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Teaching kids how to recharge and practice self-care

The time on the clock said 12:32 am. I groaned to myself in anticipation of what was to come. My husband leaned over and kissed me on the back of my head. For hours I tossed and turned, fluttering between a light sleep and severe sleeplessness. This isn’t a relatively new thing for me. I wake at a random time in the middle of the night and then I have a hard time falling back to sleep. It may have to do with my ADHD and the fact that because my medication has worn off in the middle of the night, my mind races a million miles a minute. I was awake from about 12:30 – 4:00 am.

The next morning, as we were getting ready to leave the house I found myself getting impatient. One of the kids asked me to put her socks on, even though we both knew that she could put them on herself. She needed me and I was feeling tired of being needed.

Back pedal with me a second…

We had a blizzard in Pennsylvania last weekend. My husband was traveling for work and the kids and I were home alone. We lost power and received 32 inches of snow all in the same day. Then we had 3 snow days in a row. While the kids have been having fun alternating between a ton of activities and playing outside in the snow, I haven’t had a minute alone.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m one of those crazy people who really loves being with my kids 98% of the time. However, as the day wore on, I could tell that crankiness was beneath my surface. The kids weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. They weren’t the reason I was getting cranky.

I was the reason.

I am terrible at taking care of myself. Somehow after I became a mother I also became a little bit of a martyr to myself. My life was so consumed by taking care of them that I didn’t ever put myself first. I know from experience this does not make for the best family relationship. I know I need to do things for myself, but when the time comes, I have that fear of missing out, and would rather spend time together as a family. No self-care and a lack of sleep are two things that trigger me to not be my best self.

How do YOU recharge?

Close your eyes and picture what things make you happy when you do them. What gives you a burst of energy? Is it going for a run, reading a book, a good meal out? Is it getting a haircut, going to a party, drinking coffee with a friend, or simply being alone?

I am an introvert. I recharge by spending time alone. I love doing other things and my bucket gets full when I spend time with other moms but I truly get my energy by being alone – even if it’s only for 20 minutes.

It’s so important to teach our kids how to take care of their own needs. I’m not talking about pouring the milk for their cereal, either. I mean the taking care of themselves that takes care of the deepest parts of their soul. For each kid, this looks different. So how do we teach them this? It starts with a conversation.

What this looks like: “What kind of things make you happy?” is a great place to start. If they start to list materialistic things, point them in a different direction. “What kind of things do you do that make you feel happy?” You can provide some suggestions like, swinging on the swings, reading a book, working with Model Magic, building with Legos, being alone, being with friends, or drawing. It may be hard for them to identify at first because they’ve likely never thought about this question before. They’ll process long after this conversation and may come back to you with more ideas.

I like to make a list that we can hang in their room with these ideas. This way it’s always visible to them if they need a suggestion.

Then, talk about how they may feel when they’re overwhelmed, tired, over scheduled (because it does happen), or spending lots of time surrounded by others. Their feelings are going to look a lot like yours as an adult. It may make them tired, cranky, irritable, unable to sit still. This is a great time to talk about how you feel too. Kids love to know that their feelings are similar to yours. It not only validates their feelings, it helps them to know that even as their parent, you feel the same things they do.

Explain that these feelings are showing them that they need to recharge. When they have these feelings they can do some of the things on their list so their bodies and minds can recharge.

Model self-care

When it comes to self-care, kids will do what they see, not what they hear. If you model self-care, they will do it. What does modeling self-care look like? For me, it looks like this:

“Kids, I feel like I need to get a little time alone. I’m starting to get cranky and feel like I need to recharge. I’m going to go to my room and read a book in my chair. Is there something you guys can do in the house that is quiet {as quiet as they can get} so I can spend 20 minutes recharging?”

I always have suggestions ready for them, in case they don’t have any. Things like: Legos, painting, Model Magic, eating snacks, etc.

“If you need me for something, you can absolutely come and get me. If not, I’ll set a timer on my phone and be back downstairs in 20 minutes. Please try not to be too loud.”

Now the first few times you do this, I’m almost guaranteeing you won’t get close to 20 minutes alone – especially if you have younger children. It’s going to take practice for you all to get this right. If they come to interrupt you or are too loud, after you attend to their need (which is probably very real to them), remind them that you’re working on your quiet time and need to finish it so you can be your best self. Just like anything, the more you do this, the easier it’ll get.

If your children are much younger (toddler or preschooler age – this isn’t too young to teach this!), you may need to do your quiet time with them next to you. Some kids have a hard time being away from their parent. I used to keep an old crib mattress on the floor of my bedroom right next to my favorite chair. Rebecca used to look at books on it while I read. She just needed to be close to me and that’s okay too.

Important to remember:

All people, children AND adults, recharge in different ways. Recharging doesn’t always mean being alone or being still. One of our children recharges by being alone and another recharges by being around other people.

Teaching kids these strategies not only allows them to help themselves, it also allows you to help them. When you see your child getting frustrated or cranky, you can point them in the direction of one of the activities that they can do to recharge. I always stress to our own kids that we’re trying to help them grow into the best person they can possibly be. This allows them to do just that. Identifying what we need to do to recharge and teaching self-care are skills that kids will need forever. By teaching them this, you are giving them one of the greatest gifts.

How do you recharge?

Read the article from Thriving Parents.

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