Top tips for embedding self-compassion in the classroom through mindfulness, self-kindness and self-compassion; from Senior Education and Wellbeing Consultant, Nicola Harvey.

The emotional health and wellbeing of children and young people has never been more important than it is now. In a classroom of 30, around five children are likely to have a mental health problem,1 but access to professional support continues to be limited. There has been a notable rise in the amount of people talking publicly about mental health, which has helped raise awareness. However, there continues to be confusion surrounding early intervention strategies to help children self-regulate their emotional health and wellbeing, particularly through self-compassion.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is the science-backed process of turning compassion inwards, and treating ourselves with kindness, particularly during life’s challenges. This means encouraging children to act the same way towards themselves as they would towards a good friend when they’re having a difficult time at home/school, feel pressured by social media, fail an exam, or notice something they don’t like about themselves.

It’s reminding children that it’s okay to not be okay, and to explore ways to be kinder to and comfort themselves.

Dr Kristin Neff, a pioneer who has conducted extensive research into the evidence base states: “Self-compassion is one of the most powerful sources of coping and resilience we have available to us, radically improving our mental and physical wellbeing. It motivates us to make changes and reach our goals not because we’re inadequate, but because we care and want to be happy.” 2

Teaching self-compassion in the classroom

Dr Kristin Neff and colleagues have identified three main elements of self-compassion: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity. 3

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is noticing our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in the present moment, without trying to judge or change them. Teaching children how to mindfully accept the present moment, and seeing themselves objectively, may be an ongoing process by teaching self-regulation and co-regulating alongside them.

Here are some methods to get you started:
• Use the Zones of Regulation – a self-regulation tool to improve self-awareness and emotional literacy.
• Explore physical activities – movement and creative play can bring children into the present moment.
• Practise Breathe Tap Flow – breathwork, tapping (EFT) and grounding, can help calm emotions.

2. Self-kindness

According to the National Science Foundation, we have around 12,000-60,000 thoughts every day, and 95% of these thoughts tend to be repetitive. 3 When we encourage children to be warm and understanding to themselves rather than self-critical, it can make all the difference.

Here’s a few examples:
• Schedule ‘worry & reflect time’ – ‘Would I talk to a friend like this?’ ‘How can I befriend myself?’
• Creative visualisation – imagine themselves doing an enjoyable activity after their current situation has been resolved, then notice how this makes them feel.
• Practise growth mindset – explore the belief that challenges can bring opportunities to grow as well as the power of having an open positive mindset.

3. Common humanity

When children begin to recognise that we all have mental health, and each of us, at some point, have experienced difficult times, it can bring a sense of connectedness to and with others.

It also reminds them that they are not alone, and what they are experiencing is part of being human.

Here a few suggestions on how to teach this:
• Ensure mental health and wellbeing is normalised and spoken about regularly.
• Participate in themed days and weeks like Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
• Ensure signposting for support is visible, accessible and regularly communicated.

To summarise, self-compassion is an evidence based tool which can be used to help children (and staff ) develop greater self-awareness, promote healthy habits, build emotional resilience and improve mental wellbeing. The strategies above can be adapted for a range of settings and can provide inclusive, age-appropriate supportive methods inside and outside of the classroom.

Please note these strategies are not intended to substitute professional medical or counselling advice, so if you need any further support, speak to your school’s mental health lead or another trained professional.

References

  1. The Children’s Society, (2023) Children’s Mental Health Statistics. Available at: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/our-work/well-being/mental-health-statistics (Accessed: 22 May 2023).
  2. Dr Neff. K, (2023) About Self-Compassion, Available at: https://self-compassion.org/ (Accessed: 22 May 2023).
  3. Whitlock, J et.al, How to Practice Self-Compassion for Resilience and Wellbeing. Available at: https://accelerate.uofuhealth.utah.edu/resilience/how-to-practice-self-compassion-for-resilience-and-well-being (Accessed: 22 May 2023)
  4. Antanaityte.N (2023) How to Effortlessly Have More Positive Thoughts. Available at: https://tlexinstitute.com/how-toeffortlessly- have-more-positive-thoughts/ (Accessed: 22 May 2023)

Author

  • Nicola Harvey

    Nicola is a senior education and wellbeing consultant, published author and mental health lead in education. She has over 15 years' experience in mental health, digital wellbeing and education. Nicola facilitates training and supervision to support educators’ mental, physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
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