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October 01, 2013

“I’m so stupid.”

Do you ever hear yourself mutter those words when you make a mistake or can’t figure something out?

“I’m such a loser.”

In moments of frustration, many of us use self-demeaning expressions. Or we sigh and our face transmits the deep disappointment we’re feeling toward ourselves. In those moments, we’re failing to offer ourselves compassion — the kindness, caring and understanding we might offer a friend or even a stranger. We’re forgetting when we put ourselves down that imperfection is part of being human, that mistakes don’t define us or make us less worthy than others.

Research has revealed that people who give themselves a break and accept their own imperfections — people with self-compassion — tend to have less depression and anxiety, are happier and more socially accepted, and actually have higher standards than people who are critical of themselves. Isn’t this what we want for our kids?

When we beat ourselves up, our children are often listening — and learning how to live their lives … learning to be hard on themselves when they misstep or fail to reach a goal.

Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin and a researcher in the area of self-compassion, says that most people fear that self-compassion will become self-indulgence, leading us to lower our standards.1 Many people believe that being self-critical keeps us striving to be our best. On the contrary, her research has found that when we’re harshly self-critical, we become discouraged, which leaves us less likely to strive to do better next time. By contrast, self-compassion encourages rather than discourages; it motivates and serves to bring out the best in us.

If self-compassion can motivate us, it can do the same for our children once they learn to offer it to themselves. Here are some ways to model self-compassion for your kids:

  • Catch yourself in the act of beating yourself up and let the children hear you retract your words. “Oh, I shouldn’t talk that way. We all make mistakes, it’s part of being human.”
  • After you’ve been harsh with the kids, apologize to them without berating yourself. Show them that you’re gently self-accepting of your missteps while still acknowledging your error.
  • Casually mention to the children a mistake you made recently, using words and tones that convey self-acceptance and understanding. Repeat from time to time.
  • Take the Self-Compassion Survey2 to see where you rank along the self-compassion continuum. Use the survey items to guide you toward a more self-compassionate style.
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