Summer is for Self-Empathy

“I don’t have enough time to do everything that needs to be done.” The end of the school year is a busy and stressful time of year―for teachers, students and parents. Schedules are packed with deadlines, school activities and family events, leaving everybody feeling stressed and overwhelmed. According to research, our perceived time pressure is about how well the activities we need to perform fit together in our heads and how much control we think we have over them. This is good news, because it means we can do something about it! Check out this article from Greater Good Science Center, if you need some tips for handling time pressure.

In addition to stress, the end of the school year may bring a wide array of emotions-excitement for a well-deserved break, sadness to leave friends and esteemed teachers behind, maybe a sense of relief. If you have not finished the school year, hang in there. You are almost done! And if you need ideas for end of year activities, check out this or this post.

And now to summer bliss.

When you start your summer break, ask yourself what you really need to relax. Sleeping in, going for a walk in the woods, having tea with a good friend; whatever helps you unwind from the busy-ness of the school year, make it a priority. Many times, we return from vacation feeling exhausted or frustrated because the days were packed with activities and we did not do the one thing we really wanted to do. Don’t let it happen!

But before you completely disconnect from your computer or social media, I would like to share something for you to ponder this summer-the importance of nurturing self-empathy. This is a concept that I explore in my new SEL book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind. I hope you enjoy this snippet. Let me know what you think!

Self-empathy is empathy too

During a workshop about educator self-care, I asked participants to write down on a card what they told themselves when they made a mistake. Then, I had them exchange cards with the person sitting next to them. One of the participants looked at me nervously, and said: “I don’t want to give my card to her. I don’t want her to feel what I felt when I made this mistake.” As you can imagine, we had a very productive conversation about the way we talk to ourselves when things do not go the way we plan or we make an error. In many cases, we cut ourselves down with self-criticism. We may think “You’re an idiot. Why did you do that?”, “You always make this mistake. Why don’t you learn?” Would you ever talk to a friend like that? Probably not. You would try to show compassion, and help them see that mistakes are part of being human. You would help them feel better. However, when we are the ones making the mistake… things change—it becomes harder to show empathy towards ourselves.

Kristin Neff, leading expert on mindful self-compassion, describes self-compassion as treating yourself with kindness, the same way you would treat a friend who is having a hard time[i]. It means learning to speak to ourselves like a good friend, “How are you doing? You seem so sad today. Is there anything that I can do to make you feel better?” and then moving to do things that make us feel safe and cared for.

This also applies to children and youth. Many students can become highly critical of their mistakes at a young age, impacting their ability to deal with failure or disappointment. When students learn to develop self-compassion, they are able to admit their mistakes instead of feeling paralyzed by them (and giving up) or blaming others. Neff’s research also shows that self-compassionate people take greater personal responsibility for their actions and are more likely to apologize if they have offended someone.

In many cases, students don’t realize they use negative self-talk until educators create the space in the classroom to reflect and have this conversation. For certain students, it can be a powerful experience to realize that treating oneself harshly does not have positive outcomes in the long term. Helping students to nurture self-compassion in themselves prepares them to become more resilient, resourceful and happy adults.

“Self-compassion motivates like a good coach, with kindness, support, and understanding, not harsh criticism.” Kristin Neff

I hope you have a wonderful summer.

Learn more about the book and get the first chapter free!


[i] Neff, K. & Germer, C. (January 29, 2019). The Transformative Effects of Mindful Self-Compassion. Mindful. Retrieved from


Leave a Comment

Articles by Date

Subscribe to the HEART in Mind Newsletter

Research-Based Strategies for your SEL Toolbox

Subscribe Basic

We don’t share your email with anybody. Unsubscribe anytime.