-friendly terms). It could also be a game night on Friday evenings, family hikes on Saturday mornings, or cooking together on Sunday evenings – what matters is that it’s consistent and involves quality-time together! (See last week’s blog on intimacy for more ways to connect!).
Time is a very limited and precious resource. You don’t waste money on things you don’t want or that you don’t find valuable. Why do that with time? Performing self-care activities with your children is an excellent way to maximize your time, take care of your needs, and model healthy lifestyle choices for your children. It’s good for you and it’s good for your kids. What do you have to lose?