Every day we take steps to care for our physical health. Habits we have been practising since childhood that are so built into our daily routine, they feel natural. Such as brushing our teeth or having a stretch when we first wake up.
Helping children also develop these habits is a crucial part of our role. The actions for keeping ourselves physically healthy are reasonably straightforward. We were raised knowing that brushing our teeth and moving our bodies will make us feel good. However, when it comes to taking care of our mental health, not all of us were taught daily habits we can use to cope with the challenges life brings.
No one knows what the future will look like for our little ones. We can be sure though that raising them to be resilient and able to care for themselves in all aspects of their health, will help them not only cope, but thrive.
Here are some of our favourite ways to start the conversation around noticing and beginning to understand feelings. They also introduce ways to stay connected with the important people in their lives. Over time we can help our children develop tools that enable them to practice self-care in a way that works for them, as important and natural as brushing their teeth.
This is a way of helping children notice, acknowledge and respond if needed, to their environment and feelings. Younger children especially appreciate a visual aid to help them talk through situations and become aware of how they feel.
If things have been feeling a bit hectic lately, you've had a run of stressful days, and everyone is feeling a bit grumpy, a visual storytelling aid can change the narrative, helping to understand and remember the power of kindness.
You will need:
Introduce the cup "Everyone has something like this kindness cup inside their hearts. It gets filled when we help others, when others are kind to us, or when we are kind to ourselves. Lately, our own cups may have felt empty. This cup is going to help collect and tell stories of kindness, to remind us to fill our own cups and those of others."
Over the next day or so, regularly take opportunities to 'fill the cup'. Share what acts or words of kindness you noticed. Acknowledge when someone makes a great decision. Talk about how you feel when you help others, how taking time to relax, a walk outside, asking for help, are all ways we can be kind to ourselves. We each have our own strategies. It's good to keep finding new ways to help 'fill our own cups' as well as those of others.
It's important to note, this is a visual storytelling aid, not a reward system. We don't recommend using the cup punitively by removing stones or focusing on moments where kindness was absent. We want to use this as a tool to support tuning in and learning to identify our own feelings. If we focus only on rewards (extrinsic motivation) we lose sight of those connections.
Over time, children begin to understand that the best reward is the good feeling from an act of kindness itself.
The stones are simply a way of recording and talking about what we are seeing and feeling.
Children will begin to notice how their actions might impact on others, genuine empathy and the ability to manage feelings and behaviour is something that takes time, practice and support. As we learn to balance our own needs and preferences with those of others. The reality is, there are times where that will be difficult, even as adults.
You might use the kindness cup for 1-2 days to introduce the concept. Then continue reflecting on what you notice, appreciate, and need to 'fill each person’s cup’. This can be a really lovely conversation to continue each night at the dinner table or as part of the bedtime routine.
A proven approach to nurturing happiness is building a gratitude practice into your daily routine. This can be a great continuation of habit after using the kindness cup.
Keeping a daily gratitude journal where you record what you are thankful for can make a huge difference in our well-being. You can write about a helpful gesture you received or something as simple as the rainbow that appeared when you were stuck in traffic. It is literally training and reminding yourself to see the silver lining in the moments that feel dark and gloomy.
This is a beautiful routine to use at the end of each day, sharing stories of the things you noticed that make your heart feel happy (Or as my 2-year-old “talking about your heart smiles”). Sharing these discussions with children, letting them hear what makes us feel happy and encouraging them to seek the beauty that is surrounding them, both in nature and in their community, helps wire their brain (and can rewire ours!) for contentment. If we can make this habit as natural as brushing our teeth or that satisfying morning stretch, it is a beautiful gift for them to carry into adulthood.
Young children may like to draw or write in their own way, or with you. I wouldn’t worry at all about how they choose to record, there is no right or wrong way. Whatever marks they make can have meaning to them, the important part is creating habits as a family to practice kindness and gratitude. If they have their own journal it means they can eventually become more independent with this routine. Although it is lovely taking time together each day to share what you are thankful for.
We would love to hear what habits you have in your home to ‘fill your kindness cups’ and documenting what makes your heart smile.
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