The Ultimate Guide to Self-Care for Kids: How to Help Kids Manage Childhood Stressors Well

Ultimate Guide to Self-Care for Kids: Reduce Childhood Stress!

Are your kids equipped to practice healthy self-care? Self-care for kids is important because, just like adults, kids get stressed. In these crazy times, childhood stress is on the rise. Plus, childhood stressors are sneaky. If you’re like us, then you long to give your kids the best. This, however, can be where the problem lies—at least it was for us!

At one time, our family overdid things by enrolling our kids in too many good things at once. This inadvertently caused our children’s stress levels to rise. When we finally recognized this, it took us some time to regain balance. Our journey started with rediscovering healthy self-care. Here’s a quick snapshot of our story.

Our Story: Signs of Childhood Stress

It was 4 am, and Jenny, my amazing wife, was wide awake. She sat in an armchair in our family room, feeding our infant daughter. As Jenny snuggled the newest member of our family, she heard our six-year-old roll out of bed. Her tiny feet shuffled down the hallway, past the family room, and into the kitchen. Our daughter peered around the corner to glance at the clock. When she saw it wasn’t time to wake up (our girls were under strict orders not to get out of bed until 6 am), she shuffled back to her room.

Ten minutes later, our six-year-old repeated this process…

Then she did it again…

and again…

“Honey, I think Brooklyn is stressed,” Jenny declared over morning coffee.

“Why is that?” I inquired.

“Because I watched her shuffle down the hallway and check the clock—every ten minutes! She is so worried about arriving late, she can’t get a good night’s sleep.”

I knew Jenny was right. I watched our daughter check the clock before. However, I hadn’t realized she was starting so early and checking this often!

With so many exciting opportunities available, childhood stress can sneak up fast. It might start with one fun activity. Then another amazing opportunity is added on. Soon it’s another, and another…

Kids can have too much of a good thing. Plus, they have everyday stressors to manage as well. This is why learning about healthy self-care for kids is a must!

Childhood Stress Quote

The Impact of Childhood Stress and Childhood Stressors

Catching up on sleep is one of the many self-care strategies we’ll examine in this post. Just as cars need oil changes and computers require restarts, the human body must have rest. As Jenny and I reflected on the previous months, we realized our children often asked, “What time is it?”

That’s cute! I thought to myself. They are learning to tell time.

Childhood Stress Trends Quote

Boy, was I wrong! This question didn’t come from a desire to learn about time. Instead, our kids were worried they were going to be late! Each day was a race. Our weekdays started early, with a before-school running club. Girl scouts, multiple sports practices, and church events came next.

Weekends were a scramble from one soccer match to the next. In between was the hurry to complete homework, attend birthday parties, and squeeze in family time. Of course, everybody wanted our girls to be punctual. And there were plenty of discussions about this—especially in the sports world.

If your children are stressed, you are not alone. Childhood stress is on the rise. Children have more opportunities than ever before, which also generates more stress. Because childhood stressors are increasing, the need for positive self-care strategies for kids has risen too.

Help your kids manage stress well. Just as cars need oil changes and computers require restarts, the human body must have rest! Share on X

Childhood Stress Signs and Symptoms

Childhood stress impacts our kid’s brains. Of course, this is what parents can’t see. And we’ll go into more detail on this in a moment. What parents can see is how childhood stressors impact their kid’s actions. Visible signs of childhood stress include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble relaxing
  • Anxiety over being late
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Bedwetting and regressing to earlier childhood behaviors

This list is not exhaustive. But it is enough to show how an accumulation of childhood stress negatively impacts kids. This is why self-care for kids matters. But before diving into the self-care ideas, let’s first examine why childhood stressors cause behaviors to rise.

Childhood Stressors and the Brain

Parents see the outward signs of childhood stress. Now, let’s examine a few of the inward ones. The human brain has a tiny section called the amygdala. The amygdala is highlighted in red in the image to the right. The word amygdala means almond and is (not surprisingly) shaped like this nut. The amygdala is the brain’s emergency response system. When activated, kids enter into fight or flight mode.

On the bright side, the amygdala is a lifesaver in true emergencies, such as fires, when people need to quickly find safety. However, when the amygdala activates in non-emergency situations, it causes problems. An overactive amygdala will wreak havoc in relationships and makes it difficult for kids to focus.

The Amygdala and childhood stress

Childhood Stress and Self-Care for Kids Facts

Continually childhood stress turns into toxic stress. Everyone, including kids, needs a break from the storms. Children with toxic levels of stress are easily triggered, and their bodies are on high alert all the time. This is why self-care for kids matters! Stress is cumulative and builds up over time. Healthy self-care helps children to de-stress, bit by bit, so they don’t become overwhelmed.

Before diving deeper into childhood stress and self-care for kids, here are four important facts to know.

1. When the amygdala activates, the frontal cortex (or critical thinking brain) shuts off.

Childhood Stressors and Childhood Self-Care

Picture the amygdala as connected to the frontal cortex by a light switch. The lights are either on or off. There is no in-between. The human brain works similarly. When the amygdala (part of the sympathetic nervous system) turns on, the frontal cortex and parasympathetic nervous system turn off. This is why childhood stress makes it difficult for kids to stay focused. It’s tough to pay attention in class when one’s brain is on high alert. It’s also difficult to complete schoolwork when the critical thinking part of the brain is powered down.

