Parents who teach their kids who have eating disorders self-care can make a huge impact on their lifetime health and wellness. Kids who have eating disorders often struggle with poor self-care habits. Parents are critical when it comes to developing healthy self-care practices that will last a lifetime.
What is self-care?
Self-care is a way for someone to recognize and respond to their personal needs. It’s unfortunate that this is something to be learned, but our culture is actually anti-self-care. Many of us are actively taught to be selfless and care for others before caring for ourselves. Putting ourselves first and caring for our own needs can be a revolutionary act in our society.
A lot of the things you read about self-care focus on things like bubble baths, massages, and glasses of wine. But true self-care is a daily practice of tuning into who you are and what you truly need.
Why is self-care important for kids with eating disorders?
We are currently facing terrifying increases in suicide, self-harm, eating disorders, substance abuse, and mental conditions such as anxiety and depression. Our children are entering a society that is clearly emotionally compromised.
This is a huge public health crisis. There are many societal and structural changes that need to take place to make our culture safer for our kids. But for now, as parents, we simply need to do our very best to help our kids be resilient against the mental health challenges they face.
One of the recognized methods for protecting children from mental health issues is to develop self-care routines that promote health and well-being. Self-care is essential if we want our kids to thrive despite increasing rates of poor mental health in our society.
How do we learn self-care?
Self-care begins with the word “self,” but it’s not something that needs to be developed alone. Human beings are finely attuned to social groups, particularly their parents. As a result, loving oneself often requires a sense of being loved in critical relationships. This is why self-care is often best when learned in partnership with a loving parent.
People can strive to learn to love themselves as adults. But it’s far easier if children are taught by their parents that they are deeply loved and accepted as children. It’s also helpful if parents show their kids some effective methods of self-care rather than just expecting them to develop it for themselves. When parents teach self-care to kids, it is easier for them to tap into self-love and personal caregiving any time they are struggling emotionally.
Feeling loved is the first pillar of self-care
Self-care is about loving ourselves. But because we are social animals, loving ourselves often begins with feeling loved by our parents. Almost all parents do love their children deeply and want only what’s best for them. But it’s surprisingly common for adult children to report that they did not feel loved by their parents. As a result, they have a hard time tapping into an innate sense of worthiness and acceptance, which is a foundation of self-care.
Parents can teach self-care to kids by helping them feel deeply loved. Parents need to give love in a way that children recognize at the moment. Giving love to our children will give them a lifetime of self-care techniques and improved health and happiness for life.
Love is not as much a feeling as an action. And how parents show love is how kids learn to love themselves.
How parents can teach self-care to kids
You already love your child. That goes without saying. But how do you let them know they are loved? Are you able to tap into methods of showing more love to them when emotions are challenging? Parents can teach self-care to kids by showing them more love in the most difficult situations.
We teach our kids self-care by showing them we love them. We can’t assume our kids know we love them. Feeling love for our kids is not enough. Driving carpool, making three meals a day, and keeping a roof over their head is not the same as showing love, it’s the tactical work of being a parent.
Instead, we must show our kids we love them. Our love actions are how they learn self-care practices that will keep them healthy for life.
6 ways parents can show kids love
A parent’s demonstrated love actions build a powerful foundation for self-care and self-love. These six ways to show love will help you raise a child who knows how to care for themselves when you are not available. Your acts of love will guide their self-care practices for life.
1. Allow all feelings
Our society promotes toxic positivity. This damages our kids because they learn to repress their emotions, which is not healthy. Healthy emotional regulation requires that kids repeatedly feel negative emotions like anger, sadness, and fear when they are with their parents. And, over time, they learn that feelings are nothing to be scared about.
⭐ As your child recovers from their eating disorder, feeling their feelings is an essential part of self-care. They can only take care of their emotional needs if they are able to accept their emotional landscape.
2. Feed them fearlessly
Eating is a critical part of self-care. And yet our society promotes denying hunger and ignoring cravings. This damages our kids because appetite is an essential part of being human. Ignore societal messages that tell you to fear food and restrict what your child eats. This will support disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food. Help your child tune into their hunger, appetite, and satiety. Teach them that there is nothing wrong with emotional eating. It’s just a part of being human.
⭐ As your child recovers from their eating disorder, eating fearlessly is an essential part of self-care. They can tune into their natural appetite and hunger cues and respond with love and kindness.
3. Tuck them into bed
In our go-go-go society, sleep is often neglected. But in fact, our kids need a tremendous amount of sleep to maintain basic health. Sleep affects mental and physical health. While your child is in recovery from their eating disorder they may need even more sleep than is normally recommended. The biggest impediments to sleep are phones, laptops, Netflix, and homework. Help your child establish a sleep hygiene routine. Yes, this will be hard. They will not like it. But sleep hygiene is an essential part of health and self-care.
⭐ In the short term, your child will need your help making sleep happen. But over time, they will learn the benefits of good sleep for themselves and make it part of their self-care.
4. Touch them
Humans are social animals. Look at any images of mammals with their babies and you’ll notice how often they touch each other. We have much longer childhoods than other mammals, but the need for touch remains strong while our kids are living with us. If your child is not in the habit of being touched by you, then move very slowly. Touch their hand, shoulder, or some other area of their body lightly and briefly. Build up until you are intentionally giving them a little bit of touch every day. If your child already loves to be touched, then give them at least one 20-second hug every day.
⭐ When your child grows up, they will learn to give themselves gentle touch and seek it from loved ones. This can be an essential part of self-care.
5. Move together
You know how when your baby was crying it often helped to walk around the house holding them? Or perhaps they calmed down in the car? So many parents hold their infants against their bodies in chest carriers, which is deeply comforting. Movement is a powerful soothing activity, and it can defuse tension and anxiety. When your child is emotionally triggered, see if you can take a walk together or go for a drive together. When tensions are high at home and you’re having a hard time communicating, movement can often help to literally shake things up a little bit.
⭐ When you do this with your child you show them that sometimes the best self-care is a little bit of movement or a change of scenery. Sometimes moving the body can help offload tension and create a calmer emotional state.
A daily practice
Self-care is a daily practice; it’s more like brushing your teeth than taking a vacation. Many articles suggest big gestures are needed to take care of yourself. And those are great sometimes. But the best and easiest self-care is small actions often. When parents care for their kids like this, kids learn to tune into what they need and develop good self-care habits.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.
She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.