Since being pushed into the mainstream lexicon in late 2016,  the term ‘self-care’ has continued to dominate social media feeds marketing ploys and our guilty conscience. Maybe you’re one of the many moms that rolls her eyes at the concept, or you are part of the plethora of mothers who so desperately want something more internally fulfilling than a convenient trip to the grocery store without the children in tow. How can we find time to practice self-care for ourselves, and do our efforts even benefit our children?

mom and child enjoying ice cream. mom modeling self-care habits to kids

We know that practicing mindful self-care supports us mentally and physically as parents and individuals, but we should also know that modeling self-care has long-term psychological benefits for our children. 

And yes, it is worth our effort!

In this post, we’ll explore the benefits that we gift to our children when we practice our own form of self-care. We’ll also look at three ways you can model self-care for your kids, plus a suggestion of great picture books that teach children about this concept.  

What Is Self-Care? 

Self-care is generally defined as the act of keeping up with habits that maintain or improve our health. This can mean different things for different people. 

For example, self-care could be penciling in time to do something you enjoy, like taking a bubble bath or reading that book you’ve been neglecting (cue the rolling of the eyes for some; I understand!). Or perhaps self-care equates to keeping personal boundaries to preserve your mental and physical energy, like saying ‘no’ to multitudes of functions and family favors. 

mom practicing self-care by reading a book. modeling self-care habits to benefits kids

I’ve entirely been there–but unfortunately as well for most moms, it seems that putting in time for self-care is just another thing on our endless to-do list. It tends to stay a low priority, too, being there are sandwiches to butter, lunches to pack, and shoes to find! You get it. 

Should moms get a chance to recharge, we tend to spend it washed in guilt that we aren’t doing something, and thus the vicious cycle of self-care loathing begins. It’s also common for moms to harbor feelings of resentment towards their partner should they feel like the ones held mostly responsible for household duties — meal planning, grocery shopping, staying track of everyone’s belongings, etc.

The problem with this is that moms are damaging their health while their needs remain unmet (we’re talking mental, emotional, and physical needs here!), and our children–the little sponges they are–soak in our day-to-day habits. While we try to do our best (sometimes just to get through the day), our kids see it when we’re burned out. 

As parents, we have the power to plant healthy seeds of self-care in our children so that they can grow up healthy and resilient to life’s challenges. We want our children to know what to do when faced with stress and strive to grow as a person independently. 

So that brings us to the question, how does the way we practice self-care affect our children psychologically? 

How Do Our Self-Care Habits Affect Our Children? 

We know that parenting demands are stressful, and once you pile in work, household duties, and so on, there is little to no time to recharge your batteries. How can you enjoy something you want to do without feeling any guilt by putting off something else? 

I’ll tackle that question below, but first, let’s talk about how our self-care practice affects our kids, particularly our young, impressionable toddlers.

From birth, our children watch us. We model for them how to talk, how to drink from a cup, how to brush their teeth. It’s the same with practicing healthy self-care habits. Research supports that parents who read in front of their children influence their children to read more for pleasure and become lifelong readers. 

Again, it’s no different with modeling self-care. We all benefit from practicing in planned activities that we enjoy. Even if we are not feeling stressed, our children need to understand the tools and strategies they can use to keep their cups full. Self-care is a lifelong skill that many of us neglect once we enter parenthood, but it shouldn’t be that way. We were people before we were parents, and we still are! 

mother modeling self-care behaviors to their kids
It’s important for parents to model self-care behavior to their children.

By modeling self-care activities, we teach our children the importance of caring for their minds and bodies. We teach them how to connect to themselves and others, learn to grow, and remain resilient in the face of challenges. Research shows that self-care improves children’s development of empathy.

Being a parent does not mean sacrificing yourself to your precious children. And you shouldn’t–

because they need to see that mommy knows how to pause and take a moment for herself, even if everything isn’t picture-perfect.

If you’re not the best version of yourself, you can’t provide for your family as well as you may like, and your young children may fall into the habit as well, forgoing the essential need to rest or stimulate the mind, body, and soul.

When we continually experience high levels of stress, we can feel tense, grumpy, and irritable. I know my anxiety levels go up when I experience stress, along with fatigue and some body aches. 

Children can pick up on the stress around them and begin to internalize it. Signs that a toddler may be stressed include:

  • Change in emotions (being more sad, angry, withdrawn, or clingy)
  • Difference in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Change in bowel movements 
  • Increased intensity of habits, like thumb-sucking or hair chewing
  • More tantrums or crying 
  • Bad dreams or nightmares
  • Anxious body movements like tics or pacing the room 
child experiencing stress anxious child kid having a tantrum modeling self-care psychologically beneficial to our kids
Kids can pick up on the stress around them!

These signs can also indicate a growth spurt or a misbehavior issue, but keep an eye out for them in your toddler. All toddlers can benefit from watching their parents practice healthy self-care! 

We don’t want our children to grow up thinking that life is all work and no play or that mom was so busy taking care of the house or doing work that she couldn’t ever relax. This is not meant to make you feel guilty! This is to acknowledge that life is seasonal and involves dedication and hard work. That life is also meant to be enjoyed and taken in. How can we model this for our children? 

How Can I Model A Self-Care Routine That Works For Me?

If you’re a mom to a toddler, you are fully aware of how stealthy you may need to be to put on a pair of sweatpants alone. If you can’t even put on comfy clothes by yourself, how are you going to carve out yourself some sans guilt ‘me’ time? How can you model for your child what healthy self-care looks like?

Show Them What You Enjoy Doing 

What does self-care look like to you? What are the things you want to do? Screw the bubble baths and wine nights if that is not your thing. A night without the kids? Coffee in bed with a solid hour of Netflix and no one bothering you? Picking up a paintbrush again? Find what you want, or miss, or crave, and do it. 

Let your kids see you doing these things when you can. Tell your toddlers that you will read a book on the couch as they play nearby, or let them say goodbye to you as you tell them you will be back after a sweat session at the gym or around the block. If this is what you enjoy, model incorporating it into your understandably busy schedule. 

Self-care undoubtedly will be different for everyone as not everyone has the same support structure. Lean into what you can. Ask for help. 

Get The Kids In On The Action

You want to model doing things you love, but for the things you don’t that still need to get done, let your kids help. 

One and two-year-olds are avid learners, so they should find wonder in the clean clothes of the laundry basket or how they can help you scoop out the pet’s dinner. As your kids get older, they will likely meet these requests for assistance with dramatic shrugs and protests, so it is beneficial to get your toddlers opportunities for independence as early and often as you can. They’ll grow up already knowing how to do these tasks and will develop intrinsic motivation for doing so.

Read To Them 

There are plenty of fabulous books out there that discuss self-care concepts. If you’re looking for a few titles, here are some pictures books we recommend. These will be great for read-aloud time with your child!

Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood

The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Here and Now by Julia Denos

The I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr

Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival

Bedtime for Batman by Michael Dahl

Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave by Jessica Hische

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