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How to Teach Children the Practice and Benefits of Self-Compassion

Posted by Laura Perillo on May 5, 2021 3:06:07 PM

We can all relate to those days when nothing seems to go your way. When we’re down and vulnerable, self-critique tends to creep in and – at times – can make us our own worst enemy. 

While we may think we have complete control over our negative emotions,  thoughts and behaviors, we don’t! This is a myth, says the Cultures of Dignity, an organization that works with communities to shift the way we think about young people’s physical and emotional wellbeing. In fact, they argue the opposite – that  no human has complete control over their thoughts and feelings. 

Despite challenging days life will undoubtedly continue to throw at us – pandemic-related or not – the best thing to do is face any hardship head-on through the practice of self-compassion. 

Self-compassion is defined by The Cultures of Dignity as the as “the practice of choosing to turn towards your suffering with kindness and empathy.”

How to Teach Children the Practice and Benefits of Self-Compassion

Here is how to teach children to practice self-compassion and some of its benefits:

Choose Self-Kindness

This is easier said than done, however, one way to help your child practice self-compassion is to choose self-kindness. For example, your child may struggle with a subject or might be left out from an outing with peers. Parents or educators should validate the difficulty and teach the child to comfort themselves as they would a good friend. For example, the adult might say, “This is so hard, I'm so sorry you are going through this. It's so hard to feel this way. What do you need right now?” Undoubtedly awkward at first, but these questions are the precursor for children learning how to choose self-kindness. 

Self-kindness also triggers the release of Oxytocin, the hormone that decreases stress and has positive impacts on social behaviors related to relaxation, trust, and overall psychological stability. 

Remember Common Humanity

Another way to practice self-kindness is for parents and educators to remind children that when they are feeling down, they are not alone. The goal is to help children to shift their perspectives when they feel overwhelmed by negative feelings. A good exercise is to teach children to say to themselves, “Suffering happens to everyone, not just me. Lots of people struggle with these same feelings.”

Practice Mindfulness

Lastly, parents and educators might model for children the practice of mindfulness. Have a bad day? Be honest and upfront with your child or students. Let them see how you are acknowledging your bad day and sitting with it, instead of ignoring or by dismissing it.

Benefits of Self-Compassion

Emotional Resilience

Parents teach their children from a young age how to develop a “thick skin” or boost up their emotional resilience in preparation for life’s tougher days. As parents are truly their child’s first teachers, they are tasked with modeling how to deal with difficulties and reassuring the child that bad days come in tangent with the good. When younger children learn how to be emotionally resilient from a young age, they’re less likely to judge themselves, bounce back quicker and less likely to feel ashamed. 

Avoids Depending on Others for Approval

Another benefit to practicing self-compassion is that by doing so, a child is less likely to rely on success and approval from others to confirm their self-worth. Instead, children learn to look inward and are better able to confront a difficulty by coming from a place of kindness and compassion. 

Personal Growth

Lastly, self-compassion provides children with emotional safety. For example, if your child gets a bad grade on an exam, they need to realize that failure is part of a process and something that they can learn from. Parents, working alongside with educators, can help guide children around the personal abyss of feeling fear or shame. By depersonalizing failure, children are better able to navigate this struggle and expand their own personal growth. 

While it’s easy to tell children to go easy on themselves and be kind to one another, it can be tricky to implement if children haven’t learned about self-compassion. By teaching children how to develop and nurture this virtue, it’s setting them up for the ebbs and flows of the good and bad days alike.

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