Teaching Self-Compassion

Photo by Yulia Dubyna on Unsplash

From the moment they are born, babies are learning about Emotional Intelligence (EQ). They cry, we look at them, they smile, we respond. Even a non-verbal infant is internalising emotions.

Do you hear your child use negative self-talk? Maybe you’ve heard them say

  • ‘I’m never going to get this right’
  • ‘Nobody likes me’
  • ‘I’m stupid’
  • ‘I’m ugly’
  • ‘I hate myself’

It isn’t unusual for these children to show real empathy towards others or you may witness your child being angry, frustrated and sad.

How about you? Do you have a critical inner voice?

So many of us, including our children, are great at being supportive of others but feel uncomfortable being kind to ourselves. This is because we haven’t yet learned or developed our ability to be compassionate towards ourselves.

Self Compassion can help free us from the critical thoughts and self judgements that cause internal struggles and can often cause suffering. These negative thoughts can have a real impact on our mental health. As a parent or carer, we are our children’s mirror. We reflect how we feel towards a situation and how we view our child, but you can show them how to deal with issues that may arise which impact on self-compassion.

You could do a daily exercise of saying positive affirmations in a mirror. You and your child can do this together, or separately. For example, you might say:

  • ‘I am beautiful inside and out’
  • ‘I am a strong person’
  • ‘I am a kind person’
  • ‘I am loved’

Get your child to copy what you are saying. If we can role model self-compassion in our family and in our lives, then it helps our children be self-compassionate too. Generally, highly self-compassionate people are

  • More motivated and more creative
  • More courageous when faced with risks and challenges
  • Have greater resilience and are quicker to bounce back when faced with disappointment
  • Feel more satisfied in their lives
  • Are more confident and have better self-esteem

As a parent what can you do? Here are some quick tips and ideas to help:

  • Spend time every day playing and talking to your child; have quality time without distractions. Support and encourage their interests. Demonstrate how important they are to you.
  • Validate their feelings. Explore together what has happened during the day, or during challenging times. Don’t try to solve the problem yourself. Instead, consider options and encourage your child to come up with a solution for themselves. Allow them to recognise that all feelings are valid and then work with them to learn how to manage those feelings in an appropriate way.
  • Reassure them everything will be okay and that you love them.
  • Self awareness is key. Recognise your own positive triggers which reflect your own insecurities. Recognising how you feel so you can respond calmly and appropriately is important so that you are able to be responsive rather than reactive to a situation.
  • You can say out loud “This is a difficult moment but I’m not a bad person”.
  • Have your own support network to offload and talk through your own feelings
  • Forgive yourself. You are going to make mistakes. Learn from them, forgive yourself and move on. Remember, no-one is perfect all the time!