Self-care and Shared Self-care: 12 tips for Parents and Child Carers
Self-care is a hot topic these days – for good reason. In our increasingly demanding world, stopping and looking after our own needs has never been more important. This applies especially to parents and child carers; whose top priority is often the care of the child. The internet is filled with excellent advice on taking time out alone to look after ourselves. However, self-care does not always have to be practiced alone. Many self-care activities can be enjoyed with others, with the positive effects stretching to everyone involved. Here are our 12 best self-care tips for parents – to be practiced alone, with your child(ren), or with other adults.
Alone time has proven benefits for mental health, resilience, and overall wellbeing. It is also sometimes very difficult for parents to find. Making conscious changes to your schedule and space can help you to reconnect with yourself and finally practice some of those sorely needed acts of self-care. Here are our top tips for practicing self-care alone:
- Tweak your schedule:
Remember those things you used to enjoy before starting a family? Those things are important too. Prioritize finding at least one uninterrupted hour each day for yourself and yourself alone. Busy parents will probably need to get creative to make this work – but parents are nothing if not resourceful! Look at your existing commitments and choose just one thing to cut. Cut it. Say no to extra responsibilities. Prioritize things that make you happy and schedule them in. Stick to these planned activities as resolutely as if you were doing them for someone else.
- Take control of your space:
Find a space within your home where you can relax and make it clear to your children that this is where you will be alone. Turn your bedroom into a mini retreat, rebrand the shower as a place for R&R, or make a small off-limits home office filled with plants. Often children do not understand the need for their parents to have space – so teach them. When they try to enter your space, gently guide them to where they should be, and let them know you will come to them soon. Enlist the help of other adults in your home to reinforce this message.
- Regulate your screen time:
There is absolutely nothing so demanding of your attention as your screens – not even your children. Technology constantly bombards us with urgent little red circles that our brains are trained to respond to immediately. We have grown a society in which response is either instantaneous or deemed rude. Temporarily stepping out of this urgency is one of the most healing practices. Turn your work emails off and deal with them during working hours. Turn your phone off for at least one hour every day and catch up with messages later.
- Guide your thoughts:
The constant swirl of information and demands for our attention can lead us to feel overwhelmed, or constantly ‘firefighting’ until that final peaceful moment comes, when everyone is finally in bed – and we fall asleep exhausted. Small, meaningful moments of mindfulness and meditation throughout the day go a long way to maintaining a sense of control and awareness. This does not just mean spending your entire alone hour cross-legged and unmoving. Mini meditations such as a few deep breaths, taking a moment to truly taste your food, or consciously noting the countless small moments throughout your day that make you happy, will do wonders for your wellbeing.
Shared Self-care with Children
Self-care is a lifelong skill that many of us, even as adults, are still learning. Sharing self-care activities with children can have incredible benefits; making you both calmer and happier, giving you enjoyable stress-free time together, and instilling self-care skills in your children from an early age. Spending time together in this calm state encourages stress-free bonding and provides time to learn more about each other.
- Share your gratitude:
Recent years have seen a growing movement of journal-based practices and gratitude activities for adults. Simply consciously recognizing the positives in your life has been scientifically proven to improve psychological health. These activities can easily be shared with your children. Taking time to work through the journaling process with your child and writing side by side about what you are grateful for will teach them positive lifelong practices in self-care. It will also give you peaceful, meaningful time together. Set up a journal each, model gratitude for your child, and enjoy the mutual benefits.
- Share their creativity:
There is a growing market for adult colouring books and paint by numbers as adults realise the meditative and therapeutic benefits of such calming pastimes. These are activities that can also take place side by side with your child. Children can work at their level and look up to you working at yours. You can take this a step further and write your own stories as you encourage your child to write theirs. Don’t be afraid to tap into that creativity that is still alive and well in most children – they can probably teach you a thing or two about letting go and creating without anxiety.
- Share kindness:
Random acts of kindness to others (rather than duty-bound) make everyone feel better. The recipients of your kindness are reminded that you care, and you get a high from making someone’s day a little better. Brainstorm kind acts with your child and work on them together. Craft cards together for loved ones, create personal video messages for grandparents, make small gifts for the vulnerable in your neighbourhood. Remember to include yourselves in your kindness; show your child how to be kind to themselves by showing them how you are kind to yourself. Everyone will benefit.
- Share nature:
There is something magical about the wonder and joy that nature inspires in children. Go with them and genuinely engage in that delight with them. Look at the spiders, watch the way they weave their webs, chase butterflies, climb trees. As adults, we tend to put aside the innate thrill of simple nature and settle with watching our children enjoying it. Your children will be delighted when they realise that you are genuinely sharing that joyful feeling with them, rather than standing aside and taking photos of their engagement.
Shared Self-care with Family and Friends
One often overlooked aspect of self-care is accepting the care and support of others. The very term ‘self-care’ implies it should be undertaken alone – but stepping out of your role as the carer and allowing others to care for you is also incredibly beneficial. Simply inviting someone to share your positive life changes with you can help you stick to them. Allowing someone, or encouraging them, to show their care for you does not come naturally to many of us, but the rewards when we do are plentiful.
- Prioritize date night:
Taking time for your relationship is not a luxury – it is a necessary act of maintenance for your (and your partner’s) wellbeing. Maintaining the connection between partners is one of the primary ways in which we can maintain our emotional health and the health of our relationship. It builds individual and shared resilience, and most importantly, re-centres fun and passion as priorities in our lives. Dress up, go somewhere new (or an old favourite), act as though you have just started dating, reconnect as partners.
- Phone a friend and share your authentic self:
Do not rely on social media to maintain your connections – it does not present anyone accurately. Regularly being authentic with a close friend(s) is a great strategy to care for who you really are. Check-ins with those we trust allow us to air our daily grievances harmlessly before they have the chance to build up in our minds. Likewise, regularly sharing our good news and gratitude with someone outside our immediate home, reinforces its validity in our minds. Don’t be afraid to share your real self with your friends – their unconditional love and support will nourish you.
- Listen to and discuss literature:
There is a world of podcasts and audiobooks out there to indulge your curiosity for almost anything in bitesize chunks. Twenty minutes of listening to a story you love can easily be fit into your daily routine. Why not start a book club with some of your likeminded friends – set yourself goals and keep each other engaged and active. You will be amazed how quickly you can race through books and care for your mind by keeping it sharp and animated with good discussion. The bonus is a collective of like-minded people readily available for discussions about life as well as literature.
- Start a study group:
Online and distance learning is flexible, highly specific, and increasingly inexpensive. For anything you want to learn about, it is almost guaranteed there is a course available – including self-care. Starting an online study course with a group of friends increases our likelihood of sticking with it, truly engaging with the content, and meaningfully growing because of it. Choose a subject, find others interested in the same thing, and work through the course at the same pace. Schedule regular check-ins and discuss the course – share your thoughts and allow others to share with you.
As with all lists, it is not advised, nor sensible to attempt the above all at once. Why not pick one and focus on it? Try for at least two weeks and see what a difference it makes. If you have success (or indeed challenges) with any of the above, please do share your thoughts and suggestions with our community by commenting below. Let’s make honest discussion of our own needs and how we meet them the new normal!
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