December – Self-compassion

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Welcome to December at the Umbrella Project!  Last month we focused our attention on building Grit and this month we are adding the skill that will help your child to be kinder to themselves in the face of failure and difficulties, Self-compassion.

What will self-compassion do for my child?

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that 75% of people treat others more kindly than they treat themselves.

Self-compassion means offering ourselves compassion when we fail, make mistakes or are at fault. Self-compassion is the opposite of self-criticism and will help your child treat themselves like they would a good friend instead of continuously judging themselves harshly.  Like a bully that is with your child all the time, self-criticism actually reduces  self-confidence (just like an external bully would), making it hard for them to succeed.

Self-compassion helps to reduce children’s feelings of isolation and instead recognize that struggle is a normal part of being human that everyone experiences. There is a  100% chance of rain at some point in every life so it’s important that we learn to weather these storms with compassion.

Do you often catch your child saying harsh things about themselves and their abilities ?

It’s vital that we help our children avoid getting caught up in the dramatic storyline of their struggle and instead recognize this normal part of life. Imperfections, rough days, mistakes, being at fault and failures are a part of being human and the better we are at accepting this, the easier it is to preserve our wellbeing through these challenges.

Listen as Dr. Jen’s introduces this important Umbrella Skill of Self-compassion

Chat soon,

Dr. Jen, The Umbrella Project

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Stop judging yourself as a parent so harshly!

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Children don’t come with step-by-step instructions and there is a reason that millions of parenting books exist, all with different solutions to the same problems. Just like snowflakes, each child is completely unique and therefore responds differently to the world and our attempts to guide them.  How many times has an idea worked brilliantly for one of your children and not at all for the next? Every feel like one day you have this parenting thing nailed and the next day want to give up completely? Such is the nature of raising another human with their own agenda and parents deserve to treat themselves with a high level of compassion on the tough days.

Unfortunately, research and experience show us that this is not the case. As parents, we are terrible critics of our own best efforts to raise our children and we now know that the more we judge our own parenting, the more likely it is that our child will develop symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The solution – Less self-blame and more non-judgemental acceptance of our own parenting skills. In other words, show our children what self-compassion looks like in action. None of us are perfect parents, you will make mistakes and that’s OK!

It sounds simple but remember that most of us have a very vocal inner critic, evaluating our every move. Start by noticing your own self-judgement and then try to think of what you might say to a good friend who was in the same situation. Say these words to yourself and remember, beating yourself up in effort to be a better parent is having the opposite effect on your child’s wellbeing. Instead take ownership of your feelings and choices, recognize when you make mistakes, apologize, keep learning and move on.

You’ve got this!

Dr. Jen, The Umbrella Project

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Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend. 

Children who are low in self-compassion are often very hard on themselves. They can feel isolated and alone in their struggles and have a hard time moving on from failures. From a parenting perspective, it can be very difficult to convince children with low self-compassion that people aren’t judging them as harshly as they are judging themselves.

One of the easiest ways to help your child practice their self-compassion is to start one step outside themselves. Ask them to think about how they would treat a good friend who is struggling and then reflect on whether they treat themselves with the same care.

This exercise is beneficial for everyone and most people are quite surprised when they take a moment to listen to what they say to themselves. The phrase “we are our own worst enemy” rings true here.

Here are a few simple steps to follow when you notice your child’s self-criticism is becoming detrimental to their wellbeing:

  1. Have them bring to mind a good friend or someone they care about and imagine it is their friend, and not them, experiencing the struggle.  
  2. Ask your child these questions:

What would you say to your friend in this situation?  How would you treat them?

What do you think would happen if you said the same things to your friend that you are saying to yourself?  Would it help them?

  1. Help your child remember that they can be a good friend to themselves. Remind your child they should offer themselves the same amount of love, compassion, forgiveness and respect as they offer everyone else.

Health & Happiness,

Dr. Jen, The Umbrella Project

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Watch your language

Most of us get so used to the way we criticize ourselves that we don’t even know we are doing it. However, the words we say to ourselves have power and direct our attention. Our inner critic is really a misguided attempt to help motivate and protect ourselves. The research shows that our inner critic is unlikely to have the effect we are hoping for and holds us back from our happiness and success. Our brains like to be correct, so we unconsciously pick out the information from our environments that supports our beliefs. When we tell ourselves we are stupid, for example, we can’t succeed. When we carry broken beliefs, our brains select the information in the environment that matches this belief and so we live into our thoughts.

In addition, when we criticize ourselves in front of our kids they begin to feel we may be secretly judging them as harshly as we are judging ourselves. It’s hard to convince them we think they are beautiful just the way they are if they see us critiquing ourselves harshly in the mirror.

The messages we give our children directly are important too. The language we use around them creates powerful self-talk that can help them or hold them back, make them feel well or hopeless. Try to be specific when you address your children instead of making generalized comments. There is a big difference between saying “you did something bad” versus “you are bad”. The first creates self talk that can help the child take responsibility and move on.  The latter doesn’t leave room for growth or change and can leave our kids feeling powerless.

The same goes with praise.  We want our children to feel responsible for their success so when we generalize and say “you are smart” instead of “you did very well on this specific thing” or “your hard work paid off” we can accidentally make kids feel that everything is evidence that they are either smart or not and create a lot of anxiety around failure. Their self talk becomes about avoiding anything that might risk them being proved unintelligent. Instead, praise the things your child can always control like effort and their umbrella skills.

In this short 3:30min video Dr. Jen talks about this concept of watching your language.

Until next time,

Dr. Jen, The Umbrella Project

Additional Resources

Interested in learning more? Here are a few more short and sweet videos about Self-compassion from Dr. Jen.

Suffering is not failure

Instill the learner in your child

All about our inner commentary

It’s not a weakness

Be incident specific

Tie to intentions (not outcomes)