Recently I had the opportunity to do a read aloud with a kindergarten class using the story “The Good Egg” by Jory John and Pete Oswald. If you have never heard of this book series, I highly recommend it. As I was reading the story, there were two things that occurred to me: 1 – it was just as much for the adults as it was for the kids, and 2 – our kids learn self-care from watching us.
In the story, we hear about “The Good Egg” in a carton of eggs who basically cares so much about everyone else in the carton that he forgets to take care of himself. He worries that the other egg friends don’t go to bed when they are supposed to, they aren’t nice to each other, they cry for no reason, and they have tantrums. Meanwhile, the Good Egg continues to do everything for everybody. Soon the Good Egg realizes that he has neglected himself so much that his shell is cracked. The Good Egg takes drastic measures and needs to walk away from the carton in order to heal. Eventually, the Good Egg returns to the carton and he determines that he must take care of himself first.
I literally almost cried when I was teaching this story to the class. Not only does it reinforce what I have learned about taking care of myself, but it hits on so many very important skills for the kids. But what I realized, perhaps for the first time, is that while we teach our children to do things like brush their teeth, take a shower, and eat 3 meals, we often don’t teach them how important it is to take care of other things like when they need some space, or when they just need to feel good. Our kids need to learn to identify those times when they are running on empty.
Making the Connection
We know when we are running on empty. We know when our shells are cracked. If you’re like me, it’s a place you are all too familiar with. We just don’t always know what to do to fix it. But unlike the good egg in the story, we can’t leave our carton and go off on a mission to find ourselves. We can, however, stop the cracks before they get out of control. I don’t want to ever get to the point where I feel as if I need to leave like the Good Egg did.
I could make a list for you of all of the things you can do for yourself to make sure that you are not running on empty. But, I think it would be super helpful if you did that for yourself. So I want you to think about something you can do each day of the week for yourself. Whether it’s 5 minutes or 15 minutes; if it’s taking a bubble bath or reading a book – do something for you as a person.
I also want you to take it one step further – I want you to talk about it with your child. We need to model taking care of ourselves for our children. My son is the king of asking why. I am not shy about telling him “Sometimes Mommy needs alone time.” “Listening to music makes Mommy feel happy.” Let your child know when you need to do something for yourself. I will even follow that with “What makes Christopher feel good?” or “What makes Christopher feel calm?”
If we don’t teach our children to be mindful of their own emotions and their own needs, it will be harder for them to learn to follow through with that as adults. We need to make those connections for them and model self-care for them so that in the long run, they can do it for themselves.
Mommy, I need…….
Sometimes I think these words are the beginning of my son’s favorite sentence: “Mommy, I need…..”
“What do you need?”, I ask.
“I need something,” he says.
Again, I ask, “What do you need?”
“I don’t know….something.”
And then we play 20 questions as I try to figure out what he needs at that given point in time. When he is calm and regulated, it’s a pretty easy conversation. When he is hysterical crying and has no idea why, things are a bit harder. As parents, we often are able to look at our kids and instinctively know what they need. Automatically, we fill that need. But if we don’t help them understand it, they will never be able to mediate their own emotions.
Circling this back around to how we mediate our emotions as adults, I often wonder if it’s harder for us to navigate emotional self-care because our needs were automatically met through the routines which were established for us? Routine is a wonderful thing. Most of us rely on it. I am at my best when I go to sleep at the same time every night, get up at the same time every morning, and have the same coffee at the same time each day. (Don’t mess with my coffee!!!) But what happens when that routine goes haywire? As typical adults, we have a really difficult time navigating those sudden changes. How do we expect that our neurodivergent children can navigate through those changes?
If I overreact when something unexpected and out of the ordinary occurs, my child is going to learn to overreact in those same circumstances. And, let me tell you, his overreaction will be way worse than mine. We have to learn emotional self-care and self-regulation so that we can manage these situations and by modeling this for our kids, we will give them a foundation for learning to do it for themselves.
So, when I’m feeling like my shell is cracked, I will say my shell is cracked. I will tell my son, “If Mommy takes a break right now, we will be able to do something fun later.” And, when I question whether or not self-care is me just being selfish, I remember that in addition to taking care of my own needs, I’m teaching my child how important it is to take care of his own needs.