compassion-series-part2-blog--feature-image

12 ways foster and kinship carers can promote compassion and self-compassion in children and young people

Sep 2022

Written by Noel Macnamara

What are Compassion and Self-Compassion?

Compassion is the ability to feel and connect with the suffering of another human being, self-compassion is the ability to feel and connect with one’s own suffering. More specifically for our purposes, self-compassion is the act of extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. If we are to be self-compassionate, we need to give ourselves the recognition, validation, and support we would offer a loved one who is suffering.

There is evidence that those with more self-compassion show less severe symptoms of abuse and neglect than those who lack self-compassion. They are less likely to display signs of emotional avoidance and are more comfortable facing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the trauma they experienced (Thompson & Waltz, 2008).

In addition to self-compassion being a key factor in helping those who were traumatised, it turns out that self-compassion is the missing key to alleviating shame. Shame has been recognised as a major component of a range of mental health problems and proneness to aggression (Gilbert, 1997; Gilbert, 2003; Gilligan, 2003). Higher levels of self-compassion are associated with decreased anxiety, shame, and guilt, as well as increased willingness to express sadness, anger, and closeness (Germer & Neff, 2013).

Increasing compassion, self-compassion, and soothing experiences are central to the therapeutic care of children and young people in out-of-home care. Below are some suggestions of how this might be done.

  • Ask about how the child or young person is feeling. When you ask about their feelings, you are communicating that you care and value their emotions.

  • Talk about the child or young person’s feelings and the feelings of others that are communicated through facial and body expressions. When the child or young person is sad or happy, you might say, “I can tell how you are feeling because your face and body are telling me.” When a child or young person’s friend or sibling is showing a feeling (such as sad), point out that the child or young person’s feelings are expressed through facial and body expressions, and discuss the experiences and situations that lead to the various types of emotions.

  • Use a wide variety of emotion words in your interactions with children and young people. When talking to a child or young person, use several different emotion words to talk about situations or events. Point out the emotions of others and use opportunities to expand the child or young person’s emotional vocabulary, including words such as guilt, satisfaction, pride, anxiety, fear, and excitement.

  • Label emotions and describe the situations that lead to those emotions through TV shows, films, and books. Children who have experienced abuse and neglect often have a very limited emotional lexicon and understanding. Use any opportunity to point out the emotions of others and give those emotions names. TV, movies, and books provide an excellent opportunity for this. Ask them if they’ve been in similar situations and felt those feelings, too.

  • To help children and young people accept both their positive and negative feelings, it is helpful to empathise and validate their experiences and emotions. Avoid being dismissive or rushing them to feel better. Give them the space and permission to process their feelings, whatever they do. For instance, if they are crying after a fight with a friend, instead of saying, “Come on, stop crying, it’s not that bad: they didn’t mean it", give them the language to express themselves: "I can tell you’re very sad right now; it frustrates you when your friends are not fair or mean”.

  • Engage children and young people in activities that help you and others. Like all of us, children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC) want to help and contribute. Provide many opportunities for them to help you (in household chores or other activities). This will help children and young people see this as a normal part of life.

  • Demonstrate caring and compassion through your actions. As we know, children and young people learn more from our actions than our words. Acknowledge your mistakes and seek to repair the relationship (e.g., say “I am sorry”). Show forgiveness to others and the children in your care.

  • Talk about compassion and the good feelings that arise when doing kind things for others.

  • Use a positive and restorative approach to discipline and model compassion when a child or young person has done something wrong. When your child has done something wrong, use this as an opportunity for discussion, using a child-centred approach in which you take your child or young person’s perspective – that is, put yourself in their shoes and view the world from that point of view. Engage the child or young person in problem-solving (Don’t forget to always start with a few rounds of slow breathing first) – and discuss how they could do something different in the future that would end more positively. You might say, “What could we do if this happens again, what would be a way to solve this problem?” Also, help them to develop a restorative approach – that is, to find ways to repair harm when harm has been done. For example, if they have harmed another child or young person intentionally or by accident, ask them to imagine what they could do to help the other child feel better.

