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Emotions Demand Movement: Helping Teens Care For Their Own Well-Being

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Knowing how to manage emotions and comfort ourselves when we are unhappy or distressed is a skill that can take a long time to learn. Even grown adults look for someone else to comfort and rescue them. Why?  It takes self-perception to find strategies that truly work, because we are always growing and evolving as human beings.

How we self-care changes according to the stage of life that we are in.  That means that self-care for a two-year-old is very different to self-care for a 12-year-old and a 30-year-old.  Renegotiating what your self-care looks like in each stage of your life requires a reassessment of what is working and what is not working. 

Self-care requires you look at your entire life to discover what you need next.  It takes foresight. 

Because our young people are prone to looking externally instead of looking internally, they often copy the self-care strategies of others. They may look at what the reality TV stars do or what their friends do.  I find that their down time is spent wishing they were someone else, or somewhere else, instead of truly nurturing themselves and being honest about who they are and what fills them with joy.

Parents can get stuck seeing their teenagers like children and not allowing them the opportunity to explore self-care strategies for themselves.  We might offer them the self-care strategies that used to work for them when they were younger, like staying home to rest or going out as a family.  Yet dictated methods of self-care seldom work.  Self-care strategies work because they bring reward or perceived reward.   

During puberty young people have to experiment and find new way of coping.  As parents we have to be flexible in allowing this process to happen.  Sometimes we are too rigid and hold on to what worked for us when they were young.  We can be working with the old game book even when they have written several updated editions.  Long periods of time in their bedroom are a normal part of self-discovery, as may also be them wanting to socialize all the time.

In saying all that, I see great value in young people participating in self-care strategies that they may not currently identify with.  Families may deliberately work self-care into their family’s daily routine for everyone’s benefit.  For example – setting aside time to talk, cooking healthy food together or exercising together. 

Adding self-care strategies into a family routine enables them to broaden their self-care skills and adopt strategies that may be different than their own. 

The basic premise that I teach young people about self-care is this – Emotions move our bodies and our thoughts in all sorts of ways.  However, we have a say in where they move us. The trick is pre-determining where we want to move!  Here are some strategies that young people may see benefit from intentionally trying next time they need to self-care:

Comforting – Hugging a teddy, playing with a stress ball, cuddling a soft blanket, candlelight and taking a warm bath are all things that engage the sensors and calm us down.  They may seem like trivial things, but they really do help.  

Creating – Colouring in, drawing, making things with play-dough, writing letters or playing music all provide a way for girls to regulate their emotions. For gifted creatives music is their lifeline. For others, keeping a diary is something that is central to their daily self-care.

Socialising – Going to the movies, helping someone else, going to a public place and hanging with people you care about.  Some girls really do need to connect with people in order to unwind so don’t dismiss the importance of a good laugh, people contact and some entertainment.

Constructive Thinking – Balancing out the emotional brain with some logic can be really powerful. No teen tells their friends that they actually go home and talk to their parents, but the reality is that confident teenagers have hidden support. Mums be careful though that you aren’t starting deep conversations at 10pm when they should be shutting their brains down and getting ready for bed. Set aside talking time earlier in the night, say 7pm so it’s done and dusted by 9pm and they can get ready to unwind.

Organising – Reorganizing your room, clothes, books, photos or even building something can be so soothing for some.  The moment some young people feel overwhelmed they start sorting out their bedrooms.

Moving – The benefits of movement can’t be ignored. Even if your young person isn’t sporty, going for a walk everyday will do them the world of good.  Moving together as a family is such a great thing to do. Exercise will help them relieve stress and clear their mind if practiced regularly.  Going for a bike ride, going to the gym, punching a punching bag, boxing, dance and swimming are all great ways to move.

Quiet Time – Most people have a collection of things they do by themselves when they are feeling down. These things may include watching television, playing computer games, listening to music, cooking or reading.  Positive distractions will help them re-balance.  Negative distractions may work in the opposite way.  The challenge with teenagers is they tend to gravitate to negative things when they feel negative. 

Meditation – Meditation is a practiced skill that can benefit young people greatly.  Some people use relaxation music to purposefully empty their minds.  Yoga and mindfulness are all tools that young people can use to focus their energy.  Sitting and doing nothing will work well too.  Young people need ‘tech free’ quiet time, just to let their mind relax, refresh and get some time out. Social media detox’s, where they chose to put their phone away for a set amount of time, are always hard for teens but life changing once they have experienced them.

You can find more on this topic in my book ‘Self-Harm: Why Teens Do It and What Parents Can Do To Help‘.

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