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How to Talk with Your Teenager about Self-Care

Building Self-Care Practices

We hear the phrase “self-care” everywhere these days, right?! In my opinion, it’s overused and often co-opted by brands pushing luxury items and asking us to spend money. When I use the term self-care, I am simply referring to the practice of tending to one’s own energy and needs. This article is an invitation to redefine the term self-care, explore what it means to you, and share conversation with your teenager or young adult. 

For the first few decades of my life, the concept of self-care was not a part of my vocabulary or comprehension. Sure, I knew that my dad had given my mom a massage gift certificate for her birthday and that my grandparents loved spending time in a little mountain cabin on the weekends. I also knew that therapy was a place I could vent and that playing soccer made me feel healthy and strong. This is all just skimming the surface, though.

Now, I have a name for intentional, self-soothing, and mindful routines: self-care. 

Since I learned the name “self-care,” I have been able to identify my own ongoing and acute needs for small (and big) acts of love and rest.  I have an ongoing practice of prioritizing self-care rituals.

Stop. Breathe. Feel.

Notice what is coming up for you. What is your relationship to the term and practice of self-care? What thoughts and beliefs are bubbling up?

The Benefits of Self-Care

Self-care can be practiced both consistently and in emergency situations. Mara Glatzel does a beautiful job of explaining both forms of this practice. There are self-care practices we engage in regularly to help keep our cups full, AND there will be times of intense stress, in which we need specific and sometimes more substantial self-care.

The rapidly-changing teenage brain can grow stability and resiliency through self-care practices, which can act as an anchor for young people as they navigate adolescence.

Whether I use the words “self-care” or not, I share this work with families I support each and every day; together, we talk about establishing routines that build a compassionate and caring relationship with oneself. The following communication tools will support you in bringing your teen into the self-care conversation:

8 Strategies for Talking with Teenagers About Self-Care

1. Practice self-care consistently, regularly, and with purpose. Check-in with yourself daily, and multiple times a day if you can. Making time for yourself EACH day. You are constantly modeling behavior to your children, and they witness and learn from the ways you tend to yourself and your energy. Equally importantly, you need self-care practices in order to feel sustained and resourced so that you can show up in your role of parent.

2. Define self-care together. The purpose of these practices is not a way to be “fixed” or “changed;” instead, it’s about being exactly where we are. Describe these practices as a necessary and normal part of life for all people, and invite your teenager to share what they know about the topic. Additionally, it might be helpful to address emotional hygiene as part of overall wellness.

3. Ask your teen where and how they feel the happiest/most comfortable/most at ease. You might ask questions like, “Where do you feel most joyful and relaxed?” “What helps you feel most calm and comfortable?” Give them the space to name and describe places and activities that feel calming to them. Your job here is to listen more than you talk.

4. Ask your teen about the parts of their lives that cause stress or energy drain. Get in the habit of asking open-ended questions like, “When do you notice feeling the most stress during the day?” Again, you are creating an opening for self-reflection through which your teen will better know themselves, so steer clear of advice-giving as you listen.

5. Emphasize that self-care doesn’t have to cost money or look like it does in the magazines or on Instagram. It’s important that we demystify self-care. It doesn’t have to mean going to a fancy spa for an entire weekend. These practices can be DIY, done in the comfort of your own home or a public park, and require nothing but a little bit of time and intention. Again, ask your teen what ideas they already have for self-care, and if they are open you can brainstorm ideas together. Additionally, I suggest keeping a list of go-to routines on the fridge to add some accountability and easier access in moments of stress. Get a free downloadable list here!

6. Make family check-ins normal. Model emotional awareness by describing where you feel sensations such as anxiety, overwhelm, peace, joy, etc. in your body. Make time to check in with yourself and your family, inviting your teen to notice and name what they are noticing too. (If you get shoulder shrugs at first, that’s okay. I encourage you to keep trying, keep leaving the door open because one day they might be ready to share.)

7. Support your teen in developing and committing to routines for self-care. Talk about the times of day you intentionally care for and soothe yourself. How do you fit this into your daily routines? Ask questions such as, “What times of day do you tend to feel more stressed? Tired?” or “How do you plan to add these rituals into your schedule?” If you have a weekly routine of reviewing family schedules, include self-care appointments or practices in the conversation and on the calendar!

A Few Self-Care Practices Teenage Clients I Work with Have Loved

  • Mindful coloring
  • Walk while listening to music
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Use facial masks or painting nails
  • Play with or walk your pet
  • Drink a cup of tea
  • Use lavender oil (or another preferred oil)

Get a downloadable list of these self-care ideas for teens and more here!

If you or your teen are ready to add another layer of support in your day, check out my guide to building unique support systems. Finally, I’m wishing you all a smooth summer with your family, and I am honored to share tools for your journey.

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