At one point, your kids might have asked, “why is self-care important for mental health?” Childhood often involves challenges in social interactions and academic performance that tend to overwhelm young people. For this reason, parents and educators should encourage kids and teens to embrace self-care routines.
This article explores self-care and its beneficial effects on your kids’ mental health. Discussing with them its significance and promoting self-care activities can set them up for long-term success.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is any activity you do to make sure that your physical, mental, and emotional well-being remains healthy. It entails looking after your own health and giving it the attention it deserves. This can look like prioritizing basic care needs and taking short breaks from demanding tasks.
While kids may think of stress as a negative thing, instilling in them the importance of self care in mental health can help them become more aware of their basic human needs. Starting them young on self-care activities will make them prioritize their welfare over different kinds of stressors.
Types of Self-Care
Self-care can be physical, emotional, social, and mental in nature. Collectively, they make up a holistic health system for your kids. Here are the different self-care categories:
- Physical self-care: This involves looking after your own body’s basic needs to function at its best. It generally addresses nutrition, rest, recreation, personal hygiene, and pain management. This entails eating a balanced diet, taking longer baths, and doing physical exercises.
- Emotional self-care: This involves nurturing your emotional well-being. It typically promotes regulation and coping with negative emotions. It includes mindfulness exercises and journaling.
- Social self-care: This entails caring for your need to establish healthy connections. It helps nurture interactions that are good for your well-being. This includes setting boundaries and building healthy friendships.
- Cognitive self-care: This involves retraining your thinking, learning, decision-making, and problem-solving abilities. Examples of cognitive self-care include playing fun puzzle games.
- Mental self-care: This involves prioritizing your own mental health. Examples include talking about your emotions and doing relaxing art activities.
- Professional self-care: This entails taking intentional actions and practices which promote a healthy work-life balance. For teachers and educators, this means maintaining professional boundaries and stress management. They can be achieved by taking breaks and reflecting on their needs.
The Connection Between Self-Care and Mental Health
Self care and mental health are connected in that that self-care can improve a person’s self-esteem and reduces their likelihood of experiencing anxiety or depression [*].
In contrast, the absence of self-care results in significant changes in their bodies that lead to poor mental health. For instance, a study showed that insufficient sleep time and poor sleep quality are significantly associated with social anxiety and getting depressed [*].
Benefits of Self-Care for Mental Health
Some important benefits of self-care for mental health include reduced stress, a lower risk of illness, increased energy levels, an improved sense of accomplishment, healthy relationships, and resiliency.
Below is a list of self-care benefits:
- Reduced Stress: When kids have enough rest and recreation, they become more adaptable to stress. This results in better mental functioning. As for adults, self-care can also help with preventing burnout.
- Lower Risk of Illness: Self-care contributes to improved immunity, psychological health, and stamina. Kids who are well-rested and eat a balanced meal are less likely to develop physical and mental illnesses [*].
- Increased Energy Levels: By taking breaks, kids can bounce back from stress more quickly. Having energy allows them to participate in activities.
- Improved Sense of Accomplishment: Sometimes, it takes stepping back from the action to appreciate how much you have accomplished. Kids who practice mindfulness are more appreciative of their progress. This can result in improved self-esteem and increased awareness of their potential.
- Healthy Relationships: Kids who make time for self-care are able to interact and respond to others positively. Moreover, they’ll appreciate the importance of having healthy boundaries.
Self-Care Practices for Mental Health
Thankfully, there are plenty of self-care practices that kids can incorporate into their daily routines. We’ll cover some of them below:
Physical Self-Care Activities
Physical self-care activities are routines and practices for regaining energy, vitality, and fitness. While kids can have high energy levels, it does not excuse them from prioritizing their well-being. They need rest and recreation to recover from their stress.
Just as important is helping them observe proper nourishment. Prepare healthy food and make them look appetizing. You can use molded food cutters to make shapes with fruits and vegetables.
Hydration and long baths help refresh the mind through the cool sensation they give. Have kids take a water bottle with them outdoors.
Warm baths may work for some, but you can ask your kid if they find a cold bath more calming.
