I don’t need to tell you that this has been a particularly difficult year for children. For many of them, it’s been filled with disappointments, unmet expectations and strong feelings. One way to help support your children (and yourself) as we make our way through this time, is by practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion is the practice of treating ourselves the way we’d treat a good friend when they are having a difficult time.
Most children have probably spent time in school or at home learning how to be good friends to others, but what about learning to be good friends to themselves?
Instead of engaging in negative self-talk and being mean to themselves or minimizing their actions when they make mistakes or things don’t go the way they wanted, children can learn that the same kindness, understanding, forgiveness, etc. that they would offer to a friend in a difficult situation, they can offer to themselves when they need it.
Below are ways you can cultivate your child’s innate capacity for self-compassion:
Help them become aware of their emotional experiences. Encourage them to name what they are feeling and to pay attention to the physical sensations that accompany their feelings. Validate their experiences and let them know whatever they are feeling is okay.
Teach them that disappointment, frustration, etc. are a part of growing up. It’s important for children to understand that messing up and making mistakes is normal. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t responsible for their actions, but they can take responsibility in a kind, understanding way.
Help them become aware of their self-talk when things don’t go the way they wanted. Often, it’s not so much the experience that is upsetting, but what we tell ourselves about it. Critical or judgemental self-talk can leave kids filled with shame, embarrassment or believing that they are not good enough. If you notice that this is happening with your child, you can ask them to think about what they would say to a friend who had the same experience. You can also help them find encouraging words or phrases that would feel comforting to them when they make mistakes.
Model self-compassion– Kids pay attention to how we deal with our own frustrations and shortcomings. Every mistake we make is an opportunity to model self-compassion.
The process of learning and practicing self-compassion doesn’t happen overnight, but when children learn to be kind and understanding with themselves, they are more likely to try again when they make a mistake, ask for help when they need it, or apologize for their words or actions when they’ve been hurtful. Practicing self-compassion won’t make these difficult times go away, but it can help them as they continue to navigate them.
Gabi Garcia is a mama, licensed professional counselor and picture book author. She spent 21 years learning from the children she served in the public schools, something she is immensely grateful for.
Gabi writes picture books that support children’s social-emotional development on topics such as emotional awareness, self-compassion, mindfulness and gratitude. You can find out more about her work at gabigarciabooks.com.