4 Tips for Parent Self Care: Small Moments, Big Impact

Educator and Parent Self Care: Why Small Moments Make a Big Difference

Parent self care in small moments makes a big difference. Read our recent post to find out why.

By Rebecca Honig, chief content & curriculum officer, and Maren Madalyn, contributing writer

I recently slept on a baseball. It was the next best thing to a back rub. Well, it was the closest thing to a back rub that I could come up with at midnight when I realized that nothing would make me happier than a massage, right then and there.

I just placed that ball right in the curve of my back, lay down, and shimmied from side to side, working out all the aches and indulging in the physical sensation. It was simple and amazing.

It might sound a little silly when I describe my baseball massage to other people. It might even sound like a “How did it come to this?!?” moment. 

But sleeping on a baseball was actually an empowering act of parent self care, as unconventional as it may seem!

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What is “self care,” exactly?

When you look up the term “self care,” it does not read: “Self care is a massage given by a licensed professional.” It does not say, “Self care is a yoga class followed by a quiet cup of tea,” or “Self care is a luxurious bubble bath while enjoying the soothing sounds of experimental jazz.”

Don’t get me wrong, all of these things sound amazing. But to practice self care — an essential component of social emotional learning — you don’t need specific tools or services or even a ton of time.

As defined by Oxford Dictionaries, self care is simply “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” And that is going to look different for everyone.

Which means that my midnight baseball back rub totally counts! So do other approaches like breathing exercises, binge watching tv, singing a favorite song at full volume in the shower, or dancing for two minutes every day in the kitchen (my favorite regular exercise routine).

Key Takeaways for Building Educator and Parent Self Care Practices:

  1. Start small
  2. Integrate it into daily routines
  3. Make it a group activity
  4. Sharing is caring!

A little self compassion in parents and educators alike — and a little space for physical, emotional, and mental well being — really does wonders for all of us.

Shifting my definition of self care away from the beautiful pictures I see on social media, away from a notion of what it “should be,” has allowed me to find new strategies that help me feel rejuvenated. These are strategies that I can do for a few minutes each day around my full-time jobs as both a parent and an educator.

Here are just a few of these tiny, unconventional self care practices that are really working for me lately:

Wall Stare

This is no joke — I literally stare at the wall. I LOVE staring at the wall. The wall is so stable. It’s completely unflappable. The wall makes me feel calm. Sometimes I drink a glass of water while I do it.

As I stare at the wall with my glass of water, I try to think about pleasant surprises and tiny victories I’ve experienced in my life. Like that time when I was nine and I won a goldfish at the school fair. Everyone said it would die in a day, so I shouldn’t give it a name. But I didn’t listen to them. I named that fish Tracy. And you know what? Tracy the goldfish lived for six years. That memory always makes me feel good, like absolutely anything is possible. 

Permanent Marker

The other day, I wrote with a Sharpie pen all day. I took all my meeting notes in big, bold, non-erasable letters. I felt very powerful, very sure of myself. I felt like all of my ideas were great. I felt like making decisions wasn’t so hard after all. It reminded me that I really ought to trust my gut more often, as a parent and educator. 

Favorite Word

Sometimes I say the word “toast” over and over in my head. When I was a child, my mother always swept in with toast when I felt yucky. She promised me that “toast makes everything better.” And though I never liked the taste of toast, I have always found the word itself very soothing.

“Toast, toast, toast.” Saying it just feels good, and it reminds me of all the people in my life who are part of my support network. Sometimes a single word, attached to someone I love, can be all it takes to settle my more tumultuous emotions. 


No matter what is happening around me, I can always take three deep breaths. I can always fit in a little shoulder roll. I can always stretch up to the sky. I can sneak in a moment to glance at photos of my kids doing funny and adorable things. I can hum. I can wear that one hat that makes me feel like I’m camping.

A multiracial woman performs a breathing exercise at home as an act of parent self care.

There are plenty of additional strategies I lean on, but the point is this: all of these little things matter. They are all acts of self care.

It’s great that these little, do-able self-care strategies for parents and educators are out there, too. Because all of us, including our students, need support for mental health and well being more than ever.

The power of educator and parent self care

It’s no wonder that self care is a popular topic among educators and families, and it’s not because of those snapshots of bliss we might see online. Simple self care practices can have a powerful impact on emotional, mental, and physical health.

But here’s the kicker: when parents experience a boost to their mental health and well being, students benefit, too. A caregiver caring for themselves is well positioned to in turn provide support to children of all ages.

Yes, even high school students do better when a family member cares for their own needs.

In fact, our adolescents are facing major challenges, making supporting student mental health all the more essential. In their 2021 results from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, the CDC found that feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness — as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors — increased by about 40% among young people.” This is staggering, especially when compounded with the traumas that many parents, children, educators, and communities experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And yet, like me, many parents and educators find it challenging to prioritize their mental or physical health, or make self care happen on a regular basis. How can adults carve out space to care for themselves, and through this act, create a ripple effect that positively impacts their students, family, friends, and the entire community?

