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Encouraging Self-care Through Awareness… and Fun

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. Enjoy the stories, tips, and struggles relating to children’s personal care choices (visit the links at the bottom for more).

Does this feel like an organized and easy to use space to you?

I learned the hard way that force results in struggle, pained relationships, and for the most part – not what I want in my life or parent-child relationship. So moving forward from what doesn’t work for any of us, I continue learning how to encourage self-care through awareness — and fun.

Many years ago it was brought to my attention that children enjoy practical life stuff when presented with fun. Being an adult who did not always experience life as fun it has been quite the adventure to start liking aspects of self-care or clean up that I didn’t previously like.

I didn’t really want to fake it because that just led to resentment. I also didn’t want to continue thinking that the children needed to wash their faces, brush their teeth, wash their hair, or pick up after themselves with constant monitoring from me.

Something had to give. It’s been me, then the kids follow.

I’ve learned to give through finding ways to make life fun – to appreciate even the most mundane. So, that’s the first step. Appreciate whatever possible. Maybe it’s that I have hands to wash dishes, dishes to wash, a sink to wash them in, hot water and dish soap for washing, a window to look out while washing, and oh — clean dishes to eat on! Appreciation can alter one’s life experience with continual application and it can even make life fun.

I also find that with simple awareness, kids want to take care of themselves and their surroundings. They generally prefer neatness and organization when provided spaces they can use for their own items (like combs, mirrors, toys, whatever), choices, a bit of routine, and — fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here are a few ways we work to create an environment where the kids can tend to their bodies and stuff without pressure from us…

How about this space? Can you feel the difference in having a shelf or other organizational tool to keep an area neat? The environment is an extension of the self and options for organization are helpful.

Babies and toddlers

We cultivate awareness through baby wearing, elimination communication, and simple feedback. Baby wearing and allowing the littles to be near us while we tend to everyday chores helps them see routine as just a regular part of life.

They gradually work right in washing up after getting dirty, cleaning up spills, putting dirty laundry in the basket, putting away toys when done playing or at clean up times, putting trash in the trash, etc.

Other ways to facilitate body awareness can be allowing them the opportunity to use a napkin or wet cloth to wash their face after meals, in the morning, etc. while looking in a mirror, asking them how it feels after they wash their face – allowing them to touch their clean skin and smile in the mirror, and letting them experiment at the edge of the bed with someone safely nearby to help if necessary while they sense how they feel and have an opportunity to back up on their own. These offer opportunities to combine simple appreciation and awareness.

Young children

Allowing littles to clean with natural, safe cleaners is one way to enlist their participation. We got rid of the poison stuff and traded it for either home made or bought cleaners and soaps we can feel good about. We still encourage safe use and keep the supplies in an area they can access. A bottle of all purpose natural cleaner on the counter, a spray bottle with water under the sink, and lots of rags. Towels are down low where they can be grabbed to wipe up spills quickly, as are napkins and wash cloths. We demonstrate how to clean in a simple manner and even the toddlers can help wipe up a spill.

If perfection is an issue for you about cleanliness, now is a good time to let it go. It’s much more important to allow a child to instill a sense of capability than perfection.

Flexibility is important and allows the children to begin sensing when they want to get clean. Baths and tooth brushing can be done anytime, as well as during routine times. Again, having fun while we are taking care of our bodies makes all of the difference. Demonstrating how to wash our face with a smile can incite a child to do the same. It’s worth it to bring our attention to the moment and appreciate the time we have with our kids.

Older children

Choices are important from the get go and older kids seem to really appreciate the ability to choose when and how they do what they do. Sometimes this may look like taking a shower before or after school (not necessarily the choice to opt out of a shower for weeks on end, although most won’t do this because their skin will eventually get itchy – as will their head). We have, however, noticed that choices can be presented in the form of a closed conversation and that isn’t much of a choice.

We prefer the approach “we clean up and care for ourselves because we choose to”. We talk about why individually, as a family, and ask for input from the kids about how they feel before and after basic care exercises. Often they feel like they don’t want to clean, but feel so much better after they do. The oldest even admits that she will say she does not care about a messy room when she doesn’t want to clean it, but really does care and prefer an orderly environment that she organizes herself. Oh, and we also clean in 15 minute increments at times – just to keep it doable and fun.

Thought transitioning is another aspect we throw in for the sake of learning… and fun. While washing dishes with my son the other day I noticed that when he realized there were a few more to do he felt disappointed. He kind of made this elongated sigh. I asked him what he was thinking. He said he was thinking that he was done and he felt frustrated that there were more to wash. I told him that dishes have not always been my favorite task and that I’ve been learning to like it the past few years. He looked at me a bit curiously. I walked him through a thought transitioning process like this, then asked him how he felt.

I don’t want to do the dishes, I don’t even want to be standing in one place. Well, I do like to eat off clean dishes and I am glad I have hands to wash them. So maybe I do want to do the dishes, so I can get them done. Then we will have them for the next meal. Okay, I can do this… and maybe I can even have a little bit of fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

He said that felt a lot better. He also noticed the potential benefit of gradually changing how he thinks.


I don’t have a teen yet. Our oldest is a pre-teen. But for some reason, I can vividly remember my own teen years and the main thought that comes about teens is to let them fly — allow them to be in charge of themselves. No one loathes being bossed around, pushed, or prodded to do something more than a young adult. Cultivate trust and understanding. Listen and encourage. Know that they’ll get it eventually and that it may not look the same as how you would do it. That’s okay.

Clear expectations and walking our own path of accountability set the most honest example for our kids. When we weave in fun, awareness, and trust the world is our oyster — together. Any of the above applies to adults just as much as it does to children.

Mostly, make any of the self-care or cleaning activities connection time instead of chore time. Allow your discussions, teaching moments, or observations to be about coming together as a family and no one will ever “lose”.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Enjoy the submissions by the other carnival participants…


Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.