Teaching compassion during uncertainty

I believe all of our hearts go out to our school going children and tertiary students this time, particularly our Grade 12 and Grade 7 children who have had to come to terms with the losses and missed opportunities that were winking at them so brightly and expectantly at the beginning of the year, such as: their last sports match, their farewell dances and, the opportunities to demonstrate their leadership in their final year of primary or high school.

While our Grade 12s and Grade 7s are back at school, how do they, and all of our other pupils (many of who are still at home) and our tertiary students, stay motivated during a time like this?

What can we, as parents and teachers, do to help them to make meaning of the losses, reframe and process this experience?

What can we do if our child feels as if they have lost control over their choices, so everything seems pointless?

One of the first things that we need to do is give our child the space to discuss the disappointments and allow them to grieve the losses.

When they are ready, help them to reset their goals for the year and encourage them to think of spaces where they still have autonomy and are able to control their choices in life.

How can they still make memories in spite of the disruption to the year? This will, hopefully, provide a feeling of control and empowerment.

How do we motivate ourselves to be proactive even when we are demotivated? How do we keep ourselves energised and take care of our wellbeing?

For our young people that love socialising, operating in remote mode and with much less structure, can be challenging and increase stress. Staying motivated and healthy during this time can be difficult, yet it is essential in maintaining good mental health.

One way to address this is to start each day with a schedule and carve out a routine for every day. This gives one a sense of purpose.

In order to give our children a sense of control over their lives, they can, of course, decide how to structure their routine; when they will choose to work, relax and exercise during the day.

The routine can also prioritise activities that give them joy and increase their energy and sense of mental wellbeing.

If your child is thoroughly unmotivated and feeling overwhelmed with their school work, help them to break their projects and activities down into manageable tasks.

Make to do lists or set up a study schedule, using effective study strategies.

They can then give themselves small rewards for tasks that they have completed; such as 10 minutes of screen time after 30 minutes of work, or Netflix and some popcorn after a hard day’s work.

A healthy diet, for the most part, good hydration and enough quality sleep, should also be encouraged as this will enhance their mood and prevent them from feeling lethargic.

Regular physical activity is vital and works wonders to enhance mood, mental wellbeing and alleviate stress and anxiety.

If your child has the tendency to be pessimistic or to feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, encourage them to limit their exposure to media coverage, as this drains one’s energy; also limit their social media access to only a few specified times per day.

Instead, watching motivational YouTube videos and listening to podcasts by giants in the field of personal mastery like Anthony Robbins, Jocko Willink and Lisa Nichols will go a long way towards building them up and motivating them.

Staying virtually connected with friends and family is also important to stave off feelings of isolation and being left out.

The most important motivator for all of us, however, is to guard our thoughts and take them captive; to hold them up to the light and to ask ourselves whether the thoughts that we are thinking (and in some cases, cossetting) are serving us or harming us.

As you know, our thoughts influence how we feel and how we behave. We talk to ourselves about ourselves all day long, without even being aware of it.

This is called self-talk. When we tune into our self-talk, it is very often not very healthy, as much of the time we will catch ourselves shaming, blaming, criticising or judging ourselves while holding ourselves to very high (sometimes impossible) standards.

Some of the things that we say to ourselves are very harsh and words that we would never say to another person.

If this is the case, we would do well to pause, take stock and change our thoughts to be kinder and more compassionate towards ourselves.

We should cut ourselves a bit of slack, particularly in these strange times, when most of us have still not learnt to speak Japanese fluently during the past 14 weeks, or even mastered the art of baking perfect artisanal sourdough bread.

We all experience the uncertainty and stress differently and sometimes, when we are feeling depressed or anxious, we don’t feel up to doing very much at all; and that is fine.

However, can we still choose to show ourselves and those around us empathy and non-judgement and appreciate our, and their uniqueness and talents?

If we can, then we can model self-compassion to our children, and what a beautiful gift that would be.

Sharon Steyn is an educational psychologist who lives and works in the Helderberg Basin, and is a regular contributor to Bolander.