Four Steps to Help Kids Grow Self-Compassion

Father son pairHow many of us know someone – an adult, teen or child – who could benefit from the resource of self-compassion? We might think, Wow! That person really needs to be kinder to themselves and stop beating themselves up! 

But what is the best way to help another person to develop the resource of self-compassion? When I contemplate this question, I am reminded of the following quote by Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

While helping another individual develop self-compassion involves more than just our example, the power of example cannot be overstated. This is expecially true when it comes to children. The process of helping children grow self-compassion involves four steps, which are built upon the foundation of caregivers’ self-compassion.

Four Steps to Help Children Grow Self-Compassion

  1. Caregivers learn the skill of self-compassion either on their own or alongside their child.
  2. Model self-compassion in the presence of children.
  3. Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.
  4. Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

STEP 1: Caregivers learn self-compassion.

We can’t help children to acquire a skill that we do not possess. That’s why our first step as caregivers is to grow the personal resource of self-compassion. If, when you were a child, your parents modeled self-compassion and also consistently soothed you when you were struggling, lovingly encouraged you to own your mistakes, appreciated your strengths and supported you in becoming your most authentic self, then it’s likely that you already possess the resource of self-compassion. If you are like the rest of us who received parenting that was somewhat less ideal than the above description, you likely need to do some learning and practicing to acquire the skill of self-compassion. You can strengthen your self-compassionate voice by using adult resources such as Mindful Self-Compassion training and books such as the Mindful Self-Compassion workbook, and/or you can take a parent-child self-compassion class and learn alongside your child. 

STEP 2: Model self-compassion in the presence of children.

Modeling self-compassion as caregivers means that we appropriately name our struggles in the presence of children and model giving ourselves encouraging and/or tender support for our difficulties. This might look like giving ourselves a hug or audibly offering ourselves reassurance or support when we feel distressed. We might let kids know that we are going for a walk, calling a friend, or making ourselves a cup of tea as a kind response to our struggles. When we name and model compassionately responding to our struggles we create a bridge between children and ourselves. Our example lets kids know that it’s okay to struggle and that they can seek out support (including their own kindness) during difficult moments. Our self-compassionate example can then be internalized as a model for children to emulate when they struggle. As caregivers, we need to have our own self-compassion practice (step 1) in order to model self-compassion for children.

STEP 3: Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.

When you speak to children, ask yourself the question: Is this the voice that I want my child to internalize? Is this how I want children to talk to themselves in their own minds? Because children internalize the voice of their caregivers (including tone), as much as possible, we want our words to convey compassion – sometimes tenderly soothing and sometimes encouraging and motivating. When we are successful at speaking to a child in this way, our words contribute to the development of a child’s compassionate voice. When we fall short of this aspiration, as we all do, it becomes an opportunity to acknowledge our human imperfection and offer ourselves compassion. We can show children that just like them, we are on the learning team when it comes to treating ourselves and others with kindness.

STEP 4: Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

Explicitly teaching children self-compassion and scaffolding their practice can sometimes be tricky, especially when teaching our own children, but it is a vital step. Many caregivers find it helpful to use resources, such as self-compassion books or a parent-child self-compassion class to help children consciously learn and practice the skill of self-compassion. After children have learned self-compassion practices, caregivers can begin to gently and selectively encourage self-compassion practice. When a child is having a difficult moment, it usually works best if caregivers first provide the child with compassionate support, and then, if the child seems receptive, invite the child to offer compassion to themselves. It’s important not to push a child to practice self-compassion as this can have an adverse effect. If a child resists practicing self-compassion, it can be helpful to focus primarily on the first three steps described in this article (increase caregivers’ self-compassion, model self-compassion, and use a compassionate voice with children).

It’s important that we, as caregivers, have a long-term view of children’s self-compassion development. We can normalize and offer ourselves compassion when children develop the resource of self-compassion more slowly than we would wish. It’s important that children know that we are learning and practicing self-compassion along with them, and that it’s self-compassionate to allow ourselves to grow slowly over time.

The Path to Resilience Journaling Challenge

I am formally inviting you (yes you!) on a Path to Resilience Journaling adventure.  I am sharing our first week of the Path to Resilience journaling blog with everyone.  If you would like to receive journaling prompts for future weeks (it is a sixty-day challenge), you can sign up for the challenge here.

Before you begin this journaling challenge, I invite you to consider your “why.”  Why would you want to go on a two-month-long journaling adventure?  What would you like to have more of in your life?  Joy, connection, freedom, strength, hope, well-being?  If you feel so moved, make a list of what you would like to invite more of into your life.  You could use this list of values from NVC to get some ideas.   If you have a moment, go ahead and do this now.

If you have made a list of good things that you would like to invite into your life, this can be your “why.” If you are not up for making a list of good things right now, you can borrow my reason to begin this adventure: following the tips and journaling prompts from the Path to Resilience has helped me to become the best version of myself.

Now…on to week one of our journaling challenge.   On week one of the Path to Resilience, we begin by focusing on mindfulness and our emotions.  As James Baldwin famously said:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.”

Emotions deeply affect the way that we experience life.  And depending on how we relate to our emotions, we will have more or less well-being.  Feel free to click here to watch a two minute video if you would like to hear me explore the concept of well-being as it relates to mindfulness and integration.

