Why Parents Need Self-Compassion During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Practice Forgiveness

Due to the current public health pandemic, many family members are at home attempting to juggle multiple roles throughout the day. In addition to being mom or dad, we are now acting as teachers, and are trying to balance work, home, and childrearing responsibilities in entirely new ways. We are figuring it out as we go. And as always, trying something new usually involves mistakes. We will likely hit some road bumps. We’ll probably lose our cool at times (ok, daily). And that’s ok. We must learn to be kind to ourselves. To trade in self-criticism for self-compassion. To forgive.

Treat Yourself Well

You’ve likely heard the notion of treating others as you want to be treated. That same ideal can be applied to yourself — treat yourself as you would a good friend. This is what self-compassion is all about according to Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher on the topic. She writes, “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?’” I think most of us agree that this qualifies as a difficult time. Now, we’ve got to work on the comforting and caring for ourselves part.

You’ve likely heard the notion of treating others as you want to be treated. That same ideal can be applied to yourself -- treat yourself as you would a good friend.

Self-Compassion Impacts Well-Being

A growing body of research demonstrates the many benefits of being self-compassionate, including less depression, anxiety, and emotional distress. Practicing self-compassion also increases positive traits such as greater optimism, happiness, and resilience. Moreover, it’s been shown to improve well-being in both children and adults. So, you are doing your kids a favor by modeling for them how to be kind to yourself. While it may sound easy to “be nice” to yourself, many of us are our own worst critics and need to take intentional steps to become more self-compassionate. Here are a few simple strategies to get started.

Three Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

  1. Write. It’s well-documented that journaling provides benefits. Writing about stressful experiences can even help with your ability to cope. In one study, participants were asked to write themselves a letter from the perspective of a kind and compassionate friend. Doing so resulted in increased self-compassion and life satisfaction. Commit to writing yourself a letter once a day for one week to reap the rewards.
  2. Embrace. We are social beings that thrive from physical contact. Since we can’t hug others at the moment, hug yourself. Yup, wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze tight. The act helps release feel-good emotions known to reduce stress and improve health. It’s also a way to show yourself some compassion after you make a mistake or have a hard day.
  3. Breathe. In her book, Self-Compassion for Parents, Dr. Susan Pollack offers user-friendly practices that are easy to implement into your day. A simple one she shares is to take two breaths. She advises: “Start wherever you are—standing, cooking, washing dishes. Keep your eyes open. Feel your feet firmly planted on the ground. Let yourself feel the sensations of one inhalation…Sometimes we are so busy we don’t realize that we are breathing. Pause. Notice that you are breathing.” This kind of deep breathing exercise can make a big difference in how you think and feel. It slows down racing thoughts and brings you into the present moment. So, the next time you catch yourself raising your voice or becoming frustrated, take a time out for those few deep breaths. (This is also a great one for teens — watch the below video with them and together, learn how to calm yourself through breathing!)

Give Yourself a Break

No one is expecting you to become a teacher overnight. You won’t break your kids if they don’t learn French during this time. Give yourself a break. Kindness is contagious. So, start with yourself and it might just spread to others.  

Art by: Aisa Binhashim/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

About Elyse Salek

Elyse Salek, M.S.Ed. is an Administrative Director of Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her degrees are in Psychology and Human Development from Middlebury College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Education. She is the proud mother of two children.

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