Filling the Tank
When asked how to improve academic performance, students often repeat what they have been told: “study more” or “study harder.” What is equally important is to take the time to decompress, reset and recenter themselves. Self-care is often discussed in reference to adults, but what does self-care look like for kids? The recent rise in mental health issues in children and teens over the last two years is startling. Just as important as a rigorous work ethic, self-care is critical to stave off anxiety, exhaustion, and depression.
What exactly is self-care?
The capacity to get work done well is like a fuel tank. It is filled and emptied. When empty, the quality and quantity of work decrease. When we’re running out of steam, we mean we have depleted our emotional or time-based reserves. It’s imperative to manage the fuel in our tank and to remember to take the time to refill it. Teaching students to become more self aware and regulate their fuel tank becomes more important when they are in high-stress, demanding situations where their tank may deplete faster. Learning about margin (emotional and time), evaluating their own margin, and learning the value of how to build it for themselves is crucial. How much fuel reserves should be stored for emergencies? How much time and emotional energy is currently saved up if it’s needed last-minute?
How do we strive for balance, since we’re multifaceted human beings? We’re more than parents, teachers, and students. We have different needs and things that fuel our tank. Each of our unique parts deserves attentive care to help make us better at being “us.” We must get in touch with what helps us refuel and be courageous enough to set aside time and indulge in these activities. When our tanks are full, we are balanced. And when we’re balanced, we accomplish more.
While adults may be more apt to recognize their individual need to go on vacation and take a break from work, children may not be as in touch with this or be able to communicate it as easily. Typically, the child who asks for support in the least pleasant way is the one who needs the most help.
As parents and teachers, how do we convey the importance of self-care?
- Model it – we can model self-care for our children and students. “I’m taking a mental health day” or a “mental health moment” (60 seconds of quiet breathing).
- Talk about it directly to improve their understanding of self-care and what it may look like for them.
- Reflect on it periodically throughout the semester with reflective exercises.
For many people (adults and children) with ADHD, some of the best ways to fill their tank include getting outside, hiking, or doing engaging projects or sports. For others, it may be arts and crafts or building a puzzle or LEGO set. These kinds of activities help kids disconnect from the stress of life (and technology) and reconnect with themselves. A filled tank leads to better health and better outcomes. What fills your kid’s tank?