When you hear the words “self care,” you may think of spa days and sitting on the porch with a good book—adult relaxation time. But the essence of self care isn’t an indulgence. It’s about learning where our boundaries are, how to find our center, and implementing healthy habits that fulfill our needs.
This might sound easier said than done, but on many levels, we’re born with the ability to notice what our feelings and sensations are telling us we need. Yet, as we grow up, we learn habits that can cause us to put other priorities in front of our needs. For kids, the parent or caretaker is thus a crucial figure for modeling what healthy self care habits look like in both theory and practice—and why we should continue to give self care the attention it deserves throughout our lives.
Learning what it means to care for ourselves in our daily life routines is an important part of feeling fulfilled. It’s also crucial for lowering our stress levels so we can handle challenging circumstances as they arise. Below, we touch on several self care activities for kids to encourage self-kindness at a young age.
#1 Help Them Find Agency in Their Physical Well-Being
Have you ever stressed out about something late at night, only to wake from a good night’s rest to find the strong emotion has settled and the problem feels less daunting?
That’s the power of meeting our physical needs. Cleaning ourselves, getting enough sleep, and eating nourishing foods are foundational factors to every other aspect of well-being, from the mental to the emotional. But even these can begin to feel routine when we repeat them every day. You can encourage your child to see the value in caring for themselves by taking steps to make these everyday activities feel special.
For children, this might look like:
- Pouring themselves a cozy drink or making a wholesome snack
- Choosing special toys to play with at bath time and adding bubbles and bath bombs
- Singing a song together while caring for their hair, twisting their locks, or laying their edges
When you help children learn to enjoy taking care of their body in small, age-appropriate ways, you’re teaching them an important part of self care. It may take some patience on your part at first, but nurturing their growing independence will eventually help take some caretaking tasks off your plate. Creating a morning routine for kids is a great way to start implementing these healthy habits.
#2 Set Aside Screen-Free Times to Connect
Movies and digital games can be a fun part of growing up—and a lifesaver for busy caregivers. But research suggests that too much screen time can have an effect on a child’s development, impacting their ability to read people’s faces, develop social skills, and ultimately form empathy for others. Instead, kids need face-to-face time to form these vital skills.
Try helping your child develop healthy screen habits by scheduling screen-free social time. Whether it’s reading a book as a family, meeting a friend at the park, or coloring with you at the kitchen table, screen-free social time can be a powerful way to support your child’s mental health.
#3 Discover New Ways to Move Together
For human beings, movement offers many opportunities for self care. It’s a way we can have fun, bond with other people, take a break from daily stressors, and get our heart rates pumping.
Here are some of our favorite ways to incorporate movement into your child’s weekly routine:
- Take a dance break – Dancing to your favorite song can help you tune into joy and your body, whether you’re four or forty. You can capture a moment of joy together by having a dance break any time your kid needs to recenter or move their body. Or, maybe you dance in the kitchen every Saturday morning while you’re making pancakes to celebrate the start of the weekend.
- Play outside – There is a wealth of engaging and age-appropriate activities for you and your child to explore outdoors. You can play catch in the yard, go to the park, or go on a hike as a family. Or, you could take a lap around the block together, encouraging your child to point out things they find interesting. Enjoying fresh air and sunlight can help improve you and your child’s mental health.
- Join a team or take a class – If you have an older child who’s curious about a sport, dance style, or other organized physical activity, consider helping them pursue this self care activity. For example, if they’re interested in soccer, encourage them to join their school’s soccer team or try a pickup game with classmates. Learning and practicing a new skill can help build your child’s self-confidence and sense of resilience.
Whether your child as family member is very active or likes to relax at home, finding ways to move together is a wonderful way to show kids that even small amounts of self care activity can help us feel better.
#4 Encourage Them to Explore Their Creativity
Making art can help children explore and recharge their creative batteries. Taking time to be creative can also be an excellent way for kids to express themselves, tune in to their feelings, and care for their emotional needs.
Depending on your child’s age and interests, they could practice creativity and expression by:
- Drawing, coloring, or painting
- Engaging their imagination with pretend play
- Making music by singing or playing musical instruments
- Creating a play with their sibling or you, and performing it for the rest of the family
Encouraging your child’s creativity can help them explore big feelings, new ideas, and their own imaginations in positive and healthy ways.
#5 Create Regular Times to Spend with Loved Ones
As we grow up, it’s easy for our lives to become busy and chaotic. But creating a self care routine that includes quality family time can help you take care of yourself and your child’s wellbeing. It also shows them how to continue making time for their loved ones as they grow up and foster an environment for family bonding.
