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Self-Compassion for Parents: How to Alleviate Parenting Guilt with Self-Compassion

Fifteen opportunities for alleviating parenting guilt with self-compassion.

Toes by Flashpacker Family.

The research is compelling: self-compassion (e.g., kind and understanding self-talk) increases people's self-improvement motivation and confidence. However, it’s hard for people to recognize opportunities to use self-compassion.

Here are 15 examples of common guilt, disappointment, shame, and embarrassment traps for parents. If you use self-compassion when these occur, it's likely to benefit both you and your relationship with your child.

15 Uses for Self-Compassion

1. When you’re not liking your child as a person. When you’ve lost the sense of positive bond.

2. When you plan something you think your child will like and they don’t (e.g., you plan a beach holiday and you arrive to find your normally beach-loving child has all of a sudden become scared of water and sand).

3. When you feel bored playing with your child.

4. When you feel a sense of loss about things you enjoyed before becoming a parent that are impossible or much harder to do as parent.

5. When you feel like other people don’t understand how hard it is.

6. When you thought you would enjoy something and it turns out you don’t e.g., you thought you would enjoy helping your child learn to read and you don't.

7. When your child is having a hard time with something (e.g., trying new foods, math, making friends) and you notice yourself wishing you had gotten a child with a different temperament or capabilities.

8. When you feel like you’ve passed bad genes or bad habits on to your child e.g., you're a worrier and your child is too.

9. When you feel worn out by your active-impulsive child.

10. When you're embarrassed by your child's feelings e.g., you feel embarrassed when your child is feeling selfish and doesn't want to share their toys with your visitors, or when your child is feeling anxious and doesn't want to leave your side.

11. When you’re having a problem of “doing what you know” e.g., you’re feeding your child junk food. You know you shouldn’t but you keep doing it.

12. When you're not sure how to work with your child's temperament e.g., your child is very laid back and you're unsure how to motivate them.

13. When you and your child are both suffering from a sense of being at war with each other.

14. When your child is requesting something that will increase your stress levels (e.g., to do a hobby that will be difficult to pay for or difficult to fit into your family's schedule).

15. When you're feeling like you're not doing a good enough job, or comparing yourself unfavorably to your own parents or other parents.

Instead of self-criticism, try self-compassion.

Don't deny real problems but do talk to yourself in a kind and understanding way. To get the best grasp of what self-compassion is, you can learn the three elements of self-compassion, and read "What self-compassion is not." Both articles are by expert self-compasssion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff.

For learning other uses for self-compassion, try 20 examples of when to use self-compassion instead of self-criticism or How to break the cycle of feeling bad, self-criticism, and making poor decisions.

About the author

You can find @DrAliceBoyes on Twitter or join my Facebook page where I ask happiness questions, do 30 day projects, and talk about how I use psychology in my own life.

My website is You can view all my articles for Psychology Today here.

Photo credit: Toes by Flashpacker Family. Used with permission.

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