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4 tips for positive self care practices in small moments

Families and educators often have little free time to spare for grandiose, dedicated activities for self care (though these options exist and are helpful). 

For caregivers, it can feel challenging to spare energy on anything outside supporting their kids, their job, their partner, their household, etc. For educators, classroom teaching, staff meetings, lesson planning, student behavior management, and more can feel draining enough.

But educator and parent self care can be improvised, it can be momentary, and it can be “catch-as-catch-can.” That’s okay. It’s actually great!

Why? Because it means self care is actually possible

Here are three things you can offer to your families (and try out yourself) when it comes to building self care practices even around busy schedules:

Start small

As I hinted earlier, you don’t need special tools, expertise, or time to focus on self care, as either a caregiver or an educator. Small acts are still powerful.

For instance, if walking is your equivalent to my baseball back rub, you can start small by walking for just one or two minutes around the house or through school hallways. Or maybe you take the stairs instead of the elevator while running errands. Physical activity doesn’t always require a gym membership!

A sample ParentPowered message focused on developing parent resilience, which self care can support.

Even small acts of not doing can be empowering. You can try putting down your phone during a break and opting to breathe mindfully or simply rest your eyes instead. Better still, why not step outside if available and spend time outside in fresh air, simply being in the world? Simply noticing what’s happening around you or within you is an act of self care.

And every opportunity to support your mental health is a win, even if it’s just for a few minutes. 

Integrate it into daily routines

It can be helpful to think of self care less like another thing on a to do list, and more like a daily routine. Little by little, creating space for small practices helps them become habits, and these habits become part of your daily life.

One of my colleagues took this strategy to heart recently. A little while ago, she started going outside in her backyard for at least one minute each day. She did this in the mornings, before her family woke up and the demands of the day began. At first, she scheduled the time on her calendar — a simple nudge to take a break, to take space. Over a few weeks, both she and her family adapted to this change in their routine, and for the better. 

Now, she spends every morning enjoying whatever weather the world has in store for her. She also returns to this daily practice to navigate anxiety and stress when it arises throughout the week. This small practice quickly became a healthy habit, baked into everyday routines.

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Make it a group activity

Sometimes, self care needs to be a solo venture, and there is no need for families or educators to feel bad about taking time for themselves away from their kids, partners, colleagues, or other members of their household.

Other times, practicing self care can become a group affair. Research shows that strong social support, such as trusting relationships with friends and family, contributes directly to physical health outcomes.

And what better way for educators and families to model healthy self care practices for students than by practicing them together?

Whether as a parent you sit with a child to read a book or as school staff you go for a walk around the building at the end of the day, you can invite students to join activities that nurture well being and mental health. For older students, you might encourage teens and pre-teens to connect with friends or other trusted adults to swap ideas for self care or do them together, both on and off campus.

Both you and the kids will benefit from spending time either with each other or other important people in your lives.

Sharing is caring!

Through my work as the chief content and curriculum officer at ParentPowered, I’ve had the unique opportunity to host listening sessions with caregivers and educators across the country to aid in developing our family engagement programs. In these sessions, we work to uncover areas where parents want more support.

In every listening session — in big cities, rural towns, and everywhere in between — caregivers say, again and again, that they have a hard time with self care practices: “I’m not good at taking care of myself. I need more strategies for self care.”  

With this, I encourage all of us educators to share our methods for self care with the families we serve, no matter how small or unusual these strategies may be. Share the stuff that they aren’t going to read about in magazines or see online. Share the awkward stuff, the silly stuff, the stuff you think no one but you might do.

Encourage families to share their strategies too. By cultivating compassion in parents and educators for one another’s well being, we can work together to support each other and our students through the ebbs and flows of life.

Self care moments matter

The importance of educator and parent self care cannot be understated. We can all remind each other that, no matter what is happening around us, we can always do little and big things to take care of ourselves. 

When educators and families spend time caring for themselves, everyone wins. We feel better, and our community grows stronger. As a result, our students get to be surrounded by more patient, healthy, resilient, and strong adults ready to support their self care methods — be it a power nap on the couch or a power walk around the neighborhood. 

ParentPowered developed its family engagement curricula in recognition of this need, and the power of family-school partnerships to support it. Through programs like Trauma Informed and Core, families receive text messages with easy, no-fuss strategies for nurturing their well being as part of their everyday routines. Join us at an upcoming info session to discover how ParentPowered can help the entire school community care for its adults in service of students.

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About the authors

Rebecca Honig is the Chief Content and Curriculum Officer at ParentPowered. She has authored numerous curricula, parent guides, and children’s storybooks for Sesame Workshop, Scholastic, Disney, Compass Learning, PBS, WGBH, HITN, Nickelodeon, Mo Willems, and The Norman Rockwell Museum. She has also served as a Curriculum and Content Specialist for Sesame Street and spent ten years teaching in public, private, and after school programs. Rebecca has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street.

Maren Madalyn is a freelance content marketer with over a decade of hands-on experience in education, mental health, and technology. She has served in a variety of capacities, including counseling, customer success, instructional design, and product management.

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