  • Ask the child or young person to change perspectives. When they are struggling with something ask them how they would treat a friend and what they would say to a friend if they were going through a similar situation. Then ask them to say this about themselves, replacing the pronouns with “I’ and “me”.

  • Help the child or young person develop a “compassionate” identity. When the child or young person is engaged in activities that are compassionate and kind, you should recognise that behaviour as part of his or her identity – “you are so compassionate and caring because you did [the behaviour that demonstrated compassion and caring.].”

  • Walk the talk - because children and young people mimic what they see and hear, it’s crucial to practice compassion with yourself. Pay attention to the language you use in front of the children in your care. Do you make negative comments about your looks and weight? Do you beat yourself up when things don’t go well at work? Do you criticise yourself for being tired or making a mistake? Do you use harsh words to describe yourself? Do you hyper-focus on your own supposed faults and flaws? Do you judge yourself for being anxious, angry, or overwhelmed?

By helping the children and young people to learn to practice self-compassion, you will help them to dislodge shame-based beliefs, such being worthless, defective, bad, or unlovable. You will also increase their capacity to accept compassion from others to help them to build stronger social connections.

This blog is part of our compassion-focused caring series.

 

References

Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 856–867. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22021

Gilbert, P. (1997). The evolution of social attractiveness and its role in shame, humiliation, guilt and therapy. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 70(2), 113–147. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8341.1997.tb01893.x

Gilbert, P. (2003). Evolution, Social Roles, and the Differences in Shame and Guilt. Source: Social Research, 70(4), 1205–1230.

Gilligan, J. (2003). Shame, Guilt, and Violence. Social Research, 70(4), 1149.

Thompson, B. L., & Waltz, J. A. (2008). Mindfulness, self-esteem, and unconditional self-acceptance. Journal of Rational – Emotive and Cognitive – Behavior Therapy, 26(2), 119–126. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-007-0059-0 

You may be interested in: Child & youth development Foster care Kinship care Self care Trauma-informed care

