Compassion Starts with Self-Compassion
Tanya de Hoog

Our Junior School Yearly Theme, "our values shape us", lends itself well to our school-wide focus on wellness for the month of February, particularly our school value of compassion. When we returned to school in January, Junior School students, faculty, and staff began to explore our value of compassion through the lens of self-compassion. Just as we can show compassion to others when they are experiencing difficulty or suffering and experience a desire to help, having self-compassion means that we notice our own suffering or difficulties (e.g. when something seems too hard, you feel scared, frustrated, or anxious about something, you fail or make a mistake, notice something you don’t like about yourself, etc.) and ask yourself:

  • How can I comfort/help myself in this moment? 
  • What do I need to take care of/help myself?

Compassion and self-compassion are at the core of being well in body, mind, and spirit. The Covid-19 pandemic has united everyone in the sense that no one is untouched by the impacts of the restrictions and measures in place to keep ourselves and others safe. If we are taking care to keep ourselves safe by practicing proper handwashing, adhering to physical distancing, wearing masks in public/common spaces, restricting our family and social bubbles, and staying local, then we are also taking care to keep the members of our immediate and surrounding communities safe. This is reciprocal compassion in action and it’s a win-win for everyone’s wellness, now and in the future. Dr. Henry has repeatedly instructed British Columbians to be kind – this includes to ourselves and others.

An important facet of self-compassion is the concept of self-talk. As I shared with Junior School students in one of our January Wednesday Virtual Huddles as we launched a January Self-Talk Challenge, our relationship with ourselves is our most important relationship. How we treat and talk to ourselves matters and has a profound impact on our personal wellness and the wellness of our relationships with others. The way our voice in our head talks to us really matters, which is why it’s important to notice and bring awareness to it without judgement. There are three kinds of self-talk (as described by self-compassion researcher and author, Kristen Neff):

  • Negative self-talk: damaging/unhelpful/keeps us stuck – “I cannot do this!” “I’ll never get this.” “I’m not good at this.” (Fixed or Closed Mindset/Can’t Thinking)
  • Positive self-talk: useful/helpful/supports optimism – “I can do this!” “I am good at…” “I like how I am able to….”, etc. (Open-minded/Affirming Mindset/Can Thinking)
  • Possible self-talk: even more useful/helpful/builds resilience – “What if I try this?” “I may not be able to figure this out yet, but I will with effort.” “I can try again because I learned something from this mistake…” (Open-minded/growth mindset/Yet thinking)

Although it might seem obvious that positive and possible self-talk are better for us, it’s all too easy to get stuck in a spiral of negative self-talk and for that negativity to unintentionally and unconsciously spill outside ourselves in our facial expressions, our tone of voice, and/or the words we use.

As parents, our well-intentioned nudges intended to help our kids be more successful can also have a profound impact on coloring their self-talk. Measuring our kids’ success against other kids’ success (something I call comparenting) and hyper-focusing on their mistakes and weaknesses can be particularly dangerous in shaping a script of negative self-talk in our kids’ heads, whether they are in Kindergarten or Grade 12. Let's talk to our kids about their self-talk and strive to model self-talk that helps them feel empowered to grow into their potential.

I want to encourage everyone to take notice and build awareness of your self-talk and intentionally flip the script on your negative self-talk so that we can intentionally shape the wellness of our community and our kids through positive and possible self-talk – just imagine the positivity and the possibilities!

Contributed by Ms. de Hoog, Junior School Principal