Self-Care Activities for Kids
In this post I wrote all about what self-care for kids looked like and suggested ways to introduce children to self-care that were very general. These self-care for kids ideas could be explored as much or as little as you wish, and the same goes for this post, which lists more specific (but still quite general) self-care activities for kids. If you're completely new to thinking about self-care for kids, I do encourage you to read that post first, or maybe go back to it after this one.
Unlike the blog post providing self-care ideas and suggestions for children, this list suggests activities that are a bit more focused and they are self-care activities for kids that typically have a beginning and an end. That being said, they can still be done regularly as part of yours and your children's daily routines, or at least without there being a lot of preparation or planning on your part. (There is also some overlap with what was previously mentioned in that post and what I'm including here - forgive me for that!)
The chances are you are already doing many of these things, it's just now there's an opportunity to look at these activities through a self-care lens and to tweak what you're doing so that it helps give your children a glimpse at what self-care and self-love look and feel like.
I have separated these self-care activities into three separate sections depending on your children's age:
- Self-Care Activities for Kids Under 2
- Self-Care Activities for Kids Aged 2 - 6
- Self-Care Activities for Kids Aged 6+
I do suggest you spend some time reading through all of them as they're written with them all being continued throughout childhood, rather than stopped once they reach a certain age. Indeed, they could all spark new self-care ideas and most of the older kids' activities are extra layers or additions to the activities already listed. Either way, as with all things self-care - for you and your children - pick what works best for you and your family, and be comfortable with the idea that not all of them will work for you or your children.
The best self-care is always the self-care that really does replenish, soothe or provide comfort and ease to you and your kids, and it's unrealistic for all things to do that for all people, even self-care activities! Now, read on and make a note of the self-care activities for kids that you think will work best for you and your children.
Self-Care Activities for Kids Aged 0-2
From as young as newborns, you can help kids become aware of self-care by having their needs met by care providers, and it's also as babies that they learn (albeit subconsciously) about the importance of creating rhythms and routines to help manage their energy. I list many great hygiene-related activities for kids in this age group in this guide to self-care for kids that is well worth looking at in addition to what's listed below.
Later, as babies become more mobile and independent, they can learn about feeding themselves, looking after their bodies, doing activities they enjoy, and best of all, practising the most pure mindfulness as they discover the world through even the smallest things.
- Cuddles!! Newborn babies thrive when they are held a lot, loved on a lot, and are comforted when they cry. (And so do parents, thanks to those wonderful oxytocin releases that cuddles bring!) In many ways, newborn infants are naturally programmed to prioritise self-care as their primary motive in life is satisfying their need for food and comfort. While they're not able to do this themselves, they are still learning at this stage that they have needs and meeting those needs makes them feel good.
- Having a Routine/Rhythm. Routines and rhythms are great for very young kids and they can also be good for parents and carers too! The self-care element, aside from the individual activities relating to self-care, really comes from the way children can have some influence over what their daily routine and rhythm looks like so they can have a better understanding of the ebb and flow of their energy and focus as the day progresses. These Montessori cards showing activities we do regularly have been great at helping my children feel like they have some input into what we do each day.
- (Free) (Independent) Playing! Playing is how babies and toddlers learn about themselves and the world. It's how their brains develop and boosts lots of feelgood hormones. Research has shown that as the amount of free playing time children have is going down, the number of cases of childhood depression and anxiety are increasing, so when it comes to our children's mental well-being, please never underestimate the power of play!.Free playing really refers to letting your kids play with whatever they want to in whatever way they want (within reason of course, so that they are not in any danger!). It can sometimes feel hard to let children follow their own instincts if they aren't playing in a way that we would expect, but it's truly liberating once we focus more on observing our kids rather than controlling or leading them. One win-win approach to encourage free play that you and baby or toddler will benefit from is by setting them up to do some independent play, i.e. that they are not dependent on interacting with you or another person in order to play. This has the potential to help them become comfortable with their own company, and will teach them to find ways to occupy themselves, two powerful things that they can lean on in future self-care. Not all kids will do this naturally, I know (I have one who hates playing alone and another who is the opposite) but setting up invitations to play (i.e. a tray or designated area with just a few toys, rather than too much choice) is a great way to try encourage independent play.
