Self-Care or Self-Soothing? by Danielle Taylor

March 6, 2024

“Self-care is the foundation of all other care . . . Without it, we are living a lie for we cannot say we love our children if we have not fully loved our own beings.” -Dr. Shefali Tsabary

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”  I hesitate to start with such a cliched quote, but it really is true, isn’t it?  Working with children is the most rewarding, fun, and exciting job I can think of, but it can be absolutely exhausting – physically, emotionally, & cognitively.  If you’re like me, you’ve heard plenty of reminders about the importance of self-care, but this always felt elusive.  If I did happen to plan out a self-care activity, it would often be the first thing abandoned from my always-growing to-do list.  I don’t want more things I’m supposed to be doing!  Self-care was feeling more stressful than stress relieving.  Turns out, I had a fundamental misunderstanding of what self-care actually is – it’s not nearly as tricky as I thought! 

The shift here for me started when I learned that self-care and self-soothing are two distinct ideas.  Self-soothing activities are the things we do that will make us feel better in the moment.  These are activities like eating a pint of ice cream in front of a trashy reality TV show – they make you feel better short-term, but we’re not doing much to help ourselves long-term.  Self-soothing is all about “putting out the fire” and getting through in that moment.  Self-soothing activities do make you feel good, and there is room for self-soothing – believe me, I still do lots of self-soothing!  It’s not bad to do these things, we just don’t want to find ourselves only doing self-soothing and none of the true self-care that I’ll dig into below. 


Self-soothing may look like: 

  • Having a vent session with a friend
  • Eating comfort food 
  • Having a glass of wine
  • A hot bubble bath 
  • A Netflix binge (or playing video games, scrolling on your phone, etc.) 
  • Lighting a scented candle 
  • Crying 
  • Wearing comfy clothes or PJs 


So, what is self-care?  Self-care is made of the thoughtful, intentional behaviors that promote your health – physically or spiritually.  This is not about “putting out a fire,” but about long-term, sustainable steps and choices you make in the interest of your future self.  Self-care doesn’t always feel great in the moment and it can be tougher to find the motivation, but these actions and behaviors are what will make the difference and actually fill up our metaphorical cups!  


Self-care may look like: 

  • Exercising regularly 
  • Eating nutritionally 
  • Journaling (especially a gratitude journal!) and reflection 
  • Prioritizing sleep 
  • Going to talk therapy 
  • Spending regular time outside in nature & fresh air 
  • Reading or learning new things 
  • Meditating 
  • Budgeting your finances 
  • Connecting with friends & family 
  • Volunteering 
  • Setting & maintaining boundaries 
  • Asking for help or delegating to others 
  • Keeping a clean home 
  • Having an established routine 



Like I mentioned, self-care actions were often something I’d bump off my to-do list in favor of “more important” work.  This is a mistake!  I was underestimating the effects that true self-care would provide.  Adding consistent exercise three times a week makes my body feel healthy, strong, & keeps my stamina up for running around with littles all day.  Eating healthier food that I prepare for myself makes me feel capable, and I enjoy modeling that for the children I care for.  Another huge self-care shift for me was establishing and then prioritizing my sleep hygiene.  It’s funny because I always could see how poor sleep affected the children in my care, but I was underestimating how much of a difference a good night’s sleep makes in my attitude.  


I wish I had some easy, helpful tips to find the motivation for these more in-depth self-care activities, but honestly, I think we all need to find the unique ways we can fit self-care in for ourselves.  It’s also very personal – the actions that rejuvenate me may not do much for you at all.  The momentum and ripple effects do keep me motivated because I’m finally seeing the difference that prioritizing self-care makes, instead of just self-soothing myself day after day.  I invite you to think of a small act of self-care that you can fit in this week.  Schedule it, so it actually gets done, and then reflect and fine-tune.  Start with just one thing.  


The more I started to appreciate and prioritize self-care in my life, I noticed many of my role models and mentors emphasizing how important this truly is.  L. R. Knost, one of my favorite authors, has this great quote: “Taking care of myself doesn’t mean ‘me first.’ It means ‘me, too.”  In the book, “Practicing Presence,” Lisa Lucas explains that, “Something interesting happens when you invest the time and energy into caring for yourself.  You instinctively start to care more for others, and you become more aware of their needs and emotional states . . . This often reconnects us to our initial reason for choosing the vocation of education.”  Similarly, Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, “Self-care is the foundation of all other care . . . Without it, we are living a lie for we cannot say we love our children if we have not fully loved our own beings.” 

Even if you aren’t prioritizing self-care for your own sake, we must do it for the sake of the children we care for.  

I hope something in here resonates for you.  I know when I used to read or hear about self-care, I’d nod my head and smile, and then immediately start thinking of something else.  When I learned the difference between self-soothing and self-care, I realized that I actually had very, very few true self-care activities in my day and that was enough of a push to get me to really give self-care a true try.  I feel so much better and it’s finally clicked for me – you truly can’t pour from an empty cup, and it’s up to us to make sure we’re showing up with full cups for those wonderful little people who need us.  Or, as Janet Lansbury says, “Self-care is not only unselfish, but mandatory for maintaining our sanity while raising healthy children.”

Today’s post was written by Danielle Taylor. She is a full-time nanny, a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, and a Certified Positive Discipline Early Childhood Educator.  She has over 15 years of experience working with children and was a top five finalist for the International Nanny Association’s 2023 Nanny of the Year.  She has earned her Nanny Credential from the International Nanny Association & Nanny and Childcare Provider (NCP) Certification from the US Nanny Association. 

Danielle has been a guest on The Nanny Endorsements and Nanny ABCs podcasts, has presented for United Nanny and the US Nanny Association, and has written for Sproutable, Birch Nannies, and Seattle Nanny Network.  Danielle enjoys sharing Positive Discipline tips and tools with other childcare professionals.