In short, childhood stressors have an enormous impact on our kids!

2. Not all childhood stress is bad.

The above facts can make it seem like all childhood stressors are bad. But this is not the case. Human beings need some tension to function optimally. At low to moderate levels, stress is motivating. And there is nothing wrong with high stress for brief periods of time.

Think back to your last deadline. Chances are, as the due date approached, you became increasingly creative and energized! Stress causes kids to attend school on cold winter mornings when sleeping late is far more appealing. Everyone needs some stress. Just not constant and overwhelming stress, which is another reason why healthy self-care for kids matters.

Childhood stressors and moderate stress level benefits

3. When childhood stress becomes toxic, kids are continually on high alert.

Five Signs of Childhood Stress

As a fan of Star Trek the Next Generation, I remember episodes where the starship Enterprise appeared to peacefully float in space. Then, the camera zooms inside. Red lights flash. The alarm sounds. And crew members dutifully run to their stations. The Enterprise is on red alert. This is what toxic childhood stress is like. Although stressed kids may appear calm, their minds and hearts are racing inside.

Healthy self-care helps kids get out of high-alert mode. Think Star Trek again. Going on red alert is great when the ship is under attack. Yellow-alert is good when things are tense. But being on high alert all the time is exhausting.

Similarly, as parents, we want our kids to be on red alert in true emergencies. Being on yellow alert is good for tests and sports games. We might even call this having one’s game face on. Childhood self-care isn’t about deactivating our body’s emergency response systems. Instead, it’s about assuring these systems are not active all the time.

4. Because childhood stress is ongoing, self-care for kids must be ongoing too.

Self-care is an ongoing process and not a one-time event. Once Jenny and I realized our kids were overly stressed, our family’s self-care journey began. We started this adventure with a conversation. First, we let our kids know we were concerned about the stress level of our home. Then we shared some of our personal concerns.

Next, we told our kids we would say “no” to some good things so we could say “yes” to the great things. Jenny used the phrase, “Every no is a yes to something else.” This statement resonated with our kids, and they picked up on the idea fast.

Our girls said they missed our impromptu family dance parties, eating meals together, family movie nights, and simply enjoying time together. We agreed that saying “no” wasn’t bad. Instead, we would sometimes say “no” to good things so that we had time to say “yes” to the very best.

Self-care for kids is all about helping our children step out of the hustle and bustle of life to unwind. Often, this means helping them take mini-breaks between activites to reduce childhood stress buildup. With this talk, our family self-care journey began!

Four Childhood Stress and Childhood Self-Care Facts

The Self-Care for Kids Roadmap

So far, we’ve examined the pros and cons of childhood stress and the importance of self-care for kids. Now let’s dive into some specific strategies parents can use to help their children manage stress well. The self-care for kids infographic to the right outlines eight self-care strategies to help kids bust stress, boost their mood, and feel happier.

These ideas help children push through stressful moments and achieve their goals. Practicing healthy childhood self-care strategies will also allow your kids to get out of red-alert mode. The self-care infographic and printable outline my all-time favorite self-care ideas for kids. After providing this brief overview, we’ll do an in-depth examination of each one. This is followed by a printable self-care infographic with 52 more self-care ideas. Finally, we’ll examine an ingenious study that shows how healthy self-care habits can help your child win at life!

So, are you ready to dive in?

Self-Care for Kids Infographic

8 Self-Care Ideas to Help Children Regulate Fast

So far, we’ve seen that childhood stress is on the rise. Next, we examined the pros and cons of stress and common childhood stressors. After that, we explored the need for parents to help their children practice healthy self-care. Lastly, the Self-Care for Kids Infographic provided a broad overview of the childhood self-care strategies to come. Now, let’s dive deeper into each of these self-care ideas!

Self-Care for Kids Idea #1: Trace Your Hand

Do you remember the fidget-spinner craze? Not long ago, the familiar “Whizzzzz” of these trendy toys was everywhere. But this fad had a purpose. Kids have a lot of energy. For many children, sitting still is difficult. The expectation that young children sit criss-cross applesauce during circle time may not always be developmentally appropriate. However, in many schools, it’s an expectation. So what can parents do?

The expectation of sitting still can increase childhood stress. Fortunately, this first coping skill for kids focuses on helping children manage their energy when they need to sit quietly. This might be during:

  • School circle time
  • Important but difficult conversations
  • Homeschool teaching times
  • While waiting for appointments
  • During a time-out
Self-Care for Kids: Trace Your Hand

Childhood Stress Management Idea #1-Fidget

Although tracing your hand can be done with a pencil—as pictured above—I encourage kids to trace their hand with their opposite hand’s index finger. Encourage your child to use this simple fidget by tracing each finger back and forth again. A second fidget option is for kids to twiddle their thumbs. Again, have them do this both forward and in reverse. I call this the original fidget spinner. Sure, it’s a bad joke, but energetic kids need to move, and simple fidgets help.

