Life is hard. It can be painful, unpredictable, shocking. Living takes a toll on we mere mortals. We all know this, and we know this sucks. As adults, we have more patience for the ebbs and flows of life. After all, we’ve got the experience of having been there before and of knowing we survived it. For teens, however, it can be even more challenging because all they know is that they’re in the pain RIGHT NOW and IT HURTS. They don’t yet have that benefit of knowing that the hurt will fade. On top of that, they feel most things REALLY INTENSELY, due to hormones and actual changes that are occurring in their brains developmentally.
So, one of the best things we can do for our teens is to help them learn to be kind to themselves. Such kindness can be referred to as self-compassion, and there’s now a chunk of research that shows that self-compassion is really effective in helping people feel better and be happier. In fact, it’s argued that self-compassion is even more helpful than self-esteem, which requires us to rate ourselves and our abilities. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is the recognition that we all deserve kindness and caring just because we’re alive. It’s not earned; it’s a basic right.
Where do we start?
- Talk with your teen about self-compassion and what it means. For instance, when I talk with clients about this, I often introduce it with the idea of how we talk to our friends. If a friend comes to us and says they’re having a problem, most of the time, we’re really supportive. We listen and sympathize and help them come up with a solution, if they want. But, when it comes to ourselves, we tend to have this super harsh critic in our heads. This “critic” speaks out in our thoughts by saying stuff like, “What’s wrong with you?” “How could you do this?” “You’re such an idiot.” Sooo not okay! This critic is cruel. We have this tendency to talk to ourselves in ways we would NEVER talk to anyone else. Basically, self-compassion is the notion that we all deserve to offer the same kindness and support to ourselves as we would to anyone we care about. This intro can lead into a great discussion of some examples of our own critics and how we can practice self-compassion instead.
- Which leads to my next point--we model self-compassion to our teens. They need to see us make mistakes and face difficult situations without berating ourselves. They need to see us acknowledge when life is really hard and take care of ourselves. This could be a “I had an awful day at work—a project is really behind and my boss is furious. It was really hard. I’m going to take a walk and try to let the day go.” Or, “I had an argument with your grandma, and I’m feeling really worn down. I’m going to make some hot tea and sit on the porch.”
- Then, we need to be the voice of self-compassion for teens when they’re struggling. “Oh honey, I know that you have so much homework and are feeling really overwhelmed. That’s so hard. It really sucks right now, but I know you’ll get through this. How about you take a short break, and we’ll grab a snack? Then, if you want, I can help you strategize.” I truly believe that quote about how we talk to our kids becomes their inner voice. So, let’s talk to teens in kind, compassionate ways (even if it might seem like they’re overreacting—which is so normal developmentally—or especially if we don’t think the issue is something to be upset about). Remember this is the opposite of judgment—I mean, who wants to be judged, anyway, right? Helping teens have self-compassion is about meeting them right where they are in their experience and helping them have words and actions that are kind to themselves.
Also, remember that self-compassion is a work in progress. That’s part of being human too. We’re not perfect, and the skills we use can ebb and flow. That’s normal, and it’s okay. It’s part of the process. We can remind ourselves of this and continue to practice using self-compassion anyway. (See how I just modeled it right there? :))
Interested in more resources on self-compassion? I highly recommend Kristin Neff, PhD’s website: http://selfcompassion.org/
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Take good care!