As parents it’s so easy to become focused on helping our children to cultivate good habits. We know how important it is for kids to get a full night’s sleep, eat healthy food, and wash hands before eating. But what about us? What about continuing to cultivate good habits as adults that help with our mental health and ultimately with our parenting?

Health is much more than an absence of illness, but our daily habits can add to or subtract from our health — especially our mental health. I encourage you to take care of yourself and be a good model for your kids by showing them your good habits.

Even as a mental health professional, thinking about all of the little actions that culminate in stress, worry, and hopelessness can feel incredibly daunting. It takes a conscious effort to turn the tide against these negative feelings and it can start with small actions. Here are a few good habits for you to bring into your life.

Limit Screens for Better Sleep

When was the last time you actually slept 8 hours in one night? Do you do it regularly? Lack of sleep has many cascading effects from general crabbiness (hello morning coffee!), to reduced work performance (what deadline?), and can distance us from our best selves, from our partners, and from our children. The Bay Area is an incredibly rich, vibrant, yet hectic place to live! We have adapted to our busy lives by relying on some wonderfully clever technology devices. Our devices open amazing opportunities, some of which can relieve our stress and worry and some of which add to both. Screens often arouse us during the evening when most people’s bodies are beginning to wind down and this impacts our sleep. It might feel like a daunting challenge, but turning off your screen about an hour before bed leads to better sleep. A simple rule to follow — no screens allowed in the bedroom!

Reduce Your Worries

Worries usually stem from our thoughts about some future event. Until Marty shows up in his DeLorean we are going to remain notoriously poor predictors of what is going to happen in the future (that was a Back to the Future reference, in case you were wondering). We do know that there will be continuing surprises and challenges along the way, but worrying about them leaves us powerless to change what we actually can — our present. By re-centering our thoughts on what is right in front of us, we combat worry and can empower ourselves to do things that are in our best interests.

Play! It’s Not Just for Kids

Play is a powerful expression of creativity and passion and it shouldn’t stop in childhood. The types of play will change, but even as adults it is vital to have a play-outlet! Play has been shown to reduce stress, improve our sense of well-being, and increase our productivity. When was the last time you chose an activity because you enjoyed doing it? There can obviously be such a thing as too much play, but as adults we tend to the opposite end — not enough play. Making a concerted effort to carve out an hour or two per week dedicated to an activity that you like for enjoyment’s sake is just what the doctor ordered. Give yourself permission to indulge yourself in some healthy play!

Three small habit changes you can integrate into your life are below. Start these habits now to get on the path to self care and be the best parent you can be.

  1. Agree to turn off your screen before you enter your bedroom.
  2. Focus on your present situation more often than you focus on the future.
  3. Play (especially outside), regardless of your age.

Having a hard time with balancing the demands of parenthood with caring for yourself? The professionals at Parents Place can help. Contact us today.

Matt Wong, PsyD is a licensed psychologist at Parents Place Palo Alto. Dr. Wong specializes in the assessment of emotional, learning, behavioral, and social challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults.

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