Why Parents Need Self-Compassion During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

mom meditating while daughter is coloring 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 many of us are trying to balance work, home, and childrearing responsibilities in entirely new ways.

We are figuring it out as we go, but as always, trying something new usually involves mistakes. We will hit some road bumps. We will probably lose our cool at times – and that’s OK. We must learn to be kind to ourselves; to trade self-criticism for self-compassion; to forgive ourselves and others who are trying to make the best of a challenging time.

Treat Yourself Well

You’ve likely heard the saying, "Treat others as you want to be treated." That same ideal can be applied to you, too. Treat yourself as you would a good friend. Accept what's done and work to improve tomorrow.

This is what self-compassion is all about according to Kristin Neff, PhD, a leading researcher on the topic. “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," she writes. "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 this qualifies as a difficult time. Now, we’ve got to work on the comforting and caring for ourselves.

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 how to be kind to yourself.

It might sound easy to “be nice” to yourself, but many of us are our own worst critics. We need to take intentional steps to become more self-compassionate. Here are a few strategies to get you started.

Three Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

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. School-age children can do this as well.

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 when you make a mistake or have a hard day.

Breathe. In her book, Self-Compassion for Parents: Nurture Your Child by Caring for Yourself, Susan M. Pollak, MTS, EdD, offers user-friendly practices that are easy to implement into your day.

A simple one she shares is to take two breaths. In an article for Greater Good Magazine, 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 any racing thoughts and brings you into the present moment. So, the next time you catch yourself raising your voice or becoming frustrated, give yourself a time out for a few deep breaths.

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.  

A version of this was previously posted by the Center for Parent and Teen Communication: https://parentandteen.com/parent-self-compassion-coronavirus/. 

Contributed by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd and Elyse Salek, MSEd.

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