Article by Ali McDowall leading mental health campaigner and co-founder of www.thepositiveplanners.com
It’s an important life skill to be self aware. As adults we are only just learning that this is the foundation for our wellbeing.
When we practice self care we are noticing that we need something for either our mind, body or our soul. For children this can be translated as simply ‘taking care of ourselves’. Of course we learn as we grow up, when we are thirsty we need to get a drink, when we are tired we need to sleep, when we are angry we need to calm down, and this helps us manage ourselves and stay mentally and physically healthy. When we tap in to our minds and our bodies we are taking the first step to ‘noticing’ what we might need.
To raise emotionally intelligent children we do need to start integrating this earlier on. For example if we are feeling worried or anxious what might help us calm down and process some of those feelings? For a child stimulating their mind with something creative like Lego could help, or even drawing some of those emotions onto paper. Self care can sometimes be portrayed as ‘pampering activities’ but anyone who has used self care to aid mental health knows that there are many more layers to this. It is our jobs to dispel these myths and teach the importance of these little ‘acts of kindness’ to help achieve that sense of wellbeing and content.
Taking care of ourselves is a great way to start the the journey to self love as well, and as we all know creating a stable relationship with ourselves can be a complex and often winding road that many of us don’t begin until we are in adulthood. If we can start this journey of loving ourselves enough to find tools to help ourselves from a younger age the chances are we will have a more positive relationship with our mental and physical health later on down the line.
One way to talk to your child about self care (or taking care of ourselves) is to ask them what their future self would be thankful for. Would your future self like it if you didn’t wash for a month? Or do you imagine it might be quite unpleasant?! What would you smell like? Children think most things that is not playing is boring, so using this visualisations can help them understand WHY we need to take good care of ourselves. Using the future as a way to engage their imagination to create alternative realities you can help them see the value of self care and understand the consequences of not taking proper care of themselves!
Another way of helping them understand why we make these conscious decisions to keep healthy is by rolling the notion of ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ wellness into the same conversation from a young age. Of course we know now that one can’t really exist without the other and they are very much interlinked. Health is Health and we need to make that very clear right from the beginning. Being happy and healthy is something that is on the outside AND the inside.
So how can we instil these very adult concepts in to a child’s mind and introduce them to a routine? The very best way to do anything with children is to model it. If you show them how you look after yourself, they will watch and learn in the best way. Explain to them (even if it seems obvious) why you are doing and act of self care. For example, if for you being quiet with a book and reading helps you relax, invite them to join you and tell them why this is self care for your mind. Tell them the positive benefits like calming your heart rate down, regulating your breathing and the physical act of resting your body. Children nowadays are familiar with mindfulness in schools, so try and work it in to your home life too. As their positive belief system around taking care of themselves grows, you will start to see them doing it for themselves too. They will begin to find their own coping mechanisms like breathing techniques when they are feeling panicked, or using affirmations to help boost them up for example.
At the Positive Planner we have formulated a way for adults to find a better balance of life through writing, mood tracking and planning self care. So we wanted to do the same for children as well. We created a journal called The Positive Doodle Diary which empowers children with confidence though the act of creativity. It builds resilient mindsets, provides a screen free space to work through emotions and includes the calming act of colouring to bring a sense of peace. The link between the brain and the hand is a powerful and important one. Anything that goes through muscular memory will be retained much longer that visual or auditory stimulus. Messages we send to our brains though writing and doodling form new pathways and that’s why focusing on the positive and showing yourself acts of kindness really works when boosting morale and a sense of wellbeing.
Our children live in a world that has many stressors, whilst also dealing with the rollercoaster of hormones they experience. So emotional literacy is one of the most important skills we can impart with them. Ultimately by allowing them to find what makes them feel joy, stay calm and be well, we are allowing them to access their own bank of oxytocin and coping mechanisms that will help keep them happy and mentally more stable.
Writing in a journal can help them work out what they might need, and by articulating their emotions they can start to understand themselves more as they grow, build resilience and show themselves compassion. Emotional wellbeing has been shown time and time again to be one of the foundation stones to not just our social relationships, educational attainment and life satisfaction, but even our physical health too.
About the author
Alison McDowall is the co-founder of The Positive Planner.
Head to the site for more information about the brand’s award-winning journals and to read about Alison’s journey.
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