- Tidying-Up. It may come as a surprise to some, but young children (from around 18 - 24 months) are naturally curious about and happy to do tidying up tasks. As their brains start to understand that things have "patterns" and "homes", they become keen to put things back as they were, or to create some order when it is clear what that may be. My two-year-old, for example, is currently obsessed with jigsaw puzzles and what are they if they are not a big tidying up exercise! While again, this may seem more of a domestic chore than an act of self-care for kids, I would say that the sense of achievement children feel when they have tidied up (or at least helped to!) is a great confidence boost and it is also self-care for their future selves when they have tidy (enough!) places to play in. Once my eldest was able to understand more about why clean and tidy spaces are better for our brains, he was able to also take some pride and a bit more responsibility for tidying up. Of course, this is not always the case - indeed it can be quite rare! - but I still think it's worth highlighting the benefits of tidy spaces to children as a positive for their mental health rather than being talked about as a chore or a condition of them having toys.
- Feeding Themselves. Baby-led weaning is not for everyone - I mean, the mess alone is a good reason not to try - but there are many benefits to encouraging kids to feed themselves. Not only does it help with developmental milestones, but it also teaches them some really good self-care in relation to food. Yes, there's the physical act of feeding oneself, but also there's learning about eating a variety of food (by offering a plate of different foods rather than you spoon-feeding what you choose) through to them listening to their bodies and stopping eating when they are full.
- Washing Themselves. It feels appropriate to add this in here straight after babies and toddlers feeding themselves! I was really slow on this one, as I would so often swoop in to clean my first son's dirty hands and face after eating and didn't stop for years, but I have seen with my second if I give him a damp cloth that is actually a little warm he will enjoy trying to wipe his own hands with it. Likewise, he will happily wash his own hand when he needs to and will also wash most of his body in the bath with a washcloth/flannel. He won't see this as self-care as such at this stage, but he's still learning about keeping one's body nice and clean and that is the beginning of good self-care habits.
- Mindful Walks. One of my favourite things to do with my kids is going for a walk, and it also happens to be something they (mostly!) enjoy too, which is great because there are many benefits - fresh air, exercise, discovering nature, lots of healthy sensory stimulation - and so the act itself can indeed be considered a self-care activity. The reason I add 'mindful' into the mix is because there are the walks you do to get from A to B, and these too can be mindful walks, but it's possible if you have a time limit they end up being rushed or hurried or just not very mindful at some stage. Mindful walks are more about walking itself rather than any destination. With this in mind, and to give my kids some autonomy which also helps frame walking as a self-care activity, our mindful walks often have no destination in mind and I let my children choose which direction we go in, providing it is safe. Yes, of course there will be a time limit to any walk you do, and of course, depending on where you live you may have far fewer options for choosing different routes, but if you can let your kids choose where they're going and take some control of the walk, also noticing what they see, want to touch, and how they react to their surroundings, you will all naturally fall into being a bit more mindful of what is going on around you, and therefore a bit more mindful about yourself in that picture.
Self-Care Activities for Kids Aged 3-5
- Self-Hygiene. Building on from "washing hands" or "brushing teeth", it's around this age that some children can go to the toilet independently, and also they may want some autonomy over washing parts of their body and maybe even washing their own hair. It will vary greatly child from child how much they want or will enjoy these kinds of things, but it's a great way to talk to them about self-care in its most literal or physical sense. Both of my boys are quite happy to wash their own bodies with the kind of flannel/wash cloth you can put your hand in, but when it comes to washing their hair they really have no interest or desire. That said, they do still get involved by pouring water over own heads or holding the shower head to rinse out the shampoo. It's all about making it work for your kids and even if you do most of the activity alone sometimes, you do it in a way that is still engaging them, i.e. talking about what you're doing.
- Looking After Plants & Gardening. Goodness me it feels strange to write this when I was so very uninterested in such things as a child myself, and of course not all of these things will or need to appeal to all children, but if they are interested and it's possible and accessible to you, encouraging children to spend time looking after plants and/or doing some gardening is a really wonderful self-care activity. I have written here about the many ways that houseplants are the ultimate self-care activity, but in short, caring for plants or doing small gardening tasks with children help them learn about nature, experience the joy of watching things grow, and help slow down the mind and body. There are also many parts of plant care that can be easily done by children, like watering, dusting leaves, or planting seeds. And recent research has suggested getting your hands dirty in soil has similar anti-depressive benefits as medication!
