By Charlie Fletcher
Image Source: Pixabay
When you’re an adult, it can be easy to idealize childhood. After all, there was no mortgage to pay. There were no dinners to cook. There was no job to go today in and day out. There was just school, home, and friends.
That’s the image, at least, but it’s an image too often and too easily clouded by nostalgia. Anyone with a clear-eyed view of childhood knows how tough it can be, especially for kids of today. Growing up in the new millennium takes grit.
Children must face the constant pressures of an increasingly demanding school environment. They have to live in a 24/7 social media world, where the threat of cyber-bullying is ever-present and the demand to construct a perfect online image never ends.
It’s little wonder that our children today are experiencing rising rates of mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. In high-pressure, image-obsessed youth culture, our kids simply don’t know how to practice true self-care. And it’s putting them at lifelong physical and psychological risk.
And that’s where you come in. Because when it comes to learning self-care, kids can have no better teacher than their parents.
What is Self-Care, Really?
One of the first and most important lessons you can teach your child about self-care is that it is not selfishness. In fact, it’s the opposite. Because taking care of yourself is the first and most essential step in taking care of others.
Teach your children to set aside time every day that is just for them, a time when they’re not focusing on schoolwork, household chores, extra-curricular activities, or posting to impress their friends. This time is theirs to do what they want, whether that’s taking a nap, dancing around their bedroom with their favorite tunes blaring from the earbuds, or vegging out on Netflix. This is “unproductive time,” time when the goal is to get nothing done except to rest and recharge.
Sleep on It
Let’s face it, we live in a 24/7 mercilessly on-the-go society. The majority of us live our lives woefully sleep-deprived. And our kids, unfortunately, aren’t immune either.
Studies show that nearly 70% of teenagers get less than the recommended minimum of eight hours of sleep each night. Insufficient or poor-quality sleep isn’t just impacting our kids’ physical health, though. It’s also hurting their mental health, putting them at increased risk of depression, anxiety, and attention and behavioral disorders.
Teaching children and teens good sleep hygiene is essential. This should include establishing a consistent schedule for going to be and getting up each day, including weekends. It should also involve establishing a cutoff time for all electronics, as the blue light emitted by these devices can drastically reduce the brain’s production of melatonin.
Your child should also have a calming bedroom space with comfortable bedding that signals to your child’s brain and body that this is the place for rest, not work or worry. Finally, a consistent pre-bedtime ritual, such as gentle yoga, meditation, or a warm bath, will help them relax and prepare for sleep.
Practice What You Preach
Every parent knows that when it comes to your kid, what matters most isn’t what you say, but what you do. They’re simply never going to find a better role model for self-care than you, so show them how it’s done, and talk about why your own self-care is important and what it means for you.
This kind of dialogue and role-modeling is so vitally important because, studies show, children whose parents battle mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are at greater risk of developing these conditions themselves.
This is true even for children whose mothers experienced perinatal depression. However, when children, even infants, and toddlers, see their parent cultivating their own mental health, that leaves an impression. Even before the child is old enough to recognize that a parent is receiving treatment for their depression or anxiety, they will still feel the difference in their parent’s mood and behavior.
And, with more than 3 million children and teens experiencing at least one depressive episode before the age of 18, growing up in an environment where mental health is discussed without stigma or judgment is essential. Teaching your child psychiatric and psychological care is as much of a priority as physical healthcare may very well save their life.
In addition, if your child has a disability due to a physical, developmental, or mental illness, they may qualify for Medicare coverage. With Medicare, your child can not only receive free or low-cost medical care but also a variety of mental health services.
We live in a culture where we’re all too often taught to put ourselves last. And that’s wreaking havoc on our mental health, leading to skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. But our children deserve better. And that begins with teaching them that self-care is not selfish. It means showing them how to love and nurture themselves. And that includes not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Because, when you are a parent, you teach not by talking, but by doing.