Six self-care tips for parents

Welcome to the Parents' Toolkit

For many parents, the last year has been full of challenges - juggling family and work in the midst of changing COVID-19 rules and restrictions. So, as these measures start to ease, it’s important to check in on our own wellbeing as well as that of our children.

Wellbeing and resilient relationships don’t just happen, they need care and attention.

Self-care isn’t a luxury - it is the essential battery recharge we all need to have the physical and mental energy to make the most of good times, and to keep going during tough times.

The power of self-care

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Looking after ourselves in this way - through self-care - doesn’t need something extraordinary, but some ‘ordinary magic’ (as described by the psychologist, Ann Masten). Moments of kindness, the offer of a helping hand, showing and receiving care and attention, all have the power to transform even the darkest moments.

As a parent or carer, you may well be thinking about your own child’s wellbeing while forgetting your own. But like many aspects of parenting, this involves you putting your own oxygen mask on first to look after yourself. That way, you will be best able to offer a helping hand to the children and teenagers in your life.

Everyone’s approach to self-care will look different, but it is helpful to run through a mental checklist of some of the important areas to consider:

Check 1: Looking after my body

Taking care of our physical wellbeing can go a long way to boosting emotional wellbeing. That includes a variety of daily activities, like paying attention to what we eat, taking time to exercise and to relax, and maintaining good quality sleep. Having a healthy and balanced diet improves how you feel physically. It can also lift mood, motivation and energy levels.

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Check 2: Time away from screens

Making sure we have some time away from screens during the day and ensuring that screen time is limited before going to sleep, are important to enable us to reset and recharge. Look at what you can replace screen time with, like keeping active through regular exercise and building fun physical activity into your day. As a family, playing games together can be a great way to enjoy each other’s company and invest in everyone’s wellbeing. Catching up with a friend, by phone or in person in the open air, can help create a space for your own self-care too.

Check 3: The value of routine

Think about how your own routines as a family may have changed (or even disappeared, despite your best intentions) since the start of the pandemic. Teenagers naturally come alive at night and, if they have been spending a lot of time at home, many have turned night into day.

Helping your children, whatever their age, to gradually re-establish a regular routine will be an important way to support them during their time away from school, including during the holidays.

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Check 4: Finding a balance

Time away from work is usually an opportunity to relax, but things still need to get done. So you need to find a balance. A little forward planning can help everyone to make the most of this free time. Mix up the day with some ‘must do’s’, and then the fun activities that reward you for doing them. If what you want to get done seems too big to tackle, perhaps think of it as a ‘pizza plan’ with each slice representing one small part of the whole - then you can work through it one slice at a time.

Check 5: Stay connected

Once our basic needs are met, the quality of our relationships is by far the most important thing in predicting long-term physical and mental health. These connections have gotten many of us through the challenges of the last year and, as restrictions change and we may be able to see our friends and family in-person again, remember to nurture them as you may have done with regular video calls, or socially distanced walks since the start of the pandemic.

Check 6: Looking ahead

In the last eighteen months, young people have faced big disappointments, with cancelled holidays, exams, social gatherings, and some uncertainty around what will happen next. Helping them to create new plans is an important way of supporting them. Don’t forget yourself, and the value for you too of beginning to have ideas about the future.

Getting through the last year has been a big achievement and the months ahead still hold uncertainty. It is okay not to be totally okay with that, and to feel a mixture of emotions. When you can, allow yourself and your family a little time to take stock, reflect and recharge. Looking after ourselves, and each other, continues to be really important at this time.

These tips have been provided by Dr Roslyn Law who is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Anna Freud Centre. The Centre has also shared these self-care ideas for young people recommended by young people themselves - as well as self-care tips for parents and carers here and young parents and carers here.

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