What Your 5-Year-Old Can Teach You About Self-Care

When you hear the word “self-care,” what comes to your mind?  Maybe you think about relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine.  Maybe you think about going for a walk or cuddling with your dog.  Or maybe you dream of your very own “Treat Yourself Day.”  (Sidenote: if you get the Parks and Recs reference, we’re destined to be friends.)

While I’m not certain exactly what comes to your mind when you hear the term “self-care,” I bet I can guess what doesn’t come to your mind.  Your five-year-old.  (Or your two-year-old, ten-year-old, or twenty-something college kid.)  But as it turns out, your five-year-old can teach you a ton about self-care.  (PS: If you’re not a parent, you can still totally join in this metaphor.  Just think about your niece, nephew, neighbor kid, or any other tiny human you love.  You’ll get the idea.)

The research on parenting is wide and deep.  The job of a parent is complex.  A variety of factors are important.  But in the simplest terms, the job of a parent is to care for a child.  This word, “care,” may seem simple, but when you break it down, it’s anything but.  Caring for a child means tending to their needs.  It means taking care of their bodies, brains, and hearts with enormous amounts and intention.

     

     You care for a child by feeding them nourishing and healthy food.

     You care for a child by encouraging them with kind and compassionate words.

     And you care for a child by setting limits and saying no. 

 

     You care for a child by scheduling fun weekend activities, engaging their minds in new ways.

     You care for a child by limiting screen time.

     And you care for your child by making sure they have time outdoors, to run and climb and play.

 

     You care for your child by setting up playdates and time with friends.

     You care for your child by reading to them.

     And you care for your child by keeping a regular bedtime routine.

 

     You don’t care for a child by yelling, “Treat yourself!”

     You don’t care for a child by setting them in front of the TV for hours.

     And you don’t care for your child by cracking open a milkshake at the end of every hard day.

 

     You don’t care for a child by forcing them to accept every social invitation they get.

     You don’t care for a child by buying them every toy they want.

     And you don’t care for your child by being harsh and critical with your words.

 

When it comes to caring for kids, we have a deep and nuanced understanding of what “care” really means.  We realize it’s not all rainbows and ponies.  But why then, when we think about caring for ourselves, does this understanding go out the window?  Why do we suddenly think that care means bubble baths, face masks, and Netflix?  Why do we boil self-care down to “Treat yourself?”

The way you care for your five-year-old is the same way you care for yourself.  And for proof, let’s use those same points from above, but this time, let’s apply them to yourself.

     You care for yourself by eating nourishing and healthy food.

     You care for yourself by encouraging yourself with kind and compassionate words.

     And you care for yourself by setting limits and saying no. 

 

     You care for yourself by scheduling fun weekend activities, engaging your mind in new ways.

     You care for yourself by limiting screen time.

     And you care for yourself by making sure you have time outdoors, to run and climb and play.

 

     You care for yourself by setting up dates and time with friends.

     You care for yourself by reading.

     And you care for yourself by keeping a regular bedtime routine.

 

     You don’t care for yourself by yelling, “Treat yourself!”

     You don’t care for yourself by sitting in front of the TV for hours.

     And you don’t care for yourself by cracking open a bottle of wine at the end of every hard day.

 

     You don’t care for yourself by forcing yourself to accept every social invitation you get.

     You don’t care for yourself by buying yourself every purse/gadget/thing you want.

     And you don’t care for yourself by being harsh and critical with your words.

The things you do to care for yourself?  They’re the same things to do to care for a child. They’re balanced and thoughtful.  They’re compassionate yet boundaried.  And they’re complex and evolving based on your mood, your needs, and your environment.If you want to know how to really engage in self-care, look at the way you care for others.  Especially your little ones.  How often do you care for yourself like that?  How often do you give yourself the same type of love and attention you give them?

Self-care is tough.  It takes time and effort.  It’s hard to give yourself attention and compassion.  But it’s absolutely important.  So if you’re needing a little self-care inspiration?  Look at how you care for your little ones, and apply that to the person in the mirror. 

PS: When Self-Care Feels Hard, Here’s What to Do.

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