In the past, Parenthetical has focused on why self-care is important for parents and other adults who work with youth, and rounded up a list of 50 ways to practice self care. As important as self-care is for the adults in teens’ lives, today’s post addresses why it is also an important skill to teach and model for teens as they become more independent and transition to caring for their own well-being.
Although it may seem like your teen is purposely driving you crazy, it is worth noting that the physical, emotional, and psychological changes that occur during adolescence take a significant toll on teens’ ability to regulate their thoughts and behaviors. On top of this, many teens have a dizzying array of commitments and expectations to balance, including school, homework, extracurricular activities, jobs, family responsibilities, volunteer commitments and social lives. All of these things can potentially lead to high-stress times when teens can use a little support in practicing self-care.
Luckily, adults who regularly practice self-care can model these behaviors for teens. Parents play an important role in helping teens identify times when they may be reacting to stressful circumstances and can offer solutions to process feelings and thoughts in a safe space. For example, parents can help teens learn to give themselves permission to “take a break” by offering feedback such as, “It seems like you are frustrated with this situation, would it be easier to talk about in an hour or two after we have both taken time to think and relax?”
Parents and other adults who interact with teens can also offer tangible ways for teens to practice self-care. One of my favorite activities for teen self-care is the creation of an Emotional Safety Kit. The idea is simple. The safety kit is a compilation of items that are easily accessible for your teen in times of need – whenever they feel stressed, upset, or confused. The kit should contain at least one item that your teen finds calming or that promotes positive feelings for them for each of their 5 senses. These items are gathered into some sort of box or kit, readily accessible when tough situations arise.
Right now in my box are the following items:
- Lavender Tea (taste)
- Campfire Scented Candle (smell)
- A guided Meditation Recording (sound)
- A book of inspirational quotes to read (sight)
- A stress ball (touch)
By picking an item for each of the senses, teens can explore different outlets for taking care of themselves. If they just had a fight, listening to music may help quiet their thoughts. If they had a stressful day, a comforting food may be a way to relax. The kit also provides an opportunity for teens to make independent decisions about their needs from multiple positive options.
Teens are still transitioning out of childhood and in stressful times may still benefit from some of the things that they used for self-soothing in childhood. Their Emotional Safety Kit could also contain an item or two from their younger days, including such things as a well worn stuffed animal, piece of a baby blanket, a favorite childhood picture with a parent, sibling or friend, a favorite song or storybook. A few moments of regression into the secure feelings of childhood might be just what they need before taking up the mantle of self-discovery again.
Creating an Emotional Safety Kit is a great activity for an individual teen, a group of teens, or a family. In families of groups of teens, different family members or teens can decorate their own box or kit and everyone can go on a trip together to get the items they plan to put in their box. Ideas can be shared or kept private; the main goal is to find items that are meaningful to each individual. If it seems that a teen can benefit from exploring this on their own, parents can help plan out a list of items and a budget, but let the teen do the gathering on their own. When stressful situations come up, teens can be reminded that the box is available if they need it.
A teen I worked with included these items in their box:
- Milk chocolate bar (taste)
- Vanilla scented air freshener (smell)
- Justin Bieber CD (sound)
- Step Brothers movies (sight)
- A soft fleece blanket (touch)
The Emotional Safety Kit is an example of tangible ways to practice self-care.
Share with Parenthetical…
What would you put in your Emotional Safety Kit?
What do you think your teen would find helpful in their Emotional Safety Kit?
Article by Dayana Kupisk
Dayana is a graduate student in Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dayana previously worked as a life skills coordinator at a residential living program for teens and young adults. She has one older brother, and, for the first time in her life, is living in a different state from her parents.