An emerging paradigm - Welcome to our new therapeutic care blog
An emerging paradigm - Welcome to our new therapeutic care blog Written by: Janise Mitchell
Over the past two decades, the term therapeutic care has emerged as a new paradigm used to integrate constructs that had traditionally been considered separate – therapeutic processes and the...
Read more
Creating positive social climates and home-like environments in therapeutic care - Practice guide
Creating positive social climates and home-like environments in therapeutic care - Practice guide Written by: Janise Mitchell
This guide has been developed to support the implementation of Essential Element: Physical Environments from the Ten Essential Elements of Therapeutic Care. It explores how to create therapeutic care contexts...
Read more
What is effective therapeutic care? Research brief
What is effective therapeutic care? Research brief Written by: Lynne McPherson Kathomi Gatwiri Nadine Cameron Natalie Parmenter
This research briefing is an introduction to therapeutic care as a preferred response for children and young people who have experienced complex trauma and are unable to live at home....
Read more
The evidence base for therapeutic group  care:  A systematic scoping review - Research brief
The evidence base for therapeutic group care: A systematic scoping review - Research brief Written by: Lynne McPherson Kathomi Gatwiri Nadine Cameron Natalie Parmenter
The NSW Government has undertaken major reforms over the past two years aimed at improving outcomes for children and young people in out-of-home care. Following a review by Verso Consulting...
Read more
The role of emotions in therapeutic care
The role of emotions in therapeutic care Written by: Noel Macnamara
The role of emotions within human service work may at first glance appear to be intuitively obvious and incontestable. Indeed, Howe (2008) described the day of a human service worker...
Read more
The needs of LGBTIQ young people in out-of-home care - Research brief
The needs of LGBTIQ young people in out-of-home care - Research brief Written by: Nadine Cameron Lynne McPherson Kathomi Gatwiri Natalie Parmenter
Young people who are same sex attracted, trans or gender diverse – a population who will be referred to in this document as LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and...
Read more
Safety from the outside to the inside
Safety from the outside to the inside Written by: Noel Macnamara
At the recent Therapeutic Specialist’s forum, there was lots of discussion about the concept of physical and relational safety in Intensive Therapeutic Care (ITC). We all agreed that it is...
Read more
Understanding and supporting young people who self-harm in residential care
Understanding and supporting young people who self-harm in residential care Written by: Noel Macnamara
Some of the young people we care for in the ITC programs deal with emotional distress and pain by hurting themselves physically. Young people hurting themselves is distressing to them...
Read more
The role of praise in working with young people
The role of praise in working with young people Written by: Noel Macnamara
We can see each of our daily interactions with each of the young people we care for as bids for connection.  By choosing to turn toward, to turn away, or...
Read more
The healing power of friendship
The healing power of friendship Written by: Noel Macnamara
Can the friendships and connections that can develop in Intensive Residential Care be nurtured and grown rather than feared? I would like you to take a moment to think back...
Read more
Preventing self-harm among young people in out-of-home care - Research brief
Preventing self-harm among young people in out-of-home care - Research brief Written by: Nadine Cameron Lynne McPherson Kathomi Gatwiri Natalie Parmenter Noel Macnamara
Many young people in out-of-home care are at an elevated risk of self-harm and suicidality. The reasons range from early exposure to abuse, disconnection from family, instability of their living...
Read more
‘Tis the Season to be Jolly’ – but not for everyone
‘Tis the Season to be Jolly’ – but not for everyone Written by: Noel Macnamara
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the fun and happiness of Christmas and forget that, for others, the season isn’t necessarily a joyful one. For some the...
Read more
How do you support staff feeling defeated and powerless? A Case Study
How do you support staff feeling defeated and powerless? A Case Study Written by: Tram Nguyen
My work as a Therapeutic Specialist is about finding ways to equip and support staff to provide high-quality therapeutic care for young people living in Intensive Therapeutic Care homes. It...
Read more
The 10 essential elements of Intensive Therapeutic Care NSW - Practice guide
The 10 essential elements of Intensive Therapeutic Care NSW - Practice guide Written by: Janise Mitchell
This guide has been developed to describe the 10 Essential Elements that form the basis for Intensive Therapeutic Care (ITC) service provision in NSW. The 10 Essential Elements have been...
Read more
The essential elements of therapeutic foster care - Research brief
The essential elements of therapeutic foster care - Research brief Written by: Janise Mitchell Lynne McPherson Kathomi Gatwiri Nadine Cameron Natalie Parmenter Joe Tucci
As far back as 2002 in the creation of the Catalyst Program, Mitchell developed what was Australia’s first therapeutic foster care program and one of a handful of pioneering programs...
Read more
Vicarious trauma and secondary stress in therapeutic residential care - Research brief
Vicarious trauma and secondary stress in therapeutic residential care - Research brief Written by: Lynne McPherson Kathomi Gatwiri Natalie Parmenter
It is generally accepted that child welfare professionals are at high risk of experiencing vicarious trauma: the manifestation of traumatic symptoms resulting from working with individuals who, themselves, have encountered...
Read more
Understanding vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue
