I can already imagine the eye rolling, and your irritation with the oxygen mask analogy – so I promise not to go there. All I ask is you bear with me and read on, you’ll be glad you did.
I have been banging the self-care drum for the past decade and during this time we have seen the rates of mental health challenges amongst young children increase; we now have 17% of children aged between 5 – 16 years of age with a clinically diagnosable mental health problem. To put this into perspective, that’s 5 children in each and every class, in every school, from reception all the way up to year 11!!
So what has this got to do with self-care?
The key component to building resilience and promoting wellbeing in children, both of which safeguard children against mental health problems, is the ability to regulate emotions. How do children learn to emotionally regulate? You want the honest answer? Children learn by observing how we manage our own emotions and our self-regulation.
I am not saying as parents we cause our children’s mental health problems. What I am saying is if we want to help our children become resilient, so they are less likely to struggle with their mental health, we need to start focusing on our own wellbeing first.
Harold Koplewicz, Psychiatrist and President of the Child Mind Institute uses the concept Self-Care is Childcare to emphasise the point that self-care not only needs to be added to our to-do list – it should be placed at the very top of it!
By taking care of our own needs each and every day, we give ourselves space to become much more self-aware, and self-awareness brings with it greater opportunities to self-regulate. Instead of acting in the moment, driven by our emotions, we become more consciously aware of our emotional states and make choices based on what is best and appropriate for that situation. We are still likely to be hot-headed some days, react from a place of frustration and anger on other days, yet overall we approach challenging situations from a more balanced stance.
Let’s debunk some myths and get clear on what self-care actually is.
Whilst spending a long leisurely day at a spa is self-care (when we were actually able to do this!), it is not what I consider daily self-care. Daily self-care is key; the rest is just icing on the cake. Daily self-care in it’s simplest form has two components, which I’d like to consider in turn;
- Daily dedicated time period where we have no obligations placed on us, and we can focus entirely on ourselves
- Mindfulness to the internal critical dialogue we have with ourselves
A daily dedicated time
We wear multiple hats; being a parent is just one of them. As a result we are often so busy doing – organising this, ticking off that from the to-do list, hitting this deadline, and cajoling this child, that we get stuck in autopilot. We never reflect on how we approach things and why we do things, because we are simply too busy doing them!! Setting aside time each day for ourselves allows us to simply be, to stop acting and start thinking. Seeing things as they really are.
When we afford ourselves this time we notice things; how tired we are, how resentful we might feel that we’re doing everything, the way we are reacting to a particular child, or a difficult conversation we really ought to have with someone because we feel hurt, or some unhelpful habits which have crept into our daily lives.
I can almost hear you saying “enough already Maryhan, I get what you’re saying but you simply don’t know my life and how difficult it is to grab 2 minutes to go to the loo let alone block out 30-minutes for my self-care. It’s easy for you, I hear you say, you have teenage children, who don’t wake in the night or constantly require your attention. If you walked in my shoes you’d realise just why it’s impossible for me to practice any self-care, so stop bugging me with it!!”
I do understand, I truly do…. you know there’s going to be a but though…. and there is.
If we don’t set aside this time for ourselves it will be our children who lose out; more so than we will. You see children are a full-time occupation, a good time will never magically appear. As our children age, they may become more independent, but they need us just as much – just in a different way.
Mindfulness to the internal chatter
We all have an internal dialogue. This chatter creates our reality with the stories it tells us about not being good enough, thin enough, successful enough, a good enough parent ……. you get the picture. Just because we think it, and hear it in our own head, with our own voice, doesn’t make it true. We would never talk as critically to anyone else the way we talk to ourselves. Checking our internal chatter daily is a key part of self-care.
Simply noticing the commentary and then asking ourselves where is the evidence for that criticism is a good start. We can then work on replacing the negative chatter with a more balanced honest view – changing “I am a terrible parent, I never spend time with my children” to “sometimes I find it difficult to balance work commitments with family time. I am ready to make some changes”.
If I have persuaded you to try this self-care malarky – if only to humour me – how might you do about it??
My suggestion is that you wake 30 minutes earlier than you would ordinarily. WHY?? The simple answer is you are much more likely to make self-care a habit if you set an alarm and an intention to wake purposefully. Otherwise, we say we will do it before the day is out, we keep pushing it later and later until the day is over and we’ve not done it. It ends up being yet something else we promise to do for ourselves, which we place at the bottom of our to-do list, where it never gets ticked off!
If you are serious about embarking on this self-care journey then I have made it easy with a set of 5 simple practices called SHINE. I have even created a planner and a Facebook group to help keep you accountable. Join the SHINE revolution here