- Dancing/Singing/Listening to Music. You are never too young to listen to and to enjoy music! Research suggests even babies in utero react to music when it's played to them so of course, toddlers and pre-school aged children are going to feel things and be moved - physically and emotionally - by music. During our hardest days of lockdown this and last year, it was sometimes the act of putting on a playlist that saved the day for me and my young kids. (Here are other things that saved me in the last lockdown!) Whether it was a lounge disco to shake out some frustrations or stress, or an instrumental playlist in the kitchen while we did some painting, I have seen my children's energy and enjoyment levels improve from dancing, listening to music, and sometimes singing along too. Now my two-year-old regularly asks to listen to certain songs, and my eldest loves it when I put on a lounge disco for a friend and him. I try to regularly talk to my kids (especially my eldest) about how music can make us feel things and how we can use it to help us when we feel sad, angry or tired, but I also need to trust that by doing these things regularly, they are learning these lessons too!
- Arts & Crafts. Before I had children, I was very determined to be a parent who (nearly) always says yes when my kids ask to do something creative like drawing, painting, playing with Playdoh and doing other kinds of arts and crafts, and for the most part, I am that parent! Of course, there are times in the day when this isn't possible or practical, but 80% of the time I say yes and 70% of the time I sit at the table with them and do the activity alongside them. The benefits to children of being creative are too many to list here, but from a self-care perspective, I try to encourage my boys to see being creative as something they are naturally and that doing creative things will make them feel good. I also try to make them see that anything they make has value - either as practice or a finished product - and is brilliant because it came from their imagination and creativity. I do what I can to let my kids create what they want to and I never talk about "keeping inside the lines" when colouring, or making something look "perfect" because that's not what we are trying to achieve when we do arts and crafts. Of course, when my oldest says he would like to keep inside the lines of his colouring book, I encourage him to keep practising and trying hard, but
- Jigsaw Puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are sooooo good for kids' development and there's a fantastic range of different styles for varying ages and levels. Both of my kids first came interested in wooden puzzles (with cut-out shapes rather than pieces) when they were around two and the interest has continued as they progressed onto harder ones. There's the possibility of children experiencing that satisfying and highly-beneficial state of "flow", there's the satisfaction of problem-solving, and this is just a great quiet time activity that doesn't involve a screen if you or your child needs one. I love seeing my boys' faces light up when they finish a puzzle, and I love even more that they think nothing of pushing the pieces out a moment later so they can start over and enjoy it again! Puzzles are also great to do alone or with friends/family, so again this is an activity that has lots of self-care benefits - boosts self-esteem, rests the body physically - but doesn't have to be done alone all the time. (Puzzles aren't included in this list, but these are five other timeless (and genderless!) toys that my kids play with again and again!)
- Movie Nights. Another great family self-care activity I like to do when all our cups (or just mine!) is running a little empty, is movie night. While both of my boys still don't have the attention span for a full-length move (although some kids their ages do!) it's really more about the act of creating cosy family time than the actual film we watch. My partner got me a popcorn machine for my birthday this year and so that has become part of the ritual, watching the kernels pop, and then we move the couch so it faces the TV head on and we get some extra blankets to feel cosy. I often make a point of saying to my boys why we're doing movie night - we're tired, I'm tired, you're tired!!! - and how it's something I want to do with them, while having a cuddle, so that they understand the self-care benefits of this.
- Computer Games. Some people may not like that I'm including this but as discussed in this article on the benefits of screentime, and down below, our family have mostly positive experiences of including screentime and digital devices in our kids' lives. There are hundreds of computer games out there - mostly available as apps for phones or tablets - that are designed to boost kids' fine motor skills or to practice other skills like maths or language. But also don't underestimate the benefits of your children doing these games for self-care reasons, i.e. they need to rest, they have low energy, they want to do something alone for a short time. My sons like apps that let them draw things, do puzzles and even be DJs mixing up different music tracks to make their own song (Jelly Band - it's a great app!) so definitely get curious about the benefits of computer games.
- Different Kinds of Exercise. As I discuss at greater length in this post, there are many benefits of regular exercise for children, and my view of what they do with their bodies at this young age is, as many different things as possible. I try to be led by my sons and what they enjoy doing. Right now, my oldest is in a weekly sports club that changes the activity they do every 3-4 weeks so he's trying lots of different sports and athletics. He will also soon be starting swimming lessons which we have explained is to help keep him safe near water so there's a big overlap there with self-care. In short, when children are young, I think it's best to do exercise regularly, expose them to lots of different activities, and to be mostly led by what they enjoy.
