5 Mental Health Hacks Kids Already Know

April 26, 2017
Kids painting with their fingers with color palette
There’s little doubt that most kids are mental health geniuses. Look at them: They take naps, don’t bottle-up their feelings, and lose themselves effortlessly in finger paint—often with spectacular results. Once upon a time, you were that unselfconscious.

When we grow up, we learn all kinds of useful stuff, like how not to wipe our paint-stained fingers on the good hand towel. What we’ve too often forgotten is how to relax and be ourselves. Here are a few things your inner child can teach you:

1. Unleash Your Inner Artist

Remember when you were a kid and you killed time on the bus or on car trips by drawing pictures and doodles using every color of the rainbow? Why did you stop?

If you ever enjoyed painting, drawing, or coloring—or playing a musical instrument or writing plays for your cousins to perform—why not take it up again? When we allow ourselves to be creative (without being self-critical; that’s the trick) it relaxes us, improves our attitude, and builds empathy and compassion for others. And let’s face it: Using a perfectly sharpened crayon is just one of life’s great joys.

2. Recess!

Philosophers from Plato to Benjamin Franklin have expounded on the mental benefits of physical exercise for centuries, and now there’s a lot of science to back it up. But you don’t need to read a single article to know that it works: just go for a walk, bike, or jog the next time you’re feeling a little low. And get creative with it to really spice things up. When’s the last time you went on a scavenger hunt? Or tried to juggle? Or climbed a tree?

3. Spend Time With Nature

Humans may have developed big, fancy brains and mastered lots of great inventions that keep us busy, but we still have a cellular connection to the sun and the moon above us, the earth below us, and all the plants and animals in between. Kids seem to have an almost innate curiosity about nature. As adults, we may need to reawaken it.

Take the time every week to do something that gets you back in touch with the bigger picture. Walk in the woods. Lie in the grass and look up at the sky. Really look at a pine cone or a flower. Sit outside at night and count all the stars and planets you can see. Thinking about the many eyes that have looked on those same stars through the years, you may find new perspective for your daily cares and concerns.

4. Sleep When You’re Tired

Circadian rhythms are the natural cycles that help us fall asleep and wake up at around the same time every day. You’re at your most sleepy two times a day—once in the middle of the night, and again about 12 hours later, usually in the early afternoon. This is pretty obvious with preschoolers, but as adults we’ve learned to fight through it.

Not everyone has time for a nap in the middle of the day, but if you can take 15 to 30 minutes after lunch to put your head down or curl up in the back seat of your car, you might find that your afternoon and evening go better. Just don’t forget to set an alarm so you get back to work on time.

5. Turn Upside Down

If you notice an unusual number of tiny footprints on your living room wall, it’s not just a sign that your kids need a bath. It’s also a reminder that there’s more than one way to look at the world. It may feel silly, but that’s all the more reason, really, to give upside down a try.

Do a headstand against a wall or hook your knees over the back of a sturdy chair or sofa. Even a brief stint upside down can increase blood flow to your head and ease the pressure on your lower back. And it’s an excellent reminder that perspective is everything.

Also, as the kids would say: It feels good. Do you really need a better reason?

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