Jennifer Nelson, M.Ed., Mental Health Partners.

Parents often have little time for real self-care. We routinely finish last in this regard as we care for our kids, our partners, extended family members, pets, the house, our careers, and the list goes on. Parents, let’s honor ourselves by choosing to put ourselves first sometimes!

To help with some quick self-care tips and encouragement, we reached out to Jennifer Nelson, M.Ed., with Mental Health Partners.

Are there a few quick tips that come to mind for parental self-care? Things that don’t necessarily take much time but can make a real difference to one’s well-being?

JN: The BEST and quickest self-care activity is deep breathing. Breathing in through the nose and out of the mouth in long, slow breaths helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quickly restores a feeling of calm and peace. Also doing an activity that brings joy can really help center oneself and connect with one’s sense of inner peace and contentment. By exercising self-care, we calm our own nervous systems. Self-care can take many forms and is based on individual interests and needs. Examples of good self-care techniques are deep breathing, physical exercise, time in nature, time away from media and screens, yoga, meditation, etc.

The pandemic has left a lot of families – especially those with small kids – with precious few activities to do outside of the house. In your work, are you seeing parents who have found this challenging?

JN: YES! This has been a major challenge for families with kids of all ages. It’s been an issue we have tried to help support through Zoom presentations with suggestions of homebound activities for kids that are low cost and engaging. I have received regular feedback throughout the pandemic from parents who are highly stressed and frustrated about how the imitations have affected their children.

Why is self-care so important?

JN: Neuroscience shows that humans develop their abilities for emotional self-regulation through connections with reliable caregivers who soothe and model in a process called “co-regulation.” Regulation is a skill that indicates the ability to not act out or lose control when experiencing a strong emotion. Emotions are contained in the part of the brain called the limbic system and the big boss in the brain that helps us control impulsive behaviors or extreme emotional expression is the prefrontal cortex. Guess when THAT is fully developed and functional? Not until about 25 years old. So until then, children depend on the adults in their life, mostly their parents, to provide this to them. We in essence lend our prefrontal cortex to them. When we actively do this, it is called co-regulation.

Many children and young people have difficulties regulating their emotions and impulses. Adults often attempt to coercively regulate the behaviors of children and teens through commands, threats, and punishments. This approach invariably inflames the situation and generates resistance rather than learning. When young people have not yet learned the skills for rational self-regulation, they need the help of caring adults to calm them and help them think rationally.

Co-regulation is the first step on the pathway to self-regulation.

In order for parents to co-regulate with our kids, we ourselves need to be regulated. This requires that we make time for self-care. By exercising self-care, we calm our own nervous systems.

By Darren Thornberry, Raised in the Rockies