I've been missing a key piece of the kindness puzzle: kindness to self

I've been missing a key piece of the kindness puzzle: kindness to self

Readers of this blog probably know that I beat the kindness drum a fair amount around my house. In fact, at 6:30 this morning as my daughter headed down the driveway, I hollered at the back of her head and big pink backpack, "Have a good day and be kind!"

When talking about the challenges that come with starting high school, my old college roommate mentioned talking to her about "kindness to herself and others."

Two words stopped me in my tracks: "to herself."

I've focused on kindness to others, but "be kind to yourself" hasn't been a constant refrain.

I think I've been missing a key part of the kindness puzzle.

It's certainly not a new idea. Buddha is often quoted as having said “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

I wondered why I hadn't included that.  Part of it (and perhaps a large part) is that I'm not overly compassionate to myself. Another part of it is my fear that my child will think I'm giving her an out, although there is, of course, a big difference between self-compassion and making excuses.

To be honest, sometimes telling a teen to be kind to herself or himself conjures up ideas of some wacky indulgences that don't fall into the category of "healthy choices." But maybe that's a sign that they need help learning how to be kind to themselves.

Some kids are hard on themselves, and others are not, but most parents with whom I've connected agree that being a teenager today comes with a fair amount of pressure - activities have intense practice schedules, students are enrolled in a high number of AP classes, navigating college admissions is stressful.

Top that off with the fact that our kids are growing in all senses - physically, emotionally, intellectually. Their bodies and brains are not fully formed. The teen years can involve a large amount of struggle to figure out who you are, who your friends are, what your goals are, what do you want to do in this world.  You know, the little questions.

"Self-compassion, defined as treating oneself with kindness when confronted with difficulties, maintaining perspective amid life’s challenges, and understanding that challenges are inherent in the human condition (Neff et al. 2007), may protect against negative self-evaluation, thereby holding anxiety and depression at bay," wrote researchers led by Karen Bluth when reporting finding of a study "Does Self-Compassion Protect Adolescents from Stress?" in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

It seems self-compassion and kindness to yourself can help teens and young adults better manage their inevitable mistakes, and rather than being wrecked by them (as we keeping reading that some college kids are), seeing them as learning opportunities and not referendums on their abilities or harbingers of doom.

Teens can be very critical of and hard on themselves. It's also possible that teens are at times known to lose perspective, including about their mistakes and shortcomings. Compassion to self is a foreign concept to some.

It's a fine line to walk as a parent. We want to encourage kids to do their best, to strive for excellence and to push themselves achieve it.

"Resilience" is a huge buzzword in parenting today, but it seems that kindness to yourself is a huge part of that. Acceptance of imperfections and appreciation of strengths and abilities go a long way toward building resilience and seem key to achievement.

As Lucille Ball said, "Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world."


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Prior Post: Why reading aloud to students is wonderful even when they're in high school

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