A way to talk to kids about self-care
Self-care is one of those essential life skills that young people need to acquire in order to thrive as adults. I found that one effective (and creative) way to get children to start thinking about self-care is to imagine that they have their very own pet human. As loving and responsible pet owners, we want to give our pet human everything it needs to grow and have a happy, healthy life.
Like with any pet, you need to know how to feed your pet human. But humans can be tricky to feed! Some like to eat a nice big meal a few times a day, but some are happier eating just a little bit whenever they feel hungry. Some humans like to eat a very simple, basic diet while other humans love to try new tastes and textures! Along with food, your pet human will also need plenty of good, clean water, especially if it is being active or it’s hot outside.
All pet humans need sleep to rest and recharge their bodies and minds. When your pet human is still very little, it will probably need to sleep most of the day! Humans are not nocturnal, so they will sleep when it is dark and be wakeful during the day. If your pet human is sick, it will need to sleep more. If you notice that your pet human’s sleep routine is not normal (either too much sleeping or not enough sleeping), there might be something that you need to adjust in their life.
Pet humans need space to do a variety of activities, like eating, sleeping, grooming, and play! Pet humans like to sleep in dark places with plenty of comfy bedding. Humans also are very easily distracted and love to play, so it’s best to keep toys and other exciting things away from their sleeping area or you might find that your pet human isn’t getting enough sleep (especially those shiny toys with lots of buttons…) Humans will also need an area to groom their fur and other parts of their body, along with tools to help with this. Humans are not solitary animals, so you need to find places for your pet human to socialize and play with other humans. Your pet human also may need time alone to relax, so try to provide it with a safe, quiet place where it can go when it needs a break. Humans tend to be happiest when they get plenty of time outside and when their habitat is clean and beautiful.
Your pet human needs to be groomed every day! This includes brushing its hair, cleaning its teeth, washing its hands and face, and providing it with fresh, clean clothing. Some humans love to sit in large containers of hot water even when they’re not dirty because it makes their body feel calm and good. When your pet human reaches maturity, it will need to have even more grooming time and materials to look and feel its best!
Your human needs lots of fun, stimulating activities to be happy. Humans need to flex their bodies and their brains, so make sure that they have a chance to move. If your human doesn’t have enough stimulation, they can become bored, sad, or may even act out! Humans are truly exceptional creatures with astounding mental abilities. When your pet human is thriving, it will be curious.
The best pet owners are the ones that give their pets love, respect, and patience. With love, we remember to provide them with what they need to feel good, safe, and valued. With respect, we remember that sometimes we also need to tell them “no” so they don’t develop bad habits or hurt themselves. With patience, we allow them to make mistakes.
Ideas to encourage self-care
- Observe a pet (or watch a video of an animal). What are some of the things it does every day? Ask children why they think the animal does each activity.
- Encourage your child to participate in helping care for an animal (feeding, watering, grooming, etc).
- Narrate when you are caring for yourself. For example, “I am going to go brush my teeth now. I am taking care of my body.” or “My body is telling me that I’m tired. I am going to get ready for sleep.”
- Help your child practice basic grooming skills, such as brushing teeth, combing hair, and changing clothes. As they become better at these skills, encourage independence by keeping their items at their level.
- Adopt a tone of loving kindness when talking about self-care. For example, “My body feels good when I eat healthy food” or “It feels so nice to put on clean clothes.”
- Invite your children to take an active role in the kitchen. This will not only help them develop the skills they need to feed themselves as adults but can also encourage children to have a greater appreciation for food. You may also find that picky eaters are more adventurous when they are involved in the cooking process!
- Create traditions as a family that encourage health and wellbeing, such as taking a walk after dinner, “tucking in” electronics in the evening, or being involved in the community.
- Give your child autonomy in selecting their clothes and hairstyle. Choice leads to ownership, and ownership leads to responsibility.
- Be protective of your child’s need for rest and relaxation. Avoid the urge to overschedule. Make peace with downtime and not doing anything all.
- Encourage self-awareness and self-advocacy through non-judgemental observation. If your kid is having a terrible attitude, say, “Hey, I notice that you seem kind of irritated right now. Can you figure out what might help you feel better?” …and then stop there.
- Have your teen be responsible for planning a meal for the family once a week. This should involve grocery shopping (or adding ingredients to the family grocery list). Once they’ve gotten the hang of this, increase the difficulty by giving them restrictions to work around (such as a budget, dietary considerations, or a time frame).
- Show your teen how to wash their own clothes, change their sheets, and clean their room. As they master these skills, you can reward them by giving them more freedom in purchasing their clothes or decorating their room since they are responsible for these things.
- Help your teen practice healthy coping strategies for dealing with stress. Be honest about the availability and popularity of unhealthy coping strategies. Share how these substances or activities become habits and then are increasingly hard to stop, as well as the negative effects these things have on a person’s body and mind.
- Talk openly and proactively about mental health, physical health, and sexual health. If you are uncomfortable with your abilities to lead these conversations, ask for help from a family friend, a favorite aunt/uncle, or a professional. Make sure your teen has access to accurate information and a safe place to ask questions.
- Remember that actions speak louder than words. Teens are much more likely to follow our examples than our explanations. If there is an aspect of self-care that you’d like to improve, enlist your teen as your sponsor, or up the ante by making a bet. Nothing can motivate a teen like the opportunity to beat their parent in a friendly competition!