You could try:
- Making routine activities fun – There are tons of small, easy ways to spice up ordinary family life. You might try adding toys or bubbles to bath time; you can sing a special song when it’s time for you and your child to clean up their toys. If you normally pick up coffee on the way to drop off your child at school, try going early every now and then so that you two can have a coffee/hot chocolate date.
- Eating meals together – Try to pick a time every day to eat together as a family, with as few distractions as possible. It’s a wonderful way to model taking care of your body, your emotional health, and your relationships.
- Reading together before bed – Try incorporating reading and cuddling time into your bedtime routine. Not only can quality time nurture your connection, but it can help foster a love of reading. Learn more about establishing a bedtime routine for toddlers.
#6 Experiment with Calm-Down Techniques
Have you ever had a stressful morning and then had trouble calming down, even after the upsetting event passed? Many adults have things they do to help themselves decompress, whether that’s texting a friend or stepping away to find a quiet, private space. When it comes to your little ones at home, creating and practicing calming strategies for kids is a great pillar of healthy self care.
You can help your child learn how to digest and move on from an anxious experience by helping them find the techniques that encourage them to recenter when they feel stressed. They may even find ideas you can both use together, like:
- Creating a quiet area in your home with some favorite emotional growth books, blankets, or Snugglers. This can be your child’s place to retreat whenever they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated.
- Gently stretching can help you and your child wind down before bed. Try holding each stretch for 20 seconds, focusing on breathing, and letting your muscles relax. This technique is known as progressive muscle relaxation, and can help kids and adults relax their bodies and minds. Want some help practicing it? Sloth’s book, Sloth Starts to Slumber, can help you incorporate this technique into your bedtime routine.
- Deep breathing exercises, even something as simple as taking a deep inhale and letting it go with a big woosh. You can help your child practice this by giving them cues, like saying, “Imagine you’re taking a nice, big sniff of some delicious-smelling food. Now, let out your breath with a big, big sigh.”
Finally, simply learning to ask for help can be a brave act of self care and is even an essential part of self care for parents. Try checking in with your child by saying, “You seem sad. Would you like to talk about it?” Sometimes, the best way to calm down is to connect with someone who cares about us.
#7 Learn to Recognize and Hold Space for Emotions
Part of healthy self care involves learning how to feel our emotions in a healthy way. Listening to and learning to express our emotions up can help us to:
- Connect authentically with other people by expressing our feelings and empathizing with those around us
- Realize if there’s an area of our life we want to change
- Communicate our needs and boundaries to others in our life
Here are some simple, accessible ways to help your child build emotional fluency and resilience:
- Model how to express feelings – Expressing your own emotions can help your child learn to recognize theirs. Identifying both positive and challenging or uncomfortable emotions can also create connections between the feeling and action that helps transform it.
For example, you might say “This song makes me so happy. Let’s dance to it!” Or you might say, “I’m feeling angry right now, so I’m going to take some deep breaths to calm down.” Either way, these are great ways to identify the emotional strengths of a child.
- Name and narrate your child’s emotions – Young children don’t always have the words to express what’s happening inside. You can help them learn how to identify and respond to their emotions by naming and narrating.
For example, you might say, “I know you want to watch TV right now. You’re feeling disappointed about that. Let me know if you need a hug to help with those disappointed feelings.”
- Explore the Slumberkins library – Slumberkins’ books on connection and books on self acceptance, among others, can help you manage parental stress and assist your child in learning more about emotional self care practices like stress relief, creativity, and so much more.
Help Your Child Practice Self Care With Slumberkins
Carving out a useful, meaningful self care “tool kit” is a personal, lifelong journey that parents can still struggle with. When caregivers support children’s learning to identify their needs, they help lay the groundwork for taking care of them even when big feelings or tough situations come along.
Slumberkins’ books and cuddly creatures were created to help children build that same resilience. Founded by a special education teacher and a family therapist, it’s our mission to empower children from all walks of life to be caring, empathic, and confident.
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Nelson, Carlota. “Babies Need Humans, Not Screens.” Www.unicef.org, www.unicef.org/parenting/child-development/babies-screen-time.
Network, Community Access. “How to Teach Your Children about Self Care.” Community Access Network, 20 May 2019, www.communityaccessnetwork.org/how-to-teach-your-children-about-self-care/.
“Box Breathing Benefits and Techniques.” Cleveland Clinic, 17 Aug. 2021, health.clevelandclinic.org/box-breathing-benefits/.