Another self-care activity is physical exercise. Running and brisk movements help improve cardiovascular health and mental clarity. Schedule morning walks and encourage them to exercise with you by linking the activity to a goal like achieving a realistic number of steps a day.
Emotional Self-Care Activities
Emotional self-care activities involve practices designed to nurture emotional welfare. These can include mindfulness exercises and discussing their emotions. They help kids acknowledge their feelings and reflect on them.
Try mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing and mindful coloring! These activities ground the kids to the present and provide a calming effect that helps them regulate their emotions.
If they prefer to write down their feelings, introduce journalling. Using prompts allows kids to sort their thoughts and express themselves coherently.
Additionally, you can instruct your kids to keep a gratitude journal or do a gratitude walk.
Social Self-Care Activities
Social self-care activities are those practices that help your kids foster healthy connections. To achieve meaningful and fulfilling interactions, you should instill in them habits such as setting boundaries and prioritizing their support system.
Setting boundaries is necessary to help your kids communicate their needs and limits. This is especially true when peer pressure and people who spread negativity are involved.
Moreover, a social media detox could prove useful for kids who already have an online presence. Doing this helps lessen their exposure to negativity on the internet. It also teaches them to prioritize real connections that are good for their well-being.
Cognitive Self-Care Activities
Cognitive self-care activities help your kids reboot and enhance their mental aptitude after being spent on academic demands and other stressors. These activities must be fun so that kids would not think of them as “just another homework.”
Try engaging your kids in board game nights where they can have fun solving riddles or puzzles. Other activities include reading picture books and creating a vision board!
Taking weekends off to go on trips is also an ideal form of cognitive self-care. It can briefly take their mind off academics and allow them to return feeling refreshed.
Barriers to Self-Care
Certain factors may prevent kids and teens from caring for themselves. They can range from a busy schedule to not having good role models to look up to. Let’s explore these barriers below:
- Lack of Prioritization: Schoolwork and a child’s pressure to consistently achieve high grades can lead to a “packed” schedule. This can limit their free time, which could be used for simple self-care practices.
- Screen Time: A lot of teens spend more hours on screens. Whether they’re using social media or playing games, increased screen time can make them more stressed. It can also disrupt their sleep.
- Lack of Good Role Models: Parents and teachers help young people develop good habits by prioritizing self-care themselves. For example, if a parent shows their child that they set aside time to exercise, their child will also likely follow the behavior.
Tips for Overcoming Barriers to Self-Care
A few tips for overcoming barriers to self-care practice include time management, releasing guilt, and aligning self-care with lifestyle. Here's how to do them:
- Time Management: Self-care does not need to be as extravagant as a 3-day vacation. You can help your kids and teens achieve self-care by allotting just a few hours a week to activities that benefit them.
- Releasing Guilt: Young people should not feel bad about putting themselves first. Convince them that they need as much nurturing as others. For instance, your kids may feel guilty about not taking the auditions for a school play due to physical exhaustion. You can tell them that taking care of their health should always come first because failing to do so will compromise their performance.
- Aligning Self-Care with Lifestyle: Self-care can be a natural part of their lives. Playing their favorite sport, for instance, is an opportunity to exercise. Another example is their bedtime ritual, which may include reciting positive affirmations or reflecting on the good things that happened during the day.
The Bottom Line
Like grown-ups, kids are also exposed to stressors that could deplete their energy and affect their mental health. The tips and resources linked on this guide should hopefully help your child or teen develop their own self-care routine.
If you need more guidance, feel free to browse our worksheet collections that similarly promote healthy well-being for your kids!
- American Psychological Association. (2012, January 24). Resilience guide for parents and teachers.
- Yuan W, Chen L, Wu Y, Su B, Liu J, Zhang Y, Chen M, Ma Y, Guo T, Wang X, Ma T, Ma Q, Cui M, Ma J, Dong Y. Sleep time and quality associated with depression and social anxiety among children and adolescents aged 6-18 years, stratified by body composition. J Affect Disord.
- O'Neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S. L., Williams, L. J., Pasco, J. A., Berk, M., & Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), e31–e42.