Teaching Youth Self-Care

Alyssa Quintana

"Doubt yourself and you doubt everything you see. Judge yourself and you see the judges everywhere. But if you listen to the sound of your voice, you can rise above doubt and judgement. And you can see forever." - Nancy Lopez

A few years ago, I had taken on a new job working with the at-risk youth population as a female teen group facilitator. As I worked my way through groups, I listened to their various stories; they ranged from heartbreaking to empowering, unbelievable to relatable. There were a few things they all shared: negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and an extreme lack of self-care. How could these kiddos just be starting their lives and they already have a narrative in their head telling them they are not enough? We all struggle with that tiny voice that resides in our heads. We all mumble harsh self-criticism under our breath. We're only human. There is a point when this voice can cross the line, which can lead to a spiral. We can either allow it to continue or rewrite the narrative. Unfortunately, rewriting the narrative is something the majority of us don’t know how to do.

The power of language is an amazing thing. Our words can quickly change our perspective of the world, others and how we see ourselves. We receive words from others around us. We hear compliments and it has the potential to make our day. We hear criticism and can take it to heart. This becomes a part of our reality. And for females, especially youth, this can be dangerous. This can lead to self-harm as a way of coping or extremes such as eating disorders.

As an adult, it is our responsibility to help these kids realize their inner beauty and potential and it all starts with that tiny inner voice. There are many things you can do to help young people with this, especially if you are the parent or a teacher.

Parent/Family Ideas:

  • Family Time
    Since their family is their main support group, this is where children develop a sense of self-worth. Building a strong sense of familial connection can improve the self-worth of each family member. The University of Missouri implemented a program called Building Strong Families, offering competencies to parents on how to become a strong family. They offer many handouts, activities, and reading materials available in English and Spanish to help you jumpstart your family time.
  • Exercising Together
    There is a long list of health benefits that kids get to enjoy when they exercise, but there’s also a long list of mental and emotional benefits. Because exercise increases serotonin in the brain, it helps ward off depression and anxiety. It also serves as an opportunity for you to reinforce positive body image for you kids. Reminding them how strong they are, how their bodies can do amazing things like run and jump and climb helps them see their bodies in a positive light.
  • Positive Feedback
    Praising, encouraging and rewarding your child can help build a stronger connection as well as reinforce a strong sense of self-worth. Praising your child can go a long way in light of their confidence and self-worth. Aid to Life suggests praising your child's inner potential such as their empathy, strengths, gratitude, etc. This connects the child's awareness to the impact of their actions, rather than focusing on their outward appearance.
  • Positive Attention
    An understanding of how to show children positive attention often comes easily and naturally for parents. Raising Children brings up examples of positive attention: smiling, eye contact, caring facial expressions, being physically and emotionally gentle with your child, using words to encourage, and showing interest in their interests--to name a few. To the child, these moments establish a strong connection with you and help reinforce their sense of self-worth. Try to be attentive in these moments as these can become second nature acts.

Teacher Ideas:

Try some class exercises to promote self-care and mindfulness!

  • Have students draw a silhouette of themselves and list 20 positive features they like about themselves inside the silhouette. Have the class pass the images around, each student writing compliments on the outside of the silhouette.
  • Allot some time where students can free write. Encourage the students to write anything that comes to mind. Offer them the option to rip up and throw away the writing when finished.
  • Self-Care games. The Sensory Connection Program offers some great ideas!

Implement class discussions!

  • Start your class with a small discussion on what each student is grateful for. This is a great way to check in and start the class on a positive note, especially on a Monday morning. Another bonus? Gratitude improves mental and physical health!
  • Did you know YouTube has a self-care channel? At the end of class, watch a clip with your students. You could follow with a small discussion on self-care plans for the weekend!
  • Develop a self-care plan with your class. Lenore Balliro from World Education provides an example from their Managing Stress to Improve Learning project.
  • Mindful Teachers is a great resource for more ideas on promoting self-care and mindfulness within the classroom as well as self-care for teachers.
  • Mindfulness Everyday is another great resource. They have developed a free program, Mindfulness Edge, specifically for teachers to promote mindfulness within teens.

Whatever your role in your community, there are many ways you can support young people in developing good self-care habits and help reinforce their sense of self-worth.