I recently had a chat with one of the mom’s I work with. She was worried about her 9-year-old son. She told me that he is nervous about the start of school and so is she. She’s worried they will have another year like last year.
I leaned in and asked her, “Can you describe what happened last year?”
Quickly the words tumbled out of her mouth, “Oh some days were fine, but other days were just terrible and we never figured out what to do. He would come home quiet, sullen and withdrawn. When I asked what was wrong, he’d usually tell me nothing or he didn’t know. Every once in a while, though, he would have a total meltdown after school and he would tearfully say that he hated school, was stupid, and nobody liked him. Nothing his Dad or I said would convince him otherwise. It hurts me to see him in so much pain and to not know how to help him. Isn’t there something I can do at home to support him?”
I light up, “Absolutely!”
With a big smile, I tell her about Kristen Neff’s research on self-compassion. She found that people with higher levels of self-compassion also showed higher levels of optimism, happiness, curiosity, exploration and personal initiative and lower levels of anxiety, depression and perfectionism.
School, for many children, is a pressure cooker. 6 hours of having to get everything right…socially, academically and behaviorally.
Some children, and I told the Mom I was speaking to that her son sounded like one of them, internalize this pressure, this right or wrong perspective and create an attachment to their identity.
They become right or wrong, good or bad depending on their grade on the test, if they got invited to play with the other kids at recess, if the teacher had to correct them, or if they made a mistake on their drawing. This leads to negative self-talk, that voice in our head that is hyper critical and judgmental. With all that going on, I’d come home grumpy, tired and feeling not so good about myself, too!
With hope in her voice she asked, “Ok, I understand where his negative self-talk is coming from and that self-compassion will help. So, how do I teach him self-compassion?”
In the Calming Compass program, I teach parents effective strategies to help their child quiet the negative voice in his or her head.
One technique you can use is the Loving Heart Statement, based on Kristen Neff’s self-compassion break.
To create a Loving Heart Statement, or Mantra, with your child include these three elements:
- Awareness of Feelings (mindfulness)
- Connection with other people (a shared human experience)
- Self-Kindness (warmth, understanding, and gentleness toward oneself)
Some examples of Loving Heart Statements:
- This hurts. Everybody feels this way sometimes. I totally love and accept myself.
- I’m uncomfortable. Others feel uncomfortable, too. I am awesome just the way I am.
- I’m scared. I’m not alone. I am strong.
- This feels too hard. We all struggle sometimes. I am super smart.
You can create your Loving Heart statement in the moment, to specifically address what they are experiencing and you can have a more general one that you and your child can remember and recite during stressful moments. It’s also helpful to incorporate touch by placing your hand or hands on your heart and modeling for your child to do the same.
I’d love to hear the Loving Heart Statements you create with your child. Please comment below to share.
As always, thank you so much for spending your precious time reading this. My intention is that it is helpful to you or someone you love.