Fostering self-compassion in children

It has been many years since those awkward pubescent days of high school, sitting in health class, wondering what new and embarrassing topic would arise.

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  • It has been many years since those awkward pubescent days of high school, sitting in health class, wondering what new and embarrassing topic would arise. I can still remember the teacher lecturing on the dangers of lacking self-esteem, uncomfortably focusing much of her attention on me. I happened to be a gangly redhead with no athletic ability and no skill in communicating with members of the opposite sex.

  • That was then, and the concept of self-esteem is a bygone fossil of psychology. It turns out psychologists may have had it wrong. Self-esteem is not what we needed. After telling generations of teens that they just need a bigger ego, psychologists now say that this may have done more harm than good. Of course, I had my own doubts with that theory after my overly-esteemed cronies had threatened me with physical harm and humiliation over my lunch money for the hundredth time.

  • On the contrary, it was the Beatles that had it right all along. All we need is love.

  • Modern psychologist say that what kids, especially teenagers, really need is more self-compassion. It is similar to self-esteem, but without the big head and the incessant need to feed one’s ego by belittling others. According to the theory, self-compassion is composed of three particular mindsets that need to be fostered in children for overall emotional wellbeing:

  • Self-kindness

  • In order to foster self-compassion in children, it's important to make sure that they do not fall into self-criticizing modes of thinking. The way we communicate with our children establishes a blue-print for how they will eventually communicate with themselves. In other words, if we are overly critical of our children, they will learn to be overly critical of themselves. If on the other hand, we are able to talk with our children in a non-critical way, they will practice this when communicating with themselves.

  • Common humanity

  • As parents, we feel it our responsibility to impart our own code of ethics and morals. While we are aware of our imperfections, our children often are not. As we all know, it can be difficult to live up to an unreasonably perfect image. Children often struggle with feelings of inadequacy. We must remind our children of the common humanity that we share, and that suffering and failing are a normal part of life. Such a perspective will not only help them in their perception of themselves, but also of others. Another way to foster this common humanity is to encourage outward compassion towards others as an expression of our inward compassion toward ourselves.

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  • Mindfulness

  • . Childhood, especially going into the teen years, is a difficult time. Emotions and hormones rage out of control. This stage in life is a good time to help children learn how to work with their emotions and not to overly identify themselves with their feelings, especially those that tend to be negative. The best way to do this is through directed mental talk. By sitting down with children and talking through their emotions with them, parents can model proper mental talk, making them aware of their feelings and how they react to them. This will not only help them in their personal life, but it will help them in their communications with others.

  • Ultimately, fostering self-compassion in children will allow them to be succeed in life by finding lasting joy in who they are, without the need to undercut others. Instead, they will demonstrate greater compassion for those around them as they realize the common experience of being human.

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Sean Fletcher is an educator and writer. He is also a devoted husband and father of five.

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