Summers can be stressful for families. If you have young children and work full- or part-time, you’re probably scrambling to get them into day camps or looking for help from friends or other family members.
And if you’re home all summer with your children, you more than likely will be chauffeuring them to and from activities and friend’s houses, sports practices or dance lessons, leaving little time for yourself.
With older kids, it can mean juggling car schedules and figuring out how to make boundaries for kids that are pushing limits like never before.
In fact, without the day-to-day structure of school, summers can be overwhelming for parents. It’s a time when many of us can easily feel frazzled, as if we are failing as parents, or just not as “together” as those around us.
With all the pressure to pack as much as possible into these few short months, guilt, disappointment and shame are feelings that can often overcome us.
And with conversations on the Orlando tragedy and the hate-filled political debate surrounding us, there can be a lot of negativity weighing on our minds. While we practice compassion for others who are suffering, it’s important for us to remember to be kind to ourselves by building habits of self-compassion in our everday lives.
What is self-compassion?
According to pioneering self-compassion researcher, Dr. Kristin Neff, having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others when you know they are suffering.
According to Dr. Neff:
“Compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way.”
She continues, “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.”
In other words, you are kind, patient and compassionate toward yourself when you are suffering emotionally or feel like you are not “enough.”
Why does self-compassion matter?
So why should we care about self-compassion? There is actually research that suggests it is a huge factor in motivating change in our lives. And that includes being a better parent, particularly during times of high stress.
In one research study led by Juliana Breines at the University of California, Berkeley, participants who practiced a self-compassionate mindset showed “greater willingness to learn from and improve on their self-perceived mistake, failure or weakness.”
They were also more likely to want to take action to reduce the harm of their past actions. (Like apologizing for losing your temper with your child.) In addition, participants had greater optimism that their personal weakness could be changed.
In another study, researchers at Radboud University collected data from 901 Dutch families, using questionnaires to measure adolescents’ depression and anxiety, as well as parents’ well-being and approach to parenting.
Researchers found that parents who reported less self-blame—and were less self-critical of their own parenting—had adolescents with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How to practice self-compassion
According to Neff, there are specific exercises you can do to begin the practice of self-compassion. Here are a few she recommends:
- Ask yourself how you would treat a friend who’s suffering. Would you judge them harshly and blame them? Or would you treat them with love and understanding? You deserve the same treatment for yourself.
- Think of a situation that is difficult. By calling a situation into mind, and actually feeling the stress and emotion it causes, you can practice self-compassion. Take a self-compassion break by following this exercise.
- Compose a self-compassionate note. This exercise allows you to write a letter to yourself from a place of compassion and understanding.
- Role play: the criticizer, the criticized, and the compassionate observer. In this exercise, you will sit in different chairs to help identify different, conflicting parts of yourself and how each one feels in the moment.
More on self-compassion
- Self-Compassion: A Twist on the Golden Rule
- The Five Myths of Self-Compassion
- Why You Should Practice Self-Compassion
Tami Rogers is the parenting contributor to BodiMojo and co-author with Tara Cousineau, PhD, of the e-book: Your Guide to a Smartphone-Friendly Family.
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