We’re taught early on that being selfish is not an aspirational characteristic. We’re told that there are no redeeming qualities in behavior that places little consideration on the feelings or needs of others. But, as with most things in life, a healthy amount of what is often called “selfishness” can lead to a stronger and more balanced life, especially when you think of it as “self-care” instead.
Self-care often becomes misinterpreted as something you do rather than how you live, reduced to actions like treating oneself to pampering or special rewards. What we fail to consider is that showing yourself the appropriate respect you deserve is a lifestyle, not something you earn.
This way of living is essential to the management of mental health, but can be difficult for children and youth to understand how to navigate it. Teaching a self-care lifestyle at an early age can provide tools necessary to fostering healthy self-advocacy habits.
How does self-care fit into mental health?
Adulthood is multifaceted, requiring one to balance work, family, life, and self in a perpetual cycle. With the balancing act comes pressure to sacrifice in order to accommodate others, and suddenly our approach to life becomes void of self-love. Prioritizing self-care means always placing your comfort above the expectations others have from you if and when you recognize that they have negative impacts on your health. It’s okay to not be okay all of the time, and it’s okay to do something about it.
Help your children recognize when they should be selfish
Begin conditioning healthy habits to support this lifestyle early on. The practices you help your children build now will serve as the backbone of a healthy life later on. Help them identify their own unique triggering situations and develop actions they can take whenever they reoccur. There are age-appropriate online mental health resources that can help make medical conditions understandable. Helpful responses could be as simple as the practice of saying ‘no’ or more well thought-out actions designed to counter the resulting stress.
For example, if your children or adolescents are having difficulties with their lessons at school, make them aware of steps they can take to get help from their teachers. Help them understand that asking for help doesn’t need to be an anxiety-inducing or embarrassing situation, and is conversely a sign of strong self-care. Develop some scripts of what they can say to their peers or teachers when they do need help and practice through it. Having a script to use as guidance will instill confidence in their course of action and, after much repetition, become natural.
Or, if your children are having difficulties making or finding positive friendships, work with them on mapping out the types of characteristics that they would like in friends. Understanding who would be most healthy for them to associate with will allow them to better sort out toxic relationships and feel more comfortable initiating interactions with those they do identify with. Work with them on declining pressure from peers that may be harmful to them and help them understand that they don’t owe anyone an explanation of their anxiety. Practicing strong self-care involves surrounding yourself with positive people. Recognizing when a friend makes you feel uncomfortable and understanding how to advocate for yourself is an essential tool in putting your feelings first.
Help your children understand why selfishness is okay
It will be natural for your children to feel overwhelming guilt when they put themselves first. Even ‘no’ can be difficult for many adults. Feeling as though we’ve let others down may naturally lead to perceiving that we’ve let ourselves down as well. Open up a dialogue about the triggers you’ve identified and explain why it’s okay to use the developed responses. This can provide the appropriate encouragement to begin practicing self-advocacy. Approval from a trusted loved one will make self-care feel less harsh and more like a necessity, which can dramatically alter their perspective on caring for themselves.
Most importantly, make sure they understand that self-care isn’t achievable without its trials and tribulations. Failure to advocate during a triggering situation won’t determine their worth. Encourage forgiveness as a part of their self-care routine, building their ability to let go of moments where they feel as though they’ve disappointed others or themselves and move forward.
Jumo Health is dedicated to providing resources to children living with medical conditions and their families because we believe that everyone deserves support! Our suite of print, digital, video, and gaming resources are designed to make health more accessible. We are passionate about making every child and their loved ones feel like superheroes!