Have your child practice these self-care fidgets with his or her hands underneath a desk. Children can look their teacher in the eyes while keeping the fidget going. Self-care fidgets help kids divide their attention.

In today’s fast-paced world, multitasking is the norm. Children watch television while listening to music and playing on their tablets. They are used to doing multiple things at once. Thus, the expectation of sitting still and focusing on one thing can cause their stress to rise. Parents can bemoan this fact, or we can equip our kids to manage these childhood stressors well—which is the far better option.

Action Step for Parents and Teachers: Equip your children with at least one self-care for kids fidgets mentioned above. Watch the video for live demonstrations of each of the self-care hand fidgets. We’ll show you how to get the most out of them and demonstrate a few bonus fidgets too. These simple self-care ideas are perfect for helping kids manage the childhood stress of sitting still. I’ve had multiple parents express their delight at just how well these self-care strategies work!

Self-Care for Kids Idea #2: Take Big, Deep Breaths

Big deep breaths are one of the fastest ways for kids to re-regulate. The parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system can’t be active at the same time. When kids turn their body’s calming system on, their emergency response system must turn off.

To get the most from this self-care idea for kids, children should:

  1. Inhale slowly through their nose, fully filling their lungs with air.
  2. When done correctly, their tummy will fill up, like a balloon.
  3. Exhale slowly, through their mouth.
  4. Repeat.

Stressed kids take short, shallow breaths from high in their chests. Slow, deep breaths cause the body to slow and the amygdala to deactivate.

Young kids can practice this self-care strategy using simple props like a bubble wand or a pinwheel.

Self-Care for Kids: Take Deep Breaths

Action Step for Parents and Teachers: Teach your kids how to take big, deep breaths. This is an excellent self-care strategy for the many childhood stressors that arise. It’s also one of the fastest ways for kids to re-regulate!

Self-Care for Kids Idea #3: Signal a Time-Out

This self-care strategy for kids helps them ask for a break. It’s also a great way to teach them how their brain works. Parents and teachers can also use the time-out signal to let kids know when they need a break. When a sporting match gets intense, the coach signals a time-out. Why shouldn’t parents, teachers, and kids do the same?

Self-Care for Kids: Signal a Time-Out

One of the first steps to healthy self-care is for kids to recognize we they are stressed. Signs of childhood stress include:

  • Shoulder tightness
  • An upset tummy
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • A hard time concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Spacing out

When kids notice these childhood stress symptoms, they can respond by asking for a break. However, verbally saying, “I need a break,” can be difficult. Signaling a time-out (either a sports time-out or the brain-break signal) is much easier.

Action Step: Teach your Kids the Flip-Your-Lid Time-Out Request

Help your kids take a break from childhood stressors by using the time-out hand signals. These simple signs help children understand the brain science behind stress and to ask for a self-care break when it’s needed most.

In this quick video, Jenny and I demonstrate two simple hand signals kids can use to ask for a break.

Self-Care for Kids Idea #4: Squash A.N.T’s

Ants are pesky creatures that invade homes. A.N.T.’s is an acronym for automatic negative thoughts. These are pesky thoughts that invade our kid’s minds and drag them down. Common A.N.T.’s include,

  • This schoolwork is too hard.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I can’t.
  • Why try? I’ll just fail.
  • I’m a bad kid.

Automatic negative thoughts are more pervasive than most parents realize.

The Screen Experiment

Imagine a television screen hovering over your children’s heads that allows you to peer into their thoughts. What would you see?

This shocking question is also an interesting one. I’m glad no such technology exists. As a parent, I’m not ready for an unfiltered look into my kid’s minds—especially the minds of our teenagers. But there is a reason for this inquiry. If this technology existed, parents would be astounded at the number of self-defeating thoughts their kids have. Not only is childhood stress real, but our kids also have much to worry about. Bullying, cyber-bullying, zoom fatigue, sports pressures, homework, and now COVID are common childhood stressors.

The human brain likes to take worries and magnify them. The renowned therapist Albert Ellis used words like catastrophizing and awfulizing to describe this tendency. If kids came with a pre-installed screen that allowed parents, teachers, and coaches to view their thoughts, I think we would be surprised by how much anxiety is in there. This is why helping our kids squash A.N.T.’s is a must.

Mental Self-Care Tips

Squashing A.N.T.’s is mental self-care for kids. This self-care strategy has three important steps:

Mental Self-Care Tip #1: Identify the Automatic Negative Thought.

The first step is to help kids to identify the A.N.T. When your children are sad, mad, anxious, or frustrated, help them recognize the specific thought connected with this feeling. Trust me, it’s there. According to psychology, we are biopsychosocial beings. This means that people are a lot like spaghetti. Everything intertwines with everything else.

According to the biopsychosocial model, our biology (physical body) is connected to our psychology (our thoughts), which intertwines with our sociology (our relationships). See? We’re just like spaghetti—everything ties into everything else. The next time you catch your child in a bad mood, remember, there are probably specific negative thoughts triggering this.

