Self Compassion - The Key To Better Parenting

Self-Compassion Is The Key To Better Parenting, with Bartja Wachtel – RFL036

Self-Compassion Is The Key To Better Parenting – Episode Overview

Some parents think you have to be tough with kids – to let them know what the real world is like. Other parents over-parent – doing their kids’ work and thinking for them. Both are extremes. So, where is the middle ground? Well, the middle ground is compassionate parenting. When we are too hard or to soft as a parent, we hurt ourselves and our kids. But self-compassion and compassion for your kids – because you see yourself and them as works-in-process – can help you limit the inner critic and relax into being your best self and therefore becoming the best version of a parent that you can be.

Attention and Intention

This week, my attention is on becoming more present and happier in our lives as parents. My intention is to show that learning how to be more self-compassionate is the antidote to our critical voice and defensive world, and is the key to better parenting.

Meet our guest Bartja Wachtel

Bartja Wachtel On The Key To Better ParentingBartja Wachtel is a clinical social worker and mindfulness educator who is actively working for his vision of a world of inclusion, mindfulness and wellbeing for all diversities of spirit and body. In addition to his private practice, he currently works at the Virginia Mason Medical Center Neuroscience Institute in Seattle, WA, proving caregiver support, as well as facilitating seminars and workshops on Mindfulness and Well-Being Theory.

Take A Brief Self-Compassion Test (by Kristin Neff)

Test how self-compassionate you are

Episode’s Key TakeAWays

  1. Our world constantly sends us information. Based on our internal programming and our brain’s commitment to help us stay safe, we are generally activating our internal threat defense system. We are watching our world for the physical or emotional threats that result in our fight, flight or freeze responses.
  2. The threat defense system activates adrenalin – our system’s ability to defend or protect ourselves. The challenge in today’s world is that we are stuck in this threat defense mindset; the result of living this way is we breakdown physically (we get sick) and emotionally.
  3. Self-criticism is one of the ways we activate our threat defense system. Our internal critic creates internal threats for us – we are both the predator and the victim – and we respond by fight, flight or freeze. The more we do this, the more wiped out we feel and become. This is who we are as people and parents.
  4. We model this inner critic and threat defense system behavior for our kids – how we treat ourselves influences how our kids start to treat themselves.
  5. Self-compassion is the antidote to the threat defense system. This is innate to us but we don’t nurture it. Society encourages us to nurture and support our threat defense system more than to nurture our self-compassion and compassion for others. Noticing its benefits and taht we can do it is the first step.
  6. Compassion or self-compassion starts first with a focus on the good and the positive in each situation and then encourages showing up with tenderness and love to whatever shows up. We have to tune in to our kids (or to ourselves) to see what they(we) are feeling. We have mirror neurons that help us feel what others are feeling. This creates empathy. To move from empathy to compassion requires a loving response – loving connected presence. The movement to compassion is good for both our kids and for us.
  7. Self-compassion sometimes makes us think we look weak as we focus on ourselves and tenderly and lovingly attend to others. In fact, this approach is a point of strength – of intentionally overriding the threat defense system and using a more developed response – one more capable of enhancing connection, relationships and a greater sense of self.
  8. Self-compassion practices are designed to help you understand that you don’t need to change the situation, you change your relationship or response to the situation. We now become more open, loving and kind in all of our responses, eliminating some of the default fight, flight or freeze responses.
  9. Three self-compassion practices to help you shift to being more self-compassionate, resulting in better parenting and greater compassion for those around you.
    1. Warmth – physical or emotional – wrap in a blanket, say kind things, read a poem, look lovingly at a picture
    2. Soothing touch – put your hand on your arm, heart, cross your arms as in a self-hug
    3. Gentle vocalizations – kind words, soft volume

Combine these and use them when you need to be more self-compassionate – and use them with your kids when they need you to tune in differently to a particular situation. Remember, it’s not about the situation, compassion is about your response to it.

Some question for parents:

  1. What is your self-talk like? Is it critical and judgmental or are your compassionate with yourself?
  2. What is your talk like with your kids? Is it critical and judgmental or are you compassionate because you see your kids as a work-in-process?
  3. What ways to do you notice when you are harsh or unkind with yourself?
  4. What do you regularly do to be self-compassionate – and how do you notice how life changes when you are more self-compassionate?

Tweet this:

Stop and Notice Challenge

Each week we ask you to stop and notice – to develop your skill of tuning in to you and your world. This week’s stop and notice challenge is:

  1.    Stop and Notice your inner critic. What does it say and how often does it talk to you?
  2.    Stop and Notice how you feel after hearing from or dealing with your inner critic. How can you see this a perfect moment for self-compassion to help you see your worth and to get you out of your threat defense system?
  3.    Stop and Notice when you are in fight, flight or freeze mode. What got you there? How often each day are you in this space?
  4.    Stop and Notice how your inner critic and threat defense system is influencing your relationship with your kids. How will you intentionally create greater self-compassion practices to be more available and connected to your kids?

Our brains want to keep us safe. This makes us nervous and concerned – which is supported by our 24-hour news cycle. Couple this with our inner critical voice and we are always in our fight, flight or freeze response. Becoming more compassionate is the antidote to this behavior. Using self-compassion practices can help us relax into life and be more present and supportive as parents.

Suggested Resource:

Mindfulness For Beginners – by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness For Beginners Resource From The Key To Better Parenting EpisodeWe may long for wholeness, suggests Jon Kabat-Zinn, but the truth is that it is already here and already ours. The practice of mindfulness holds the possibility of not just a fleeting sense of contentment, but a true embracing of a deeper unity that envelops and permeates our lives. With Mindfulness for Beginners you are invited to learn how to transform your relationship to the way you think, feel, love, work, and play—and thereby awaken to and embody more completely who you really are.

Here, the teacher, scientist, and clinician who first demonstrated the benefits of mindfulness within mainstream Western medicine offers a book that you can use in three unique ways: as a collection of reflections and practices to be opened and explored at random; as an illuminating and engaging start-to-finish read; or as an unfolding “lesson- a-day” primer on mindfulness practice.

Beginning and advanced meditators alike will discover in these pages a valuable distillation of the key attitudes and essential practices that Jon Kabat-Zinn has found most useful with his students, including:

  • Why heartfulness is synonymous with true mindfulness
  • The value of coming back to our bodies and to our senses over and over again
  • How our thoughts “self-liberate” when touched by awareness
  • Moving beyond our “story” into direct experience
  • Stabilizing our attention and presence amidst daily activities
  • The three poisons that cause suffering—and their antidotes
  • How mindfulness heals, even after the fact
  • Reclaiming our wholeness, and more

The prescription for living a more mindful life seems simple enough: return your awareness again and again to whatever is going on. But if you’ve tried it, you know that here is where all the questions and challenges really begin. Mindfulness for Beginners provides welcome answers, insights, and instruction to help us make that shift, moment by moment, into a more spacious, clear, reliable, and loving connection with ourselves and the world.

Includes a complete CD with five guided mindfulness meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn, selected from the audio program that inspired this book.


  • Thanks so much Bartja for this wonderful podcast and post. I am a marriage and family therapist and also speak and write about self-compassion. I love your focus on parenting with self-compassion because it makes a huge difference in the lifelong relationship between parents and children, as well as the future emotional well being of the children. Thanks so much for all you shared! ~ Kim Fredrickson, MFT author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend.