Starr Cunningham

Self-care starts with you

Teach good habits and help your kids help themselves

By Starr Cunningham

Self-care starts with you but it doesn’t end there. Especially if you’re a parent. Our children need me-time too, and the sooner we can teach them to take care of their mind and body, the happier and healthier we’ll all be. 

Developing a self-care routine is just as important for kids as it is for adults. Instilling these habits at a young age allows kids to better manage the stressors that life throws at them in school or at home. As you refresh your family routine for the fall, promote your family’s mental wellness by making self-care a priority.

Start by finding out what your children know about mental health and introduce them to the concept of mental wellness. We all have mental health and the goal is to keep it in really good shape. They know how to do that with their bodies: feed them well and exercise them. They know how to do that with their bicycles: they pump air in the tires and keep the chain oiled. But do they understand how to maintain good mental health?

Talk about stress. Teach them not to panic if something is stressing them. Stress is a completely normal emotion. If they didn’t feel some stress, they probably wouldn’t be motivated to do a lot of really important things (like study for an upcoming Dictée or practise playing scales before piano lessons). A little stress is healthy! A lot of stress over an extended period of time is something they should talk about with someone they love.

Discuss mood. It’s normal to feel sad sometimes like when they watch a sad scene in a movie. Or how they felt when they weren’t able to go to school and see all their friends during the pandemic. Or when they argue with a sibling. These are all reasons to feel sad. And that’s OK, because if they don’t feel sad sometimes, they can’t appreciate what it feels like to be happy. Just like stress though, if their sadness lasts for a long time and they’re feeling it without a reason, it’s time to talk.

Finally, explain self-care. It’s all about taking care of themselves. Here’s a great way to help them understand it letter by letter.

Sleep well. Let bodies and their brains rest. Limit screen time and stick to a sleep routine.

Eat healthily. Treats are fine but only in moderation. Think of food as fuel for the body. Healthy food equals great energy.

Laugh lots. Laughter really is good medicine. It makes us all feel better. (So, why do fish swim in salt water? Because pepper makes them sneeze!)

Find fun. Kids should do what makes them happy. Drawing, dancing, reading, sewing—they get to decide.

Connect with friends. It’s so important to stay social, even if it’s on a tablet or a computer. Everyone needs connections with people their own age.

Activate the body. Exercise! Skip rope, play sports, swim—it’s good for the body and brain.

Relax and recharge. Make time for down time. Take a rest and look for shapes in the clouds, paint their nails, or snuggle with their furry friend. Use the analogy of recharging a phone or tablet.

Enjoy every day. Encourage kids to think positively whenever they can. If they look for the good, they’re much more likely to find it.

If they have questions, encourage them to explore their curiosity. The best way to understand a topic is to learn more about it. That it’s not just true for school subjects; it’s also true when it comes to understanding their own mental health! 

Helping others is another great way for them to improve mental health. No fundraiser is ever too small, whether it’s a lemonade stand, art sale, or school-wide initiative. To learn more about self-care or get involved with the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, visit

Starr Cunningham is president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.

Read more from our Fall 2020 edition of Our Children.

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