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Teach Teens About Self-Care
Read and Be With It
Elizabeth Johnson, Education Director, Youth Communication

Helping the teens you work with identify, and apply, their own practices for self-care gives them agency and empowers them with mindfulness tools they can use when strong emotions are triggered. To accompany this writing and sharing activity, choose a Youth Communication story to read where the writer shares his/her awareness of triggers and strong emotions and learns their own strategies for finding calm (a good example is “Explaining My Life”). This is also a great opportunity for you to model strategies you use in your life to take care of yourself when stressed out.


1. Ahead of time, complete the activity for yourself. On a piece of paper, write:

  • Your name at the top.

  • A list of 3-5 activities you can easily do to help take care of yourself if you feel strong emotions triggered. Each activity should be free and not require anything outside of the space you work in with the teens.

  • For each activity write a little bit about how it is practiced and how it helps you.

2. Introduce the idea to teens that when we feel stressed out (triggered) we all need strategies that help to regulate those strong feelings so they do not overwhelm us. In this activity we are going to each develop our own set of self-care strategies.

3. Share your sample. Talk about how you learned that the different activities were effective for you. Model how you practice them. Be honest about what is hard and what is helpful.

4. Brainstorm with the group and write up a list of activities they know, or have heard, can help to deal with stress. Have teen writers shared their strategies in any stories you have read? Add some of the following to the teens’ suggestions:

  • Talk to a trusted friend or caring adult about events, triggers, and reactions.

  • Practice mindfulness. Stop what you are doing, pay attention to what’s happening in your body, and breathe deeply.

  • Move your body: stretch, walk, run, dance, do yoga.

  • Be creative. Write in a journal, draw, paint, freestyle, sing.

5. Handout blank paper and have teens independently write, following your example. Move around to confer and offer support. If someone is stuck, encourage them to pick just one from the brainstorm list that they are willing to try during their time with you.

6. In a circle share, invite teens to each share one of the strategies they identified on their self-care plan. Emphasize that we are all here to support and learn from one another.

7. As an extension, we encourage you to consider turning these pieces of writing into actual plans teens can use in their time with you and in group with each other. To do so, consider the following:

  • Copy a simplified version, just name and list of activities, onto a 3x5 index card. Everyone now has a “Self-Care Plan.”

  • Together, decide on how to store and use the plans moving forward. We recommend they are visible every time you meet together so they are easy to practice, check in on, and revise as needed.

  • There is a lot of value in you modeling for the group using your own strategies.

  • The plans are dynamic and flexible. Use plans daily and change them when things aren’t working.

  • Each person is in charge of their own self-care plan. You cannot direct someone to use it, but you can invite them by offering to do it with them, “I notice your frustration is escalating. Can I do your self-care plan with you?”

  • Finally, create and practice the plans in times of calm and ease, NOT during escalated moments.

Elizabeth Johnson
All Activites for Youth are created by Elizabeth Johnson, Youth Communication's Education Director. She specializes in social and emotional learning and literacy development and offers story-based professional services for educators. For more information, contact Elizabeth at or 212-279-0708 ext. 103.
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