Self-compassion: what is it?
Self-compassion is being kind to yourself even when things don’t happen the way you expect or want. It’s being aware of your feelings and treating yourself with the same warmth, care and understanding you’d give to someone you care about.
It’s also acknowledging that struggles and challenges are a part of life and that everyone goes through them.
Self-compassion is a skill that you can learn, practise and get better at using.
Self-compassion: why it’s important for parents
As a parent or carer, you might sometimes be hard on yourself. You might compare yourself to other parents and judge yourself harshly.
Self-compassion helps you be kinder to yourself as you navigate the challenges of raising children. And this is good for you and good for your child.
For you, self-compassion improves your mental health and wellbeing and can reduce stress and anxiety. This makes it easier for you to give your child what they need to grow and develop well.
And when you’re self-compassionate, you’re a good role model for your child. By showing kindness to yourself, you’re helping your child learn that it’s OK to make mistakes, forgive yourself and try to do better next time. This helps your child develop self-compassion too.
Being self-compassionate: 3 steps
Self-compassion takes time to learn. It also needs practice. Here’s an exercise to help you get into the habit of self-compassion.
Pause and notice your thoughts. Try to spot when you’re being hard on yourself. For example, you might tell yourself you’re a ‘bad parent’ after you’ve lost your temper with your toddler. Or if your teenage child is rude and disrespectful, you might feel that you’re doing a bad job.
- Is what I’m telling myself true? Or is it just how I’m feeling in this moment?
- Would I speak to a friend like this?
Remind yourself that raising children is a big and important job, which all parents learn as they go. We try to do what’s best for our children, but sometimes we make mistakes and we can’t control everything. It’s OK to find things hard or to need help or advice.
It’s important to acknowledge that you’re doing your best, even when you’re struggling.
Say something kind to yourself. Think about how you’d encourage a friend in the same situation as you. You might say things like:
- ‘I’m trying my best and I’m learning as I go.’
- ‘Other parents find this hard too – I’m not alone in this.’
- ‘It’s OK if I can’t figure it out now. I’ll try again later.’
- ‘Things have been very difficult lately, and I need to take some time out to look after myself.’
You can also think about how you might do things differently next time rather than dwelling on what didn’t go well this time. For example:
- Would starting a new routine reduce stress and conflict in the future?
- Would mindfulness or breathing exercises help you handle stressful situations?
- Is there someone you can ask for help? Your partner, a family member or a friend?
- Would it help to talk things through with someone? You could try calling your state or territory parenting helpline.
When you’re struggling with self-compassion or are very self-critical
Practising self-compassion can be difficult at first, particularly if you tend to be very self-critical. Remember that even taking a moment to pause and notice how you’re feeling is an important first step that you can be proud of.
If you’re finding it hard to be kind to yourself, it’s a good idea to seek professional advice. You can start by making an appointment with your GP. They can refer you to a suitable mental health professional like a psychologist or local counsellor.