Today's lifestyle is very competitive and tough. Since children are very young, it is sought that they achieve both academic, sports or personal goals. That is why most children attend different classes and do different activities during the day - in addition to school activities- often taking up all their free time.
When we give special emphasis and make the achievement of these goals the first priority, we are unwittingly expecting our children to be better than others. But what will happen when they find someone who does it better than them? If they do not have the tools and resources to manage their emotions, frustration, self-criticism, shame and negative thoughts will appear.
All of this increases when criticism from their parents or educators predominates in their education. Children and adolescents significantly internalize the disqualifying comments they hear and it is these same comments that will appear in their heads in adult life, affecting their security and self-esteem.
"The child grows up thinking that he has to be perfect to be loved, but since perfection is impossible, we raise insecure children who tolerate frustration poorly." (Moroño, 2019)
Self-criticism (the destructive type) does not bring any benefit to children's lives, but rather brings negative consequences to their emotional well-being as they can feel lost, misfit and with feelings of guilt. In those moments, thoughts such as: "I was wrong, I deserve to suffer", "I should have won, I am a failure", "I went wrong, I am useless", among others, typical of low self-esteem and self-punishment, may appear.
Education and the context in which the child develops plays a fundamental role because when healthy self-esteem, self-compassion and kindness to oneself prevail, personal and academic results are different. It is a matter of respecting, loving and accepting yourself without the need to compare yourself with others.
Normally, when we see someone we love suffer, a feeling of affection, love comes from us and we want to protect them and help them feel better. This feeling is closely related to empathy. But are we just as compassionate towards ourselves? Self-compassion is supporting, comforting, caring, and being kind to ourselves when we are not well. According to Neff (2017), self-compassion offers us the same protection as a high self-esteem against destructive self-criticism, but without the need to feel perfect or better than others. In the same way, it also involves knowing oneself in a sincere way and, thus, learning to accept ourselves as we are, with our skills and abilities as well as with our mistakes and weaknesses.
It is important to develop self-compassion from a young age because, according to Moroño (2019), self-compassionate people have greater emotional intelligence, experience fewer unhealthy emotions, better manage their emotions, and have a greater ability to remain emotionally stable. In addition, he comments that they know how to deal with their problems more efficiently, they know how to motivate themselves and learn when they fail without being discouraged. On the other hand, practicing and developing compassion with others also brings various benefits - especially with regard to interpersonal relationships - since it teaches children to relate with equality and respect because they are much more aware and empathic with the suffering of others. In addition, it teaches them to solve problems through dialogue.
The ability to have compassion for oneself is measured by taking into account three components:
- Kindness to oneself: being kind, encouraging, tolerant and flexible with ourselves when things are not going well for us and we feel imperfect.
- Shared humanity: refers to the ability to be aware that all human beings go through episodes of suffering throughout our lives. Understanding that this suffering is part of our life and accepting it as a human characteristic makes us more self-compassionate.
- Mindfulness: this practice provides various strategies to learn to treat and take care of ourselves in the best possible way. Allowing us to feel the emotion that is being experienced, to connect with it without judgment or blame, makes us feel more compassionate with ourselves, giving us the love and care that we need.
We invite you to reflect on these questions:
- Do I encourage compassion in my children?
- What can I do to develop self-compassion in my children?
- Moroño, T. (2019). Niños atentos y felices con mindfulness. Barcelona, España: Editorial Penguin Random House
- Neff, K (2017). Sé amable contigo mismo: el arte de la compasión hacia uno mismo. Barcelona, España: Editorial Paidós
By Cristina Mendiola - Psychologist from 5th to 7th grade