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How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation and Emotional Wellness

selfcompassion382Many of today’s parents and teachers came of age in the 1980s and 1990s — a time when the self-esteem movement was in its zenith. Self-esteem was supposed to be a panacea for a variety of social challenges, from substance abuse to violent crime.  The research, however, did not support such broad claims.

If teachers and parents want children to develop resilience and strength, a better approach is to teach them self-compassion, said Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. “Self-esteem is a judgment about how valuable I am: very valuable, not so good, not valuable at all.”

In contrast, “self-compassion isn’t about self-evaluation at all,” said Neff. “It’s about being kind to oneself. Self-compassion is a healthy source of self-worth because it’s not contingent and it’s unconditional. It’s much more stable over time because it is not dependent on external markers of success such as grades.”

How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation

Most of us have a habitual way of talking to ourselves when we make a mistake or struggle with something. For many people, said Neff, self-criticism is the “number one way we motivate ourselves.” It’s the voice in our head that reminds us of all the consequences that will befall us if we fail that quiz or eat that tub of ice cream. But self-criticism brings with it “lots of unintended consequences such as anxiety and fear of failure,” said Neff. Students may become more susceptible to perfectionism and procrastination “because the fear of not measuring up looms large.”

When a student develops self-compassion, the seat of motivation shifts.  Since internal value doesn’t depend on external achievement, it frees students up to experiment, take risks and try new paths.  “Self-compassion leads to learning goals instead of performance goals — such as trying again after messing up,” said Neff. “It’s a better academic motivator than self-criticism. It’s a motivation of care instead of a motivation of fear.”

Excerpted from “How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation and Emotional Wellness” in KQED’s MindShift online. Read the full article.

Source: MindShift | How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation and Emotional Wellness, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/52854/how-self-compassion-supports-academic-motivation-and-emotional-wellness | Copyright © 2019 KQED INC

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