Self-Care for Kids: Squash ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) Fast

Mental Self-Care Tip #2: Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking.

This step comes with a warning. Caution! This step is not about asking our kids to pretend the world is all gumdrops, unicorns, and rainbows—because it’s not! We won’t ask our kids to be Pollyanna for a day. Nor do I suggest minimizing their pain. Instead, let’s help our kids think rationally about the things bothering them.

According to NBC News, approximately 85 percent of what we worry about never happens. On the slight chance they do occur, it’s usually not as bad as expected. Sometimes, invaluable life lessons are learned in the process. In short, A.N.T’s, much like ants, are simply not helpful. This self-care strategy is not about getting our kids to adopt an overly optimistic outlook on life. Instead, the goal is to help them examine their thoughts and explore ways of thinking closely aligned with reality. Two great questions to help them do this include:

  1. How else can I view this situation?
  2. What’s good about this?

Be careful with question number two. We are not suggesting the situation is good—likely it’s not. It’s simply exploring the idea there might be some good aspects or outcomes. Now it’s time to play around with these alternative ways of thinking. Explore as many possibilities with your child as possible. Sometimes, having an open, honest conversation about childhood stressors is enough to reduce the power they hold over our kids.

Mental Self-Care Tip #3: Squash that A.N.T.

Finally, it’s time to put this self-care strategy to work. Albert Ellis (who I mentioned earlier) founded Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT for short. The most important word in that sentence is rational. Rational is exactly how we want our children to think.

Now it’s time to review your brainstorming list. Have your child choose his or her favorite rational thoughts. Then, when those pesky A.N.T.s appear, he or she can use this childhood self-care strategy to squash the negativity, fast!

Self-Care for Kids Idea #5: Say, “You’ve Got This!”

“It’s OK, Dad, I’ve got this!” I will be forever grateful to our daughter’s preschool teacher for two reasons. First, she taught our daughter this ingenious mental self-care phrase. Second, she instilled it deep into our daughter’s brain. “I’ve got this” is more than just an empowering statement. My four-year-old truly believes this. In addition to squashing A.N.T.’s, it’s also important for kids to have a few go-to self-care phrases—ones that empower them!

So how did my child come to believe she can handle the challenges life sends her way? That’s easy. Her teachers told her so.

Do you remember being a child and looking up to your teachers? If you were like me, then in your mind, what a teacher said, went.

  • If a parent or teacher said I could do it, then I could.
  • When a parent or teacher said, “That’s too hard for you,” then I believed I couldn’t.
  • If an adult was unsure, then I felt unsure too.

Kids look up to adults, and most adults have more power than they realize! As we all know from Spiderman,

With great power comes great responsibility!

– Uncle Ben

Use your power wisely by embedding this powerful self-care statement into your child’s heart.

The “You’ve got this!” Story:

“Teacher, I want to go back.”

My four-year-old was on a nature hike with her class and didn’t believe she could use the tree roots to climb out of the ditch like the rest of her class. To be fair, she was the youngest one on the hike. When my wife and I heard there were off-campus nature hikes, we begged the school to let our daughter join early. This was when our little one’s teacher said those magic words. “No, don’t go back. It will be OK. You’ve got this… You’ve got this!”

Our four-year-old knew she was supposed to trust her teacher. So she nervously grabbed onto those tree roots and climbed up too. Now, our child doesn’t even need her teacher nearby. “It’s OK, daddy; I’ve got this.” Her teacher’s word’s of confidence echo in her mind—even when her teacher is not around.

The moral of this story is… Be that kind of teacher or that kind of parent!

The mental self-care statement, “You’ve got this!” is powerful. Use it often. Remind kids of this daily, and soon they will be able to use this same phrase to push through common childhood stressors and cheer themselves on as they reach their goals!

Self-Care for Kids: Say, "You've Got This!"

Self-Care Activity for Parents: Say, “You’ve Got This!”

While self-care for kids can be taught, much of it is simply caught. My daughter never sat down in circle time for a formal, “You’ve got this” lesson. Instead, her teachers used this phase to cheer her on whenever she needed a confidence boost. And they didn’t just do it once. They repeated this self-care phrase, over and over again! When childhood stress invades your home or classroom, use this simple phrase to instill confidence in your kids. Children are capable of accomplishing more than they realize. They just need an adult to ignite their confidence.

Say, “You’ve got this!” often enough, and your confident voice will become ingrained in your child’s brain. Next thing you know, your child may begin doing what mine does. She’ll hold out her hand, put her game face on, and say, “It’s OK, dad. I got this… I got this!” Then, she’ll boldly dive in! Here are a few posters we created to help you put this idea into action. As parents, your self-care activity is to hang these posters where you’ll see them and use them as reminders to encourage your child with the phrase, “You’ve got this!”

You can hang them in your classroom or home as a reminder to use this powerful self-care statement. You can also hang them in your children’s room as a way of expressing your confidence in them.

Do you believe us when we say, “You’ve got this!” Download your set of four positive parenting posters below. Then, print the one that best fits your unique parenting style!

