Having spent a fair amount of time with kids in various roles, from sister to tutor to a nanny, I can honestly say that children make incredible self-care teachers. At a time when self-care is becoming increasingly important, I was interested in what I could learn from children about dealing with the challenges that this year has proposed.
Maya and I are making lego houses when she suddenly wraps her small arms around me to give me a hug and says ‘let’s make a volcano!’. At first, I am taken aback by her sudden affection and her wild suggestion, but I go along with it. We mould a volcano out of clay, fill it with baking soda, red food colouring, and trickle in some vinegar. What came after was an eruption of acidic pink froth and a very excited 7-year-old. The entire event, from the moment she hugged me to the moment she began to jump in excitement, was filled with the kind of joyful spontaneity that is often abundant in the daily lives of children but lacking in that of adults. There’s no doubt that this year has brought about so many unexpected changes to our lives and it has been a struggle to catch everything that has been thrown at us. During a time when we’re seeking stability and comfort in our new way of living, the word ‘spontaneous’ can be the last thing we want to hear. However, having fun through small and arbitrary acts can be a much-needed reminder of the joy of surprise. This could mean giving yourself a gift just for the sake of it, randomly hugging someone close to you (with their consent of course), or making a small volcano. What would it feel like to become friends with spontaneity again?
Give Titles to Each Portion of Your Day
Children’s lives are typically organised around their schooling hours. At school, they have lunchtime, playtime, lesson time, tidy-up time and home time. This way of splitting up portions of the day often continues when they come home with dinner time, screen time and bedtime. This sort of daily planning helps organise what could otherwise be a chaotic, exhausting and overwhelming experience for both the children and their carers. However, somewhere down the line, with age and increased independence, we tend to become a lot more lax with our routines (especially during a pandemic). On some days, breakfast time, lunchtime, snack time and dinner time can just morph into one long day of continuous eating; the lines between playtime and study time get blurred. This can leave us feeling unfulfilled and guilty: screen time and bedtime become inseparable. Now, with most university courses being held online, we have an increased responsibility to frame and shape our days in ways that will benefit us. Building a suitable structure for ourselves and practicing a bit of discipline is an act of self-care. It may be worth drawing inspiration from a time when each portion of our day had a clear title, and a distinguished stop and start time. What would your day look like if you were to plot it into a primary school timetable?
Create Your Time-Out Space
Have you seen a child when they cry, like really cry? When they’re just wailing and there’s snot pouring out of their nose? Or when they’re so angry, they wave their little arms about frantically and yell? Whenever I get to witness one of these incredible displays of emotion, I sometimes get jealous. I think ‘I wish I could do that’. When was the last time you threw a tantrum? When was the last time you sobbed? When was the last time you literally jumped up and down with excitement? As we grow, we learn about emotional control, which of course is a positive lesson. However, I think that there is such a thing as ‘over-learning’ this lesson, which could lead to dismissing one’s own feelings or drowning yourself in avoidant distractions.
It’s no question that this year has been incredibly difficult so far. Although many of us have been doing our best to hold it together, I think we’d all benefit from being allowed to sporadically wave our arms about in frustration and let snot cascade from our noses. When kids go through intense emotions, they tend to have time-outs where they go to a designated area and just feel what they’re feeling until they calm down, then continue with their day. If you were to have a time-out space, what would it look like? How could you create that space?
The freedom children are able to find in their young lives, is something we seem to lose as we move further into adulthood. While we’re still at university, we should start to embrace this childlike state once again.