We’ve come a long way in the last forty years, where stoicism reigned supreme. Self-care wasn’t even a thing, and managing your problems meant drinking an extra scotch after dinner. Today, we wear our mental health challenges with pride. We engage in yoga, meditation, and regular exercise. Many have a therapist on speed dial. We’ve learned healthier ways to manage stress over time. This is perhaps by necessity, as we are in an age of information overload, or it could be that as a society we’re evolving.
As we embark on the school year and think about the importance of self-care as educators, we started thinking about our kids. The wide-eyed kindergartener who gets sick from anxiety before school starts. The third grader who is a competitive gymnast and trains seven days a week. The pre-adolescent boy who watches his mother get abused by his father and has begun to act out in school by day and cries himself to sleep at night. The fourteen year old who spends most evenings and weekends glued to his video game monitor. How do we teach these kids that it is okay to take a break. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to put yourself first.
Tips for Teaching Our Students Self Care
1. Spend time modeling good behavior. Talk about the nature walk you took over the weekend to clear your head. Talk about the importance of exercise and how the endorphins give you energy to be even more active.
2. Let them know that they are not alone. Reinforce the fact that everyone feels overwhelmed, stressed, tired, or frustrated at times. Talk about ways to take that negative energy and redirect it into a positive activity that you love. Whether it is reading a book or doing an art project or listening to music, the focus turns from the negative to the positive.
3. Engage in mindfulness activities during the day. If you get a sense or even hear that your students are stressed, take a five minute “breather.” Lead a quick meditation activity by allowing them to focus on their breathing and calm their nerves. This can be done using a YouTube guide or even through your own comforting voice.
4. Laugh! Let your kids laugh when they need a break. Sing a silly song. Tell a silly joke. The old adage of laughter being the best medicine isn’t that far from the truth.
5. Bring in the professionals. As an educator, you are trained to ensure that the school intervenes if you believe a student is a harm to themselves or others. What about intervening when you think a kid just needs a break, or a sympathetic ear that is more than you’re able to handle while attending to the rest of your class? Do not be afraid to call in the support of school team members such as the guidance counselor or school psychologist.
And, it is worth the reminder that while you’re teaching these kids to put on their own oxygen masks, you must keep yours on yourself!