Mind, Body and Bubbles - It’s Never Too Early to Start Self-Care
Life is full of ups and downs, for young people as well as adults. Their ups and downs may seem insignificant to us as adults, but they are there, and our acknowledgement, acceptance and understanding of their feelings and experiences will have a profound impact on their interpretation of relationships, emotions, love, respect and most importantly, it will shape the way they view themselves and their mental wellbeing – now, and in the future.
Here are a few ideas for using the power of self-care to help children and young people become more introspective and aware of their physical and emotional needs and to promote wellness of the body and mind.
The Wellbeing Spectrum
Creating a wellbeing spectrum to explore mental wellbeing with children and young people can help them to see their emotions as a sliding scale. This simple visual tool can be used to view wellbeing as a spectrum between, feeling stable and well in body and mind, to the opposite feeling of unbalanced, anxious, or unhappy - along with the understanding that we all sit somewhere on this spectrum. Moving within this spectrum of mental wellbeing can happen at varying time intervals, but with greater recognition of our own emotions and wellness, these transitions can be a smooth glide, rather than a thundering swoop along the spectrum. This technique is one of the ways young people can learn to understand how they feel.
Emotional Awareness and Mental Wellbeing
It is well-accepted that when young people know how they learn most effectively, they can become better learners. More commonly now, we need to apply the principle of this theory to emotional awareness and wellbeing – when young people know how they feel, they can become better at practicing self-care and self-love to maintain better levels of mental wellbeing. Also, when young people can acknowledge how they feel, they can identify when they are slipping towards the “darker side” of the spectrum and ask for help.
One way we can help preventatively is to build a self-care “toolkit” with children and young people, which is filled with activities or strategies that they can try to improve their wellbeing in that moment. This is an important life skill that all young people should know so they are equipped at handling any future stressors.
The Self-Care Toolkit for Young People
The great thing about any “toolkit” is that things can be added or removed according to the requirements, and they can be completely unique to the owner! And our metaphorical Self-Care Toolkit is no different and it can evolve with the individual. Sometimes, a young person might need something to lift their mood, while at other times, they may need something to release some anxious feelings, or energise themselves. As they learn to monitor their body and feelings, they will become more confident in what tools they need and when to use them.
When building this toolkit with your young person, it is important that they decide what goes in so that activities or techniques have a positive impact on them. This is not to say that they wouldn’t benefit from some gentle guidance or suggestions, and very importantly, a role model to learn from watching.
Here are some suggestions of activities that can be trialled to discover what fits their needs and interests best.
Fresh Air and Bubbles
The benefits of the outdoors on both physical and mental health are fantastic – so much so, some doctors are now dosing patients with “Nature Prescriptions.” By actively exploring and engaging with nature, young people can develop a sense of curiosity and appreciation for their wellbeing and the natural world, while moving their bodies. Spotting wildlife is a calming, quiet activity, or alternatively, chasing bubbles in the park is a fun activity to release some built-up tension – and in our experience, it’s applicable for people of all ages!
Energising and/or Calming Boxes
The great thing about an empty box is that they are so versatile. Creating a calming box is an excellent technique to add to the kit, to help young people balance their mood if they are having a sensory overload or feeling particularly overwhelmed. Depending on the age of the young person, this box could include: a soft or weight blanket, some gentle fragrances and music, a much-loved story or poem, photographs or pictures or a special mug. Sometimes, a calming box isn’t the tool for the job, so an energising, sensory box may be more effective to lift their mood. This could include similar things to the calming box, but adapted to awaken the senses, for example, stronger or different smells and a variety of music.
Creativity is not limited by arts and crafts and that is the joy of it... It is not limited by anything! Creative activities can provide an outlet for a young person to release or explore their emotions. Drawing, painting, and modelling are more obvious examples of how to use creativity to relax, but other activities such as cooking, creating music, planning a trip, writing a poem or story, or problem-solving activities such as puzzles or lego, also involve creative thinking while providing a chance for personal expression and the development of new skills – crucial for feelings of self-worth.
Spaces, Faces and Places
Asking a young person to be reflective about the spaces, faces and places which make them feel at their best – or close to – is important as when they don’t feel 100%, they can either recreate that space, meet that “face”, or visit that place (if of course it is feasible!). Some environments and places are more draining than others, and factors such as mess, lighting, noise can have a negative impact on a young person’s wellness, and these are things that they could learn to develop an awareness around. And in the same token as environments, some people are better to be around when you don’t feel well, and being conscious about this, can allow young people the freedom to have boundaries around their friendships.
Yoga and Mindful Breathing
Questioning your ability to breathe, ironically, can make you feel a little better about yourself – and yoga does just that! There are so many brilliant resources out there (Yoga Pretzels yoga cards and Cosmic Yoga, an online video resources, are personal favourites!) which help young people to become more in-tune with their minds and bodies and focus all their attention on creating shapes with their bodies, and the oh-so tricky breathing.
Carrying around all these thoughts, feelings, opinions, and stuff is really tiring work. A simple notebook is helpful to have handy for young people to unload. Lists of things they need or want to do, reminiscing about a special time, acknowledging a challenging time, jotting down how they feel or drawings or doodles, are all ways that a young person could use a notebook in their toolkit.
About the Authors
Instagram: Knowing Young Minds
Lucy is a trained Primary Teacher, now specialising in working with children and young people with additional educational, social, or emotional needs. She has experienced working in Scotland, Sweden and has also volunteered in schools in Kenya and Romania. All have helped cultivate a passion in infant, child, and youth mental wellbeing and a drive to learn more about interventions, preventions, and principles to tackle the growing youth mental health crisis. The birth of her son in 2018, and the return of her anxiety during pregnancy, was a personal catalyst for deciding to study a Master of Science in Psychology and creating the Instagram account, @KnowingYoungMinds, along with her sister, Kate.
Kate completed an honours degree in Social Science, before starting a career in Recruitment. She is interested in learning about how people work together effectively and to grow personally as well professionally. As part of her role, she helps to facilitate the Developing Young Workforce initiative which promotes teaching young people skills for the world of work and preparing them for life beyond school. Inclusive practices underpin her work ethos, and she is concerned with promoting wellbeing at work. Since studying psychology as part of her University course, she has always had an interested in how the mind works, particularly when her son was born in 2020 and she found the world of developmental psychology. She spent a lot of time learning about child development but found the wealth of conflicting information overwhelming at times. This is what has led her to developing @KnowingYoungMinds so she can share the realistic and research-supported information that she has found to be useful and interesting.