In order to experience well-being, we need to be able to integrate our emotions, life experiences, and the various parts of our brain.  The journaling practice for week one helps us to name our emotions so that we can integrate them.   Additionally, the journaling activity for week one includes a hint of gratitude (the science of the inclusion of gratitude is touched on in the video recording below).

So, our adventure begins with a little gratitude and a lot of awareness. Click on the three-minute video below to listen to me explain the week 1 journaling challenge, or if you prefer, you can continue reading below the video.  Be sure to not just listen to the video/read about the journaling challenge, but also try what is suggested.  We have something called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” which means that what changes our brain is experience rather than knowledge.

Our journaling prompt begins each day with the phrase, “Today I am grateful for awareness…..”  As the weeks progress, you will be invited to focus on different aspects of your life experience, but for week one we focus on our emotions.

For week one, all that you need to do is pause to remember your “why,” and then write down, “Today I am grateful for awareness…” at the top of a blank sheet of paper.  Go ahead and do this now.  Pause. Now, write down three emotions that you feel and the corresponding trigger (see above example).  Please be sure that at least one of the emotions is negative.  We need to integrate both negative and positive experiences, which means that it is important to be aware of and name both positive and negative emotions.

Please note that when we say that we are grateful for awareness, we are not saying that we are grateful for the things that have caused difficult emotions.  We are simply stating that we are grateful for an awareness of our feelings.  If you don’t feel authentically grateful for an awareness of your emotions, you can denote that as well (I touch on this in the above video).

For week one, this is all that is asked of you each day:  1) Remember your “why” 2) Write “Today I am grateful for awareness….” 3) Write down three emotions that you are feeling in response to situations in your life.  If you like, you could follow up your journaling with a mindful awareness practice such as dropping in, or a kindness practice such as kind wishes. 

If you would like to receive weekly journaling on the Path to Resilience blogs, guided practices and mindful movement videos for the sixty-day challenge, you can sign up for no cost using this link.

If you would like to learn more about the Path to Resilience training you can click here.

I wish you peace, joy, and integration.

Resilience Toolkit

A friend of mine recently sent me an article from the New York Times entitled, Is Resilience Overrated?  As I read the article, I reflected on the many ways that people define resilience.  I looked up the word resilience and found this definition: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” 

Yes, I thought, if that is how one defines resilience, I can see where a person might think that resiliency is overrated.

I agree that the ability to bounce back from adversity is a hallmark of resilience, but the strategies that one uses to bounce back can make the difference between resilience feeling fatiguing and resilience being uplifting.  I consider myself to be a very resilient person, but the word “toughness” is not part of my working definition of the word.

Long-term resilience involves being able to integrate difficult experiences and then respond skillfully.  But just how, you might ask, does one do that?

To begin, I would like to talk about what resilience is not.  Truthfully, when adversity hits, I oftentimes try my “not resilient” strategies first. Here is what “not resilience” looks like for me: Telling myself there is no problem.  Compulsively doing things that distract me from the problem.  Trying to look on the bright side of things to avoid feeling difficult feelings.  Repeat.  When I experience something challenging in my life, I oftentimes practice “not resilience” until I become too anxious or too tired to continue.  Then, I surrender to reality and turn toward my resiliency toolkit.

My resilience toolkit includes the following:

        1. Talking with friends
        2. Journaling
        3. Getting angry and sad and scared and messy
        4. Cloaking myself with kindness and compassion
        5. Practicing yoga or exercising to get into my body and out of my head
        6. Spending time in nature
        7. Gathering resources
        8. Continuing to take steps forward, often with the support of friends
        9. Beginning to hope, take in the good, and see silver linings
        10. Experiencing another setback
        11. Repeat
        This resilience toolkit creates resilience that is both sustainable and uplifting.  It is something that I can go back to again and again when life gets messy and hard.  Setbacks in life are inevitable, and a supportive resilience toolkit cannot be overrated.

The Healing Power of AND

If you are like me, you are on a roller coaster of feelings during this coronavirus time at home.  Sometimes, I momentarily forget about the virus while walking in nature or laughing with my kids, and then suddenly I remember once again. Hope, grief, sadness, joy and despair flicker in and out of my awareness.  I experience moments of awe at the way we are working together in community.  Other times I feel loneliness and worry about the physical and social isolation—both for myself and for others. 

During these challenging times, I remind myself again and again to create space for AND.  AND what? you might ask.  By AND, I mean allowing for both sadness and joy.  Loneliness and connection.  Despair and hope.  If we don’t create space for all of it, we run the risk of either anxiously clinging to positivity, or conversely, wallowing in despair.

Creating space for AND involves: A = Allowing the full range of emotions and becoming Aware of the present moment.  N = Nurturing—nurturing ourselves as we struggle, and nurturing a healthy mind that is also able to see what is good.  D = Discovering.  We can cultivate curiosity to move beyond our typical ways of responding and discover new and beautiful possibilities.  Allow, Nurture, and Discover (AND).

It’s not easy to open to all of our emotions.  Yoga, mindfulness, self-compassion and growing the good all help.  It also helps to journal and pick up the phone to call a friend to remember that we are not alone.  There are a lot of things that we cannot control in this situation, but practicing AND paves the way for a healthier emotional life and a more peaceful mind.