Self-Care Idea #6: Teach kids to “Go slow, be patient, and take your time.”

We live in a fast-paced, microwave society. Families move fast. They cook fast, eat fast, work fast, connect fast, and play fast.

Self-care, however, isn’t fast.

In fact, healthy self-care for kids moves at the opposite pace. Self-care is about stepping out of the hustle and bustle of life to recalibrate. A problem with fast is that it creates unrealistic expectations. Bill Gates said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Having a long-term mindset is helpful in business and in life.

According to an article in The Huffington Post, Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist and a genius. He also didn’t speak until he was four years old. Children develop at different rates. And just because a child doesn’t understand something now doesn’t mean it won’t click later.

In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to forget the benefits of going slow. As a child, one of my favorite martial arts instructors would say, “Slow to learn also means slow to forget.” And in Aesop’s famous fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise wins every time!

Self-Care for Kids-Go slow, be patient, take your time

Parents can help their kids stay focused and push through difficult but important tasks with this simple self-care strategy. The phrase “Go slow, be patient, take your time” is another mental self-care statement parents can use to encourage their kids. Eventually, this will sink in, and kids will use this phrase to encourage themselves.

Mental Self-Care in Action: “Go slow, be patient, and take your time.”

“Go slow, be patient, take your time” is one of my favorite positive self-talk statements for kids. Typically, I also teach sign language that goes along with each phrase. Then, I’ll repeat this phrase over and over again. My goal is that when childhood stressors arise, such as a big test, a difficult conversation, or a challenging project, this powerful self-talk phrase will pop into their minds.

As we will later see in the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, endurance matters. Children who follow the turtle principle and keep pressing forward when things are tough are the ones who reach their goals and win in life. Use the quick video below to learn the sign language for this powerful childhood self-care statement. Then, teach it to your kids, repeat it often, and use the printable self-care for kids poster to reinforce this idea.

Self-Care Activity: Printable Turtle Mandala

Help your kids push through childhood stressors with this printable self-care activity. The turtle mandala is an excellent way to reinforce the statement, “Go slow. Be patent. Take your time.” It’s also a good way to get kids to take a break from the many childhood stressors they face.

After your kiddos are done coloring, teach them the sign language that goes along with this powerful statement. We demonstrate each step in the short video below! Learning these hand motions is another great self-care activity for kids because the movements make the learning stick.

Self-Care For Kids Action Step: Help your kids stay focused on difficult but important tasks by using the powerful self-care phrase, “Go slow. Be patient. Take your time.” Then, have your child color this printable self-care activity page to reinforce the lesson.

Self-Care for Kids Idea #7: Get Them Active

Your childhood was awesome if…

  • You played outside until the streetlights turned on.
  • If you jumped from one piece of furniture to the next to avoid falling into the lava.
  • You remember riding your bike through the neighborhood as the sunset.

Statements like these flood social media. And while some nostalgic memes involve pictures of favorite video games and candies, many of them focus on active, creative play.

The Power of Active Play

There is a reason why adults look back to racing down their block on bikes with joy. Exercise is powerful! One study concludes, “Exercise appears to be an effective treatment for depression, improving depressive symptoms to a comparable extent as pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy.” Isn’t that amazing! When it comes to self-care for kids, exercise may be equally as effective as medications.

Of course, this isn’t a suggestion that medication should be avoided. That is a conversation parents must have with their physicians. However, it is a reminder that parents, teachers, and mentors can be proactive. We can help kids ward off symptoms of anxiety and depression by encouraging them to engage in physically active self-care.

Self-Care for Kids: Get Them Active

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. This boils down to about 21-minutes of moderate physical activity a day. For our kids, this is more than doable! Physical activity is an excellent way to help our kids manage childhood stressors well. Plus, when our kids reach adulthood, they’ll reflect back on these moments with nostalgic joy!

Self-Care for Kids Idea #8: Help Them Rest

I’m a therapist who is married to a social worker. When you’re a husband and wife team who’s had as much formal education as us, there are moments when you think to yourselves, We’ve got this parenting thing down! Then, there are other moments like the one I’m about to share…

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and our family was casually browsing through the children’s section at a local bookstore. Everyone was having fun until suddenly, someone wasn’t. Our three-year-old, who was in the running for The Easy-Going Baby Ever award, suddenly dropped to the floor and had a breakdown. Not sure what the problem was, I rushed over, helped her find a new book to look at, and—true to her easy-going nature—she perked back up.

But a few minutes later, this happened again. Only this time, our three-year-old didn’t bounce back. She lay on the floor, crying. When I scooped her up and said, “It’s time to go,” she got even louder. “No, daddy, nooooooo!” she screamed as we all beelined for the exit.

What on earth is going on with my sweet, easy-going three-year-old? I silently wondered.

Childhood Self-Care and Sleep

Other parents were giving us odd looks that said, “Don’t you two know how to parent?” Our combined years of diving deep into the best parenting principles around felt utterly worthless. When our family reached the car, our three-year-old was hollering louder than ever. Jenny buckled in one child, and I buckled in the other. We shut the car doors, and I shifted into reverse. Jenny and I were ready to make our escape from the mall, fast!

