Monday, May 23, 2011

Teaching Children Self-Compassion

Self-compassion sounds a little cheesy, but it’s pretty simple. It has to do with acknowledging your own feelings and helps you relate to the feelings of others. There are three parts: mindfulness, or the actual acknowledgement of your feelings- realizing they’re there, common humanity, realizing that, others, too, go through difficult emotions and finding support and strength in numbers, and being kind to yourself and others in an effort to reduce further hardships.

Researchers look at self-compassion as a sort of middle ground between the type of ‘tiger mom’ parenting you may have read about, where children’s self-esteem and approval from parents is based solely upon whether they succeed at certain accomplishments, say, playing a piano piece perfectly from start to finish, and the type of parenting where self-esteem is doled out in the form of ‘everyone gets a trophy. For everything. All the time.’ You can imagine that, in the first instance, children may be made to feel that they are never good enough, and in the latter, that they are always the best. This could be problematic for a number of reasons, but namely because children are taught that self-worth hinges upon performance and how they stack up compared with other children. How stressful!

In contrast, self-compassion teaches children to relate to themselves and other people. In fact, researchers find that encouraging children to be self-compassionate gives them the same benefits of self-esteem- it makes them feel confident and courageous, but it doesn’t produce the negative aspects, such as narcissism.

How can parents help children become self-compassionate? Like many things in life, self-compassion researchers suggest modeling this skill in your own life. Showing children that, when things don’t always turn up roses, it’s okay to be sad/angry/frustrated teaches them that negative emotions are real. Providing a quick fix of ‘Oh it’s okay- don’t be sad’ may fix the problem immediately, but it’s really just covering up negative emotions that need to happen.

Parents can also help children work through negative emotions by helping them become aware of common humanity- that other children go through similar negative emotions. This shows children that their experiences are normal and common, and will help children relate to their peers more confidently.

For more information on becoming self-compassionate in your own life, visit researcher Krisitn Neff’s site here.


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