- Resting! Again, as I stressed in my indepth guide to self-care for kids, it's my opinion that kids should grow up learning that physical exercise and rest are equally important. It's easy to teach this lesson, by simply making time for both and making it easy for your children to do both. But this also could be easier said than done when we adults have been raised to value one (typically physical exertion) more than the other so we may naturally make this more of a feature in our own and our children's lives. Being mindful of this bias is the first step to addressing it so keep an open mind about what you really think about rest, and consciously do what you can to make it easy for your kids to do; have spaces where they can relax and rest - we have reading nooks in their bedrooms and playroom - and let your kids see you rest regularly too!
Self-Care Activities for Kids Aged 6+
Kids aged six and older will still benefit from and boost their understanding of self-care and self-love by doing any of the above self-care activities, but as they are now a bit older, possibly have more literacy skills and are able to take ownership of more hygiene-related tasks independently, it's great to think about more "grown-up" self-care activities they can do for themselves. Here are some of the things I am slowly introducing to my son who will turn six in the summer.
- Home Spa Treatments Seeing as it's many people's first impressions of what self-care is, it feels only right we talk about spa-style treatments even for kids! As with grown-ups, it will vary how keen your children may be to soak in a hot bubble bath, wear a face mask or have a pedicure, but it's true that some kids will love this pampering so absolutely introduce it to them as one way they can practise self-care. There are so many kid-friendly products out there that you should be able to find products that are safe for children, or you can look into making your own masks, creams and hair treatments from natural products too!
- Trying New Hobbies I am really enjoying my son reaching an age when he can try out new hobbies and activities and start to narrow down on what really interests him, and what doesn't too. At this stage in his life, I want him to try as many new things as he wishes and I want him to know it's okay for his interests to change. From a self-care perspective, I want to encourage him to find activities and hobbies that he enjoys "just because" rather than things he has to do for school or because his friends like it. I want him to identify that feeling of "flow", where he just loses himself in a new game, sport or craft, and I try to do this by talking to him about what he liked, and likewise when something doesn't click, we talk about what he didn't like. Kids are naturally very creative at this age, but they are also naturally becoming a bit more self-conscious and aware of some kinds of "social norms" or peer pressure, and these can sadly influence how we choose to spend our time. It's an act of self-love if our kids can stay true to themselves by doing what they most enjoy.
- Plenty of Free Time. With this in mind, I think ensuring that your child has plenty of spare time to explore new hobbies, or just to play freely, inside or outside, is essential to their well-being and it also sets a precedent of them understanding that they don't have to be "busy" or in organised activities all the time. At this age, when they are maybe becoming more keen to regularly play a certain sport or to do different activities in organised clubs and groups (or maybe us parents are keen for this too!), we run the risk of filling their "schedules" so much that they don't get the rest they need, and more worryingly, they may start to think this pace of life is "normal" or how it has to be.
- Journaling I will be honest and say that I am coming to journaling even later in life than I have come to self-care (i.e my first series dip into it was this year!) which may be quite surprising considering I am a writer, but it's definitely something I am trying to do more of and also something I want to introduce to my boys once they are at an age where they can write. There are so many notebooks designed for journaling and likewise the Internet is full of journaling prompts out there in the world (try Google or Pinterest) and many are suitable for kids, or just encourage them to create their own and keep them really simple, like, "Today I felt..." "My body is feeling..." "Things I keep thinking about include...". And if your child is not yet writing confidently (or doesn't like writing) they could always try art journaling or having a scrap book for doodles and their artwork.
- Healthy Sleep Habits. As my son approaches his sixth birthday, we are beginning to see him want to have more influence over when he goes to bed at night. I suspect this will only increase so we are proactively talking to him about the kind of sleep he needs (in terms of time and quality) and how he can get that. Some days he is quick to tell us when he's tired and other days I see him trying to push through or deny any tiredness that is very obviously affecting him, and wherever possible, I give him autonomy over when and how he goes to bed, but I also make it very clear that I want him to feel good and rested for school or for another event or activity happening the next day or in the future when he needs to be alert and awake, and he is slowly starting to talk about such things himself.