Then there was silence…

As I glanced over my shoulder to back out of the busy parking lot, I caught sight of our now quiet three-year-old. Her head was peacefully cocked to the side. Her eyes were shut, and she was fast asleep.

My positive parenting takeaway for the day was, all of the best parenting strategies in psychology are no match for an exhausted three-year-old. On that particular Saturday afternoon, Jenny and I didn’t need to up our parenting skills. What we did need to get our overly tired child down for her nap.

Sleep and Childhood Stress


  • Increases creativity
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Improves memory and recall
  • Helps kids concentrate
  • Improves productivity
  • Lowers stress
  • And leads to better mental health
Self-Care for Kids: Help Them Rest

If you’ve ever watched the popular Netflix series Awake, then you know just how much a good night’s rest impacts the human body. Our family loves this gameshow—even our four-year-old. And the added benefit is this show’s ongoing reminder of just how important sleep is in self-care. In Awake, contestants who have been sleepless for a full 24 hours, compete in simple games. Scrolling text on the bottom of the screen tells what the average well-rested contestant’s score is. Not surprisingly, this is nearly always much better than the top-rated exhausted player’s score.

Contestants on Awake struggle with coordination, and balance. It’s hard for them to give clear answers to the game-show host. And sometimes even staying awake during the show itself is problematic. Sometimes, the best thing parents, teachers, and coaches can do for kids is to remind them to get ample rest.

During our family’s infamous trip to the bookstore, my three-year-old didn’t need to be lectured or disciplined. She wasn’t naughty, although it may have appeared that way from an outsider’s perspective. Jenny and I didn’t require more deep, psychological parenting insights. However, we did need a simple reminder to put the positive parenting skills we already knew into practice. During nap time, our family needed to pause what we were doing and allow our little one to rest.

Isn’t it amazing how a good night’s sleep (or even a quick nap) can make the entire world feel brighter!

52 Ideas for Self-Care

52 Ideas for Self-Care Printable

Do kids really need 52 ideas for self-care? Of course not! The self-care for kids infographic below shouldn’t feel heavy. It’s designed to be a creative and fun childhood stress management tool. Parents and kids can print the graphic. Then, talk about the different self-care strategies, and use only the ideas which best fit your children’s unique personalities.

This printable is intentionally creative and fun. Just looking at these ideas for self-care is an excellent way to help your child re-regulate. Having choices is empowering. Teachers may want to gather some of these supplies and create a self-care box for their classrooms. Simply collect items such as bubble wrap, pinwheels, coloring books, a stress ball, putty, a journal, a book to read, and other self-care ideas that resonate with you. This way, you are ready when your kids need a self-care break. Of course, parents can create a self-care box for their children too!

Self-Care Stacking for Extreme Self-Care

Extreme self-care involves stacking self-care ideas together. This allows kids to build additional momentum!

Extreme self-care is built upon the domino effect and leads to exponential growth. In his ingenious article, Domino Chain Reaction, physicist Lorne Whitehead describes how each domino in a chain can knock down a block 1.5 times larger than itself. This means a 2-inch domino can topple a 2-inch domino, which will knock over a 4.5-inch domino. If this pattern continues, domino number 30 will be large enough to topple a skyscraper. Now that is some exponential growth!

Extreme self-care works the same way. Childhood stress is on the rise. Parents can help their children to combat stressors by helping them stack multiple self-care ideas together. For example,

  • A child might listen to music and color.
  • Kids can use simple hand fidgets and take big, deep breaths.
  • Children can pop bubble wrap and enjoy a cozy drink.

Extreme self-care for kids is simple. And it leads to exponential growth. So have fun with these ideas. Experiment with them and encourage your kids to play with them too. Kids who learn how to stack self-care ideas together will be better equipped to manage childhood stressors well!

Childhood Stress Management, Grit, and Success

In the 1960s, Professor Walter Mischel conducted his famous marshmallow experiment to study how preschoolers manage stress. He observed over 600, four, five, and six-year-old children in his Surprise Room during the study. Children were offered the surprise treat of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. The only catch was that to earn the second marshmallow, kids had to wait for an entire 15-minutes.

Children who earned the second marshmallow used simple self-care strategies to cope during their excruciating wait. They pushed the marshmallow away, sang to themselves, closed their eyes, hummed, stuck their fingers in their eyes, ears, and nose, and even sat on their hands. Follow-up studies found that kids who avoided the marshmallow as preschoolers grew up to have “higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, a lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents and generally better scores in a variety of life measures.” These kids were also happier and had longer-lasting relationships.

In short, children who use simple stress management skills to avoid the marshmallow were winning at life!

Childhood Self-Care and Success

While this kind of success may sound extreme, it does make sense. Self-regulating kids become self-regulating adults. Childhood self-care strategies allow kids to push through their frustrations and reach their goals. Remember, not all childhood stressors are bad. Simple self-care strategies allow kids to stay regulated during difficult but important tests. Kids can use self-care techniques like breathing deeply to think clearly during big sports games. In fact, these self-care strategies for kids have endless possibilities!

