Being Kind to Ourselves

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
September 04, 2020

With all the changes and uncertainty in our lives right now, making decisions can seem overwhelming and unsatisfying. Am I doing the right thing? What are other families doing? Is this decision in the best interest of myself and my child? Even when we are fortunate enough that we are not in immediate danger, this constant level of stress wears at our emotional balance and can pull us into a negative self-critical spiral.

Research shows that self-criticism makes us weaker in the face of failure, more emotional, and less likely to learn from lessons of our failures. Self-compassion is a far better alternative to self-criticism. While self-compassion may sound like self-indulgence or even feel like a weakness, research shows that it is actually the secret to resilience; that is, showing strength in the face of failure with the ability to learn from mistakes and bounce back with greater enthusiasm. People who practice self-compassion are happier, less stressed, and more resilient.

It is important to recognize that we serve as models for our children. Our children observe our behavior and see how we are trying to make the best of a challenging situation. If we, as adults, allow negative self-talk and let our frustration and anxiety to overwhelm us, our children will probably learn to do the same and enter into self-critical cycles. However, if we can display self-compassion in front of our children, we begin to model a skill our children can use to show resilience in handling challenges.

How can you begin to show more self-compassion for yourself?

  1. Accept that every decision you make will not be perfect. We all make mistakes. There are simply no perfect decisions in this complex time. We are all doing the best we can under difficult circumstances. The same applies to our children as they will make mistakes too. Maintaining an attitude that we are all trying our best and that it may look different from person to person and family to family, gives yourself permission to be kind to yourself, as well as others.
  2. Recognize that we are not in full control of everything around us. Things seem less predictable than ever right now. Things are going to go wrong even in our best efforts to prevent it, such as a typical family routine getting off track or the internet failing during a virtual meeting for school or work. What we can control is our attitude and how we choose to react to it. We will be happiest if we take a deep breath and be kind when things do not happen as anticipated.
  3. Place a focus on what you are grateful for. During tough times like now, it is easy to focus on what we do not have or wish we had. Of course, we all wish we could be in school with live instruction and participate in all of the activities we enjoy. However, it is very unhealthy for us to think over and over on this. We feel happier and experience less stress when we take note of the positives in our lives. Express gratitude for what is good in your life such as loved ones, friendships, pets, good health, having a roof over your head, access to drinkable water, or anything else you are grateful for.
  4. Take on a growth mindset. Recognize that we all have the capacity to change, learn, and grow...our abilities can improve with effort, practice, using strategies, and seeking help from others. Having a growth mindset allows us to view challenges, failure, and setbacks as opportunities for learning which increases our perseverance and frees us to take them on. Learn more about developing a growth mindset here.
  5. Practice mindfulness. Take notice of the present moment. It is OK to recognize your thoughts and feelings, but do not pass judgment and dwell on them. Take some deep breaths and pause before reacting. Give those thoughts and feelings their moment, and let them go. Mindfulness helps us to make better responses to handle stress or meet challenges, while not missing out on enjoyable pleasant experiences. Learn more about mindfulness here.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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