I’ve always been fascinated with babies and very young children. As I got older I took every opportunity to spend time with them. As a mother, I marveled at the chance to see the world through my children’s eyes. That was so engaging that I’d have had at least one more if circumstances had allowed.
My body dictated otherwise; another pregnancy was not going to be a good idea. Maybe that influenced my career path’s turn from mental health counseling with adults to supporting nurturing relationships between very young children and their parents. Those earliest months and years are a critical time of hope and possibility for each baby, each parent and for the future of our world.
A relationship with a baby is a mutual one. Babies come to us wired to love unconditionally and to learn from us. We discover the depths of our love for these tiny beings, and they thrive on our love and acceptence. From them we learn many things, including how self-care can be a natural part of our lives.
Babies as Self-Care Experts
Babies and toddlers are all about growing and learning through their playful interactions with the people and things in their surroundings. Adulthood is generally a far more serious stage of life, filled with responsibilities, obligations and pressures. These pressures can lead us to continually put ourselves last on our list of priorities
Watching my newborn granddaughter Sophia, and recalling what I learned from my own children when they were young, I’m seeing that self-care can be playful, a natural part of each day, and a joy instead of a chore. Babies are experts at this, and I’ve learned a lot from them.
Five Self-Care Strategies I’ve Learned From Babies
These five self-care strategies, smiling; expressing difficult feelings, physical exercise, mindfulness, and nurturing touch, are known to support our health and well-being. While we can set aside special time for these things, and may want to do that at times, we can also integrate them into our daily lives.
1. Smile. It makes you happy. It makes other people smile back, bringing a sense of connection and caring.That makes you even happier!
2. Express difficult feelings. We don’t always feel like smiling. That’s okay. It’s important to feel and express all your emotions, including those we often label as “negative.” sad, angry, scared or frustrated ones. Expressing them lets others know we might need some support and allows us to learn from them, release them and move forward from them. While this one isn’t playful or fun, it’s an important way of taking care of ourselves, and one that babies are great at doing as a regular part of their daily lives!
3. Exercise. Babies are constantly on the move. Physical activity is a natural part of their waking hours. A few days ago, during my shift as a member of Sophia’s child-care team, I lay beside her on the couch, imitating her every move. All the arm waving, leg kicking, foot grabbing and efforts to roll from back to front were fun, satisfying, and surprisingly tiring. It made me more aware of the importance of choose to move our bodies in ways that we enjoy, and that can be included in a natural way into our daily routines.
4. Mindfulness. When my sons were little we lived about an eighth of a mile from a park. It often took over 30 minutes for my older son and me to walk there! That was because he stopped to examine the fascinating things he found on the sidewalk as we went: a colony of ants, fallen leaves, dropped pennies. I loved to watch him do this, absorbed in how engaged he was in the present moment. A focus on the present moment comes naturally to babies and young children, but not so much to most of us as grown-ups. Mindfulness practices to help us do this can be woven into our days, benefitting our health and well-being.
5. Nurturing Touch. Sophia radiates a sense of safety and security as she snuggles in her parents’ arms. She curls up as I hold her close to feed her or soothe her tears. She laughs and wiggles with pleasure when I massage her legs and feet. No matter our age, we thrive in when we give and receive nurturing touch. Our culture can make these experiences less frequent for us as adults. Babies remind us to look for welcomed opportunities to express warmth and caring through touch.
These articles have great ideas for incorporating these five strategies into your daily life.