In some circumstances, these ideas will be used to cope with unexpected stress. On other occasions, they will be used to increase grit and endurance as children pursue important goals. According to The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, one of the most important things parents, teachers, and mentors can do to help kids succeed is to encourage them to use simple self-care strategies to push through typical childhood stressors and reach their goals.

As we have seen, kids who use simple childhood self-care strategies to keep pressing forward are better equipped to win at life!

Childhood Self-Care and pushing past childhood stresses quote

Childhood Stress and Self-Care Resources

Raising happy kids during a pandemic is no easy feat. With so many changes, including face masks in school, virtual classes, zoom fatigue, COVID, and increased parental stress, childhood stressors are on the rise. This is why having an abundance of self-care for kids’ resources is a must.

Jenny and I put together a number of resources you’ll want to dive into.

The Ultimate Guide to Self-Care

First, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Self-Care. This mammoth blog post is especially for parents, teachers, and busy professionals. Because you and I cannot impart to others what we don’t possess ourselves, it’s important to start with our own self-care. By attending to your self-care needs first, you’ll be in a better place to equip your kids to manage their childhood stressors.

Extreme Self-Care

Second, check out this post on Extreme Self-Care. This is another excellent post for busy parents, teachers, and hard-working professionals. It’s packed with creative self-care strategies for adults from our Thriving at Home Virtual Summit.

Free Self-Care for Kids Printable Workbook

Next, you’ll want to download our FREE self-care for kids printable workbook. It’s called the 131 Stress Busters and Mood Boosters Workbook. As suggested in the title, it’s packed with an astounding 131 creative self-care ideas for kids. This positive parenting resource is designed to be done with your kids and contains printable mazes, crafts, a self-care list, and an abundance of creative ideas to help your family manage childhood stressors well.

131 Stress Busters and Mood Boosters for Kids Workbook: A self-care workbook for kids and parents

A Self-Care for Kids Parenting Book

The 131 Stress Busters and Mood Boosters for Kids positive parenting book

Finally, check out my positive parenting book, 131 Stress Busters and Mood Boosters for Kids. This book dives into all the self-care strategies in the workbook. Plus, it provides additional insights into childhood stress and why self-care for kids matters!

Self-Care and Childhood Stress Reflection Questions

Self-care is a topic that everyone knows, but few truly know. The ancient Greeks had two words for “know.” The first was oida and the second, ginosko. The word oida describes head knowledge. It means someone is really smart. Ginosko, on the other hand, refers to experiential knowledge. It means the information has moved from the person’s head, into his hands and heart.

Too many kids and adults oida self-care. We intellectually understand that self-care is important and should be practiced. The goal of this post is to equip our kids to put these childhood self-care ideas into action. The ultimate goal of this list of self-care for kids strategies is that children would ginosko them—or live them out daily!

Use the questions below to reflect on the topics of childhood stress, positive parenting, and self-care for kids.

Childhood Stress Reflection Questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how stressed are your kids? 1 means they couldn’t be more relaxed if the family was on vacation at Disneyland. And 10 means your child feels like he or she is slowly sinking into quicksand.
  • How would you rate your level of stress? This question is important because parents can’t impart to their children, something they don’t possess themselves. The best place to start on this self-care adventure is always with you.
  • What childhood stressors are present in your kid’s life? Childhood stress is on the rise. There is a good chance it’s impacting your child. The goal of this question is to help you evaluate this impact.
  • Which of the 52 ideas for self-care will help your child reduce stress the fastest? Answering this will help you know which ideas for self-care you should encourage your child to dive into first!

Self-Care for Kids Reflection Questions:

  • Which childhood self-care tips are you already using? Your kids probably already have some self-care momentum. Answering this question can help you build on this.
  • What self-care ideas do you intend to put in place first? All eight self-care strategies in this post are simple. But that doesn’t make them easy. It’s one thing to know about healthy self-care for kids. Equipping our kids to practice these ideas regularly is far more difficult.
  • When will you start? Obviously, good intentions alone are never enough. The goal of this question is to help you plan for action.
  • In what ways could life be better if your family up your self-care game and manage stress well? This question helps you think about the bright future ahead. One so bright, you and your family may need to wear shades!

Continue the Self-Care for Kids Conversation

Thank you for taking the time to read this post! One of the best ways to grow is to keep the self-care conversation going. Jenny and I are on a mission to equip busy parents with tools to thrive. Would you help us spread this message? Here are three ways to partner with us:

  1. Comment on this post and keep the self-care conversation going.
  2. Use this sharing tool to grab one of our self-care for kids’ infographics and added it to your website.
  3. Think of someone who would benefit from this post and share it with them.

We can’t wait to hear from you. Thank you for cheering us on in this amazing adventure of equipping families to thrive!

Help Us Keep Excellent Positive Parenting Content Comming

Jen and I are thrilled you stopped by! Kind words and coffee fuel this blog. If you enjoyed The Ultimate Guide to Self-Care for Kids, help us keep this great content coming. Let us know what childhood self-care tips you would add to this list. Or partner with us by using the buy us a coffee button to help fuel our next project. To dive even deeper, you can also check out our positive parenting books and resources. We honestly couldn’t do this without you!

Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at

18 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Self-Care for Kids: Reduce Childhood Stress!”

  1. So much good content here about kids and stress, Jed. Interesting research on the brain AND sleep for kids. I’m definitely bookmarking this to look over again and sending to some family members.

    1. Thanks, Karen. Jenny and I had a blast putting this self-care for kids guide together. We know there are so many stressed families right now and wanted to do something to help. Thank you for bookmarking the post and passing on the self-care for kids’ guide to some family members, too. We sure appreciate you!

        1. Thanks, Natalie, and that sounds rough. Whether you’re in the UK and going into a second COVID lockdown or here in the US, where our numbers are rising faster than ever, we have no doubt families are stressed. We’re glad these self-care ideas were helpful.

  2. When we turned to homeschooling 8 years ago we hadn’t really noticed how stressed our kids (and ourselves!) were trying to keep up with everything. But in just a few short months they had decided that they didn’t really enjoy many of their after school activities and we were killing ourselves trying to cram so much in just because others were doing the same thing. We turned to a much simpler way of life and have never looked back.

    1. Hey Joanne. This is so encouraging! Jenny and I have been trying to move toward simple. It’s not easy with five kiddos, and it’s definitely been a process. But we are getting it, slowly but surely. We started homeschooling our two youngest this year, and we are all enjoying it more than we thought. My wife and I are both blown away by how fast the kids are learning too. I love hearing that doing life more simply works well for your family, and that these self-care ideas for kids resonated with you. Thanks for sharing this piece of your story!

  3. I found that very interesting Jed. I know so much more for myself about self-care…only took me to 70 and of course, all ages need some ideas for self-care. I was a grandma-carer for some of our young grandchildren after I retired and whilst I loved it, I made sure, that the little ones got to bed…after lunch and a story, so I too could eat and read my newspaper. I think we humans need boundaries and routines.

    Thank you for linking up this week. I do hope to see you link up next week too of course. The optional prompt is44/51 Outside 2.11.2020. Wow: November is here! Denyse.

    1. Hey Denyse, I love that line, “we humans need boundaries and routines.” Very well said! It’s funny how we don’t think about kids needing self-care routines. Yet, there is no better time to help them build healthy habits. If we help our kiddos practice healthy self-care when they are young, it will stick!

      Denyse, thanks for stopping by and adding so much to the conversation!

  4. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy.

    1. Hey Marilyn. We appreciate the help in sharing these self-care ideas for kids. We know there are so many children and parents who are stressed and hurting right now. Jenny and I want to do what we can to help. Thanks for cheering us on in this endeavor.

  5. Another fab resource. My two little ones are so relaxed and stress free since we home-schooled 6 years ago.
    They are such content kiddies and LOVE to learn. There’s no pressure or anxiety in sight as there once was at school, we couldn’t be happier.
    Thanks for sharing with #MMBC. Have a great weekend. 🙂

    1. Thanks Jayne. Our family is finding so many benefits in homeschooling too. And like you, less stress is one of them. It’s fun hearing about how your kids love to learn. And thank you for cheering us on as we create self-care tools for kids and families!

  6. There are some great ideas here Jed so thank you and I found the whole concept of childhood stressors fascinating. If there is one benefit to this whole pandemic it has got to be being forced to slow down. That has caused me to reassess if we need every club or activity that we rush to and to reduce the numbers to the things that they genuinely love as I recognised that otherwise we were just creating unnecessary stress #DreamTeamLinky

    1. Hey Kristy. Yes! We agree 100 percent. Slowing down has been a small way our family has been blessed during this odd year. Jenny and I have talked about not wanting to go back to all of the activity, rush, and stress when this is over. Kristy, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad this self-care for kids’ post was helpful, and appreciate you sharing a small piece of your story!

  7. Jed, this is a wonderful resource for noticing and coping with stress in our kids. I was a very anxious and stressed out child from the age of about 4. It is no wonder that at least one of my children is also a bit more anxious than most. Granted, his anxiety took a turn for the worst 2 years ago when his 7 year old friend/classmate died in a house fire. Holy moly, that is a process that one is never prepared for as a parent…walking your child through the grief process. That one event has changed the trajectory of my child’s life in many ways. And increased anxiety is just one part of that. Thanks for sharing this amazing content. It is so helpful!


    1. Awww, thanks, Shelbee. I’m glad this guide to self-care was helpful. And we appreciate you sharing pieces of your story. Jenny and I know that so many kids and families are stressed this year and want to do what we can to help. Thank you for the kind words and for cheering us as we seek to encourage, support, and equip families. We sure appreciate you!

  8. Lots of children are definitely stressed today! Now with the virus, kids that didn’t enjoy going to school are craving to go back. Thanks so much for linking up with me at my #UnlimitedMonthlyLinkParty 18, open until November 26.

    1. Hey Dee. We are right there with you. Our kiddos are eager for schools to return to normal too. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the self-care conversation.

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