“I just need alone time.” The 3-year-old girl I was babysitting stared at me with steely-eyed confidence. Was a child this young really expressing her emotional needs… better than I could for myself? We know kids need time for themselves. I need alone time too. I’m just not sure I know how to express it with such clarity. The girl turned away from me, as though to say, “I am one with myself. I know what I need.” Then she took a deep, cleansing breath.
It’s 2019 and toddlers are doing yoga. They are breathing deeply, setting boundaries, and asking for alone time. If time-outs are out, then perhaps toddler self-care is in more than ever before.
Self-care as a concept isn’t new. We know millennials are more obsessed with attending to their emotional needs than past generations, spending more money and devoting more time to the self-care industry. So it’s no surprise toddler self-care is on the rise. What’s impressive is how much better kids are at it than their parents.
“I don’t want to do school work over the weekend because it’s a stress-free time,” wrote a child wise beyond his years in a viral note to his teacher tweeted by user @_llydz. The kid hadn’t done his homework because he was “not trying to stress out, dog.”
Meanwhile, adults are holding tight to every self-esteem blow they’ve ever experienced. “If I was accidentally weird to you once just know I will be thinking about it every night for the next 50 years,” wrote Hana Michels in a tweet that struck a chord with 38,000 retweeters. “An unrequited high-5 from 1989 is still haunting me,” tweeted user Al Dente.
Most moms I talked to agreed that essential healthy practices, like boundary setting and deep breathing, were important to teach their kids. Especially so, they said, given how bad mothers often are at giving their emotions validity and asking for alone time themselves.
Ashley, a mother of a 2-year-old son, tells Romper, “As a society, we need to start understanding that we all have emotional needs, even toddlers, and that it’s OK to express those.” Sarah, a mother of three children, agrees: “I think it’s important for kids to identify and express their emotional needs."
Maybe daycares are offering yoga and meditation because they actually work. Kirsten, a preschool teacher, tells Romper, “I have a ‘calm-down corner’ set up in my classroom for the children to go to whenever they want to be alone or need a minute to calm down. It’s a cozy area with books, sensory objects, play dough (for them to pound if they feel angry), a mirror (for them to look at their face and recognize the emotions they are feeling), flashcards depicting different emotions, and a stuffed animal and a brush.”
In short, kids are being taught to accept their emotions, rather than fight them. They're leaning in to their moods.
Kids are being their authentic selves all day, without stopping to worry whether or not it's weird.
Teaching your toddler deep breathing can help ease normal moments of life stress for both you and your child.
“It has been really amazing watching the children use the calm down corner on their own, deciding how much time they need, and recognizing their emotions,” says Kristen. In a world as complex and competitive as ours has become, maybe raising a generation with this emotional intelligence is exactly what we need.
When asked if they felt this aspect of parenting has changed since they were children, most moms I talked to agreed: self-care was less common when they were growing up. Many of us have grown up struggling to identify and process our own emotions in healthy ways. When we do acknowledge our emotions and take time for ourselves, we often feel guilty. And that’s exactly why many parents are now trying to instill the value of self-care in their children.
Practices like yoga, deep breathing, and alone time can make a remarkable difference for an overstimulated or overly tired child. Many moms I talked to said they felt it was difficult for their toddler to practice self-care at such a young age, but also important for them to begin these practices. After all, self-care can encourage independence and self-confidence. Even mothers who said they didn’t do yoga with their child said they thought yoga for kids was a positive thing.
Of course, self-care for toddlers doesn’t have to be complicated — and it doesn’t need to be expensive. It can be as simple as playing outside to blow off steam, or running a warm bath and turning on soothing music. Or, as Samantha, a mom of a two, including a 2-year-old, tells Romper, “My daughter started singing ‘When You Feel So Mad’ from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood the other day when she was upset.”
My daughter is only 10 months old, so I wasn’t familiar with the song yet. I looked it up. “When you feel so mad that you want to roar,” the song goes. “Take a deep breath and count to four.” I thought back to the day before, when a car cut me off in traffic. Yes, Daniel Tiger — I did feel so mad I wanted to roar.
Taking a deep breath and counting to four is advice we could all stand to follow.
Xanthia, a mother of a 2-year-old daughter, tells Romper when her daughter is having a difficult time, “We try to express verbally what she’s feeling and also acknowledge what she’s trying to do or say. This seems to help her, and we have heard her start asking for help or taking a moment to pause when she’s upset about something.”
Talking to Xanthia and the other mothers, I was reminded self-care doesn’t have to mean hiring a life coach and spending a week meditating in the desert. When I’m having a difficult time, I’d also like someone to listen to me and acknowledge what I’m feeling. I’d benefit from the lessons these mothers are teaching their children: to learn to ask for help. To take a moment to pause when I’m upset.
Wouldn’t we all be better off if we yelled "PLEASE LEAVE ME TO MY BLANKET FORT FOR TEN MINUTES, JANINE" once in a while, without guilt?
So the next time your toddler looks at you and asks for alone time, know your child is expressing their emotional needs in a healthy way. They’re saying, “This is how I feel right now, and hey — this might help me cope.”
Maybe it would help you, too.