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Behavioral Health

More on Self-Care

A new area of psychology that focuses on the empirical study or things like positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions, emphasizes that it is possible to be happier, to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, regardless of personal circumstances. Researchers propose that positive psychology interventions may provide a lasting reduction of depression symptoms. More »

Self-Care is Good Preventive Care

Most people are aware of the mind/body connection, and the impact on emotional well-being. For example, stress can negatively impact many diseases, illnesses, and conditions, including asthma, gastrointestinal symptoms, sleep problems, and more. Stress can also impact the immune system, making young people more susceptible to illness.

Lack of exercise and poor diet also negatively impacts well-being. This is particularly relevant for many children and teens spending more time indoors engaging in sedentary activities, like watching television, and playing video games. Enrollment in physical education classes in high school and extra curricular sports is on the decline.1 In addition, the average child or adolescent watches nearly three hours of television each day.2

When Self-Care Matters Most

It is easy for personal self-care to take a back seat to the needs of daily family life. It is not uncommon for children and teens to think that they have everything "under control," when in fact they are desperately out of balance. If your child or teen is experiencing any of the following physical symptoms, their psychological health could be at risk:3

  • Headaches or tension/pain in back or neck
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Chest pain
  • Upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure or racing heart
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulties at school (social and/or academic)
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath

When a child and/or teenager begins to have health problems (e.g., diabetes, an increase in dental cavities, insomnia, etc.), it is often a wake-up call for families to make healthier lifestyle choices. Less serious issues may be easy to overlook because the negative consequences are not so obvious or immediate. People often discount the more subtle, but powerful impact that emotional problems have on physical health. Stress, for example, is sometimes referred to as a "silent killer" because people are not in touch with how it is affecting their health. If a young person is experiencing emotional problems that are impacting their functioning (academic performance, peer relationships, or behavior), there is a good chance that emotional problems are also impacting general health.

Adolescence is a time of transition, where teens become particularly concerned with their image, fitting in, school and athletic performance, etc. At some point children start to compare themselves to others, and will compare their personal strengths and weaknesses to their peers. Many young people fail to recognize positive strengths and skills. It is important to help young people take a step back and pay attention to the world around them, including people and events outside their immediate family, social group, school/work environment, community, etc. Helping children develop a worldview gives them a more realistic perspective and helps them see other possibilities and develop a satisfying sense of identity and appreciation for what they have to be grateful for.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV), poor self-care may contribute to mental disorders. Sometimes young people who are struggling with emotional problems choose not to deal with them, or don’t fully understand the serious nature of their mental health challenges. Ignored emotional or mental problems may get worse and put young people at risk for developing a mental disorder.

Modeling Self-Care for Children and Teens

Caregivers are responsible for modeling self-care skills and attitudes for children and teens. Children need to understand the importance of self-care, as well as how to structure and monitor activities that promote self-care in their daily life. For example, if you are concerned about a child who is spending too much time watching television, establishing rules about television viewing and enforcing how much time is acceptable for your family demonstrates positive leadership and self-care. Children may not naturally identify the importance of physical activity on their own. They often require a caregiver’s intervention to help them learn to regulate their own behavior. Many children need a gentle but direct push to make another choice. While teens have generally earned some additional freedoms, they still require guidance and positive role modeling in order to learn to make and/or sustain positive self-care choices.

Young people may resist the things that are good for them. So, when it’s time to turn off the television, your child or teen may resist. This is where some creativity helps caregivers work through tantrums or complaining. Insist on making another choice. Take a family walk, or teach a favorite outdoor game from your childhood to the family. If you are having difficulty persuading a child or teen to practice good self-care, parenting information posted on this site may be helpful.

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