- Sensible Screentime. I am a parent that values the presence of screens in my kids lives and I embrace their benefits, but I do know that not all parents have this view. I have written more about the benefits of screentime here, but in short, we do not strictly limit use of TVs or a tablet in terms of setting a timer or refusing access, but rather we do what we can to encourage our kids to "make smart choices" and let their intuition to decide when they have screentime and when they don't. I am well aware that screens have the ability to influence this intutition and make kids not be able to "switch off" so of course, we keep this in mind, and it helps that we limit and restrict what is available to our kids on TV (we only have games we download and Netflix or other films or TV shows that we have downloaded) and on the tablets that our kids use. And for the most part, we try to always be present and close to our children when they're having screentime, and to have lots of other fun activities, toys etc that they can choose to do instead of screentime and believe it or not, they do indeed choose this over the tablet or TV sometimes. However you choose to manage screentime with your children, when it comes to self-care, it's important that you talk to them about how using these devices make them feel, how they are useful and how they aren't and to ask them how when they would prefer to use screentime to benefit them and look after themselves.
- Having Their Own Space. As mentioned above many, many time, ensuring that children know they have spaces they can retreat to when they need to rest or to read or to do other activities that fill their cup. My sons are lucky to have their own rooms, but really you don't need a whole room, just a corner, a nook or even a bed or couch where they can feel at home. When children are old enough they can also be involved in making that space their own by making art to have on the wall nearby, choosing bedding or cushions, picking a nice candle scent (possibly one for a supervised space!) and swapping out books/games/activities they may want to have there.
- Meditating / Mindfulness. See how far we got into this post on kids' self-care activities without going deep into meditation or mindfulness? Well, yes, that was intentional because while I do meditate regularly and also try to practice mindfulness, I am not someone who believes that self-care and self-love begins and ends with meditation and/or mindfulness. However, of course there is room for it when talking about self-care with kids. Naturally, children and even babies and toddlers are pretty wonderful at being mindful and living in the present moment, and that's why I love doing our mindful walks, but by the time they are school age sometimes their brains are that much busier and they may benefit from getting to know more about meditation and mindfulness. Again, Headspace app is a great resource for this as well as YouTube. But honestly, the best thing you can do for kids in regards to mindfulness is by ensuring they are not rushed, that they have moments of quiet or rest to slow down their thoughts, and at other times that they can get really into and focused on activities they love without distraction.
- Taking Ownership of Tasks at Home. Again this may sound a lot more like "doing chores" than self-care, but it needs to be said that for some people making a home is an act of self-care and self-love, and some children may also feel this way. My sons are very reluctant to tidy up unless they need to in order to start another activity or get ready for a playdate, but I am slowly introducing them to the notion of having things tidy and clean, just because it is nice to have our spaces look nice. My oldest son is now responsible for tidying up his LEGO, which he does 70% of the time, and both of my children help before and after meals by setting the table and taking dirty plates and cutlery to the dishwasher. My youngest son helps speed up emptying the dishwasher whenever he helps me, and my oldest takes pride in arranging our sofa cushions in a neat (to him!) way.
- Looking After a Pet. I was a little hesitant to add this to this list because I know inevitably the majority of caring for a family pet will fall on the adults' shoulders (and this is the main reason we do not have a pet), however, I felt this was worth including because in other families I have seen older children take on small duties relating to their pets and I have seen them find them very rewarding and worthwhile too. Whether it's walking a dog, playing with a cat for a short time every day or helping by putting out food or water for pets, I can imagine that sense of responsibility and sense of independent achievement will boost one's sense of self no matter how young or old they are.
- Time with Friends. At this age, most children really do thrive from being social, and when done in the right way and in the right amount, it can have great self-care benefits too. I am learning that regular playdates with a variety of friends are the best way to help my oldest son get different kinds of mental and physical stimulation, and to ensure I don't pack the day (or weeks) with back-to-back playdates as that quickly becomes exhausting.
And that's a wrap on this list of self-care activities for kids. I will be updating it with more ideas and resources as and when they pop in mind, which is actually quite often. It's funny how once you commit to making something a priority - which is what I've done with self-care with my children - it does stay in your mind and you start feeling more confident and creative about it. I very much hope this is the same for you!
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Frances M. Thompson
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