Compassion for others is something that every foster and kinship carer has in spades, but showing compassion to themselves in trying times can be a different story.
Infinity Community Solutions Executive Director of Services Annaley Clarke spoke about the importance of carers having ‘self-compassion’ at this year’s Foster Care Queensland annual conference in Cairns.
The conference is widely regarded as one of the premier events in the child protection sector in Queensland and the theme for 2017 was ‘caring to create… brighter futures’.
Ms Clarke co-presented a session at the conference aimed at helping foster and kinship carers, as well as professionals in general, to focus on their own self-care.
“Practising self-compassion is about facing life’s challenges with the same compassion for yourself that you give to others,” Ms Clarke said.
“As the number of children requiring out of home care grows, the pressure on foster and kinship carers also increases, which is bringing their well-being into sharp focus”.
“Research shows that people who practise self-compassion are happier, more resilient and less stressed, which can only lead to better outcomes in child protection services.”
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is a skill for everyone, every day.
Self-compassion is extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. It involves having the same level of compassion for yourself as you have for others.
Incorporating self-compassion into your life can not only enhance your quality of life, but also improve your ability to support those who rely on you. Self-compassion is both an attitude towards yourself and a skill you can learn.
How do I practise self-compassion?
Ms Clarke’s session identified three key ways to practise self-compassion:
Self-kindness: be supportive and understanding toward yourself when you have hard times, rather than being self-critical.
Mindfulness: recognise when you are stressed or having negative feelings without being judgmental or overreacting. Mindfully attend to your feelings.
Connectedness: remember that everyone makes mistakes and experiences difficulties from time to time. When you experience them, remember that you are not alone.
Teaching children about self-compassion
Parents and carers can help children and young people learn about self-compassion by:
Teaching children the truth about life – Life will always have ups and downs and we have to give children the experience of enjoying the ups, but equally make sure they learn how to recognise and manage the downs.
Mindfulness exercises – Give children some self-compassion training wheels with mindfulness exercises. To have resilience we need to learn how to bounce back from tough experiences. This means encouraging children to be mindful of their feelings. For example, ask ‘did that make you feel angry?’ and then express empathy by reaffirming that ‘it can be tough’. Help children learn about actions that may help them feel better immediately, such as a hug, punching a pillow, taking a break from the situation or walking away.
Judging the behaviour not the child – When a child misbehaves, we need to honestly critique their behaviour without critiquing their character. Explain that ‘when you called your friend a name, that was hurtful,’ rather than saying, ‘you are a bad friend’. Judging their behaviour leaves room for children to improve. The most important job for parents is to make a child feel worthy, independently of their accomplishments and failures.
Shape future behaviour, rather than punish the past – How adults respond to a child’s failures and successes influences how they feel internally about themselves. Compassion discipline starts with understanding the child’s point of view and helping them change their harmful behaviour.
Being a good role model – Be a model of self-compassion, rather than self-criticism, and your children will learn from your example.