Understanding vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue Written by: Noel Macnamara
Research shows how profoundly influenced we are by other people’s emotional states and how rapidly our interpersonal affective responses occur, and how dynamically our physiology responds to others’ emotional states....
Read more
Exploring the meaning that lies beneath young people’s behaviour and supporting change - Practice tool
Exploring the meaning that lies beneath young people’s behaviour and supporting change - Practice tool
This resource has been developed to support professionals to unpack and plan how to respond to identified behaviours that are concerning, challenging and disruptive for young people in their search...
Read more
What works? Promising practices to support young people who self-harm
What works? Promising practices to support young people who self-harm Written by: Kelly Royds
Why do young people in out of home care self-harm? What are the best predictors of suicide and self-harm? What really works when supporting young people who self-harm in out-of-home...
Read more
Q&A with Cate Keady from the Elver Program
Q&A with Cate Keady from the Elver Program Written by: Kelly Royds
Since 2018, Cate Keady has worked within the Department of Communities and Justice to establish and manage the Intensive Support Services Elver Program - in partnership with South Western Sydney...
Read more
A story you may recognise
A story you may recognise Written by: Noel Macnamara
Peta had worked in residential care for 18 months. She took the position because she had had a difficult childhood and she felt that she had a lot to offer...
Read more
How do you prepare for the transitioning of young people into an Intensive Therapeutic Care house? Part 2
How do you prepare for the transitioning of young people into an Intensive Therapeutic Care house? Part 2 Written by: Peter Le Breton
In the first part of the Blog, we explored limit and expectation setting, maintaining a state of occupancy and the planning process for a successful transition. In part two of...
Read more
How do you prepare for the transitioning of young people into an Intensive Therapeutic Care house? Part 1
How do you prepare for the transitioning of young people into an Intensive Therapeutic Care house? Part 1 Written by: Peter Le Breton
This is a two-part blog and will focus on the transition of young people into an Intensive Therapeutic Care house; however, most of the content is transferrable to other placement...
Read more
Changing your practice to being trauma informed in therapeutic residential care
Changing your practice to being trauma informed in therapeutic residential care Written by: Glenys Bristow Noel Macnamara
Whilst the following Arabian proverb takes a bit to get your head around it leads rather nicely into this blog and our brief introduction on the relevance of the conscious...
Read more
Trauma-informed relationship-based recovery reflection tool - Practice tool
Trauma-informed relationship-based recovery reflection tool - Practice tool Written by: Noel Macnamara
Children and young people need adults who can co-regulate with them and teach them about feelings and their inner world. This Trauma Informed Relationship-Based Recovery Reflection tool can be used...
Read more
Children, young people and sleep
Children, young people and sleep Written by: Noel Macnamara
Many of those of you who know me, know that I have a big interest in sleep hygiene and the children and young people in out of home care (OOHC)....
Read more
Supporting children in out-of-home care to cope with ambiguous loss
Supporting children in out-of-home care to cope with ambiguous loss Written by: Kenny Kor Jodie Park
When you think of grief and loss, what comes to your mind? You may think of the immense sorrow one may experience. For some of us, we can seek solace...
Read more
The therapeutic power of laughter
The therapeutic power of laughter Written by: Noel Macnamara
"The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter." Mark Twain We all like to laugh. It makes us feel good. Among humans, laughter begins as...
Read more
Applying polyvagal theory to relationship-based therapeutic care - Practice tool
Applying polyvagal theory to relationship-based therapeutic care - Practice tool Written by: Joe Tucci Janise Mitchell
Relationship-based practice is at the core of effective therapeutic care. Key to understanding how to build effective relationships with young people who have experienced trauma is to understand how the...
Read more
Trauma-informed care - Research brief
Trauma-informed care - Research brief
This research briefing aims to define and clarify what trauma, complex trauma and trauma informed care are. Extensive literature has now surmised that exposure to adverse experiences such as child...
Read more
Trauma-informed relationship based recovery reflection tool
Trauma-informed relationship based recovery reflection tool
“Childhood trauma has the potential to interrupt the normal physical, physiological, emotional, mental and intellectual development, of children and can have wide-ranging, and often life-long implications for their health and...
Read more
How to develop your own self-care protocol
How to develop your own self-care protocol Written by: Kelly Royds Noel Macnamara
When someone says ‘self-care’, what image comes to mind? What are the positive and negative aspects of this image? Do you have clear intentions for self-care and your self-care protocol?...
Read more
Secondary traumatic stress and staff well-being: understanding compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout in therapeutic care - Practice guide
Secondary traumatic stress and staff well-being: understanding compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout in therapeutic care - Practice guide Written by: Noel Macnamara
This guide has been developed to support organisational congruence and in the provision of trauma informed therapeutic care and the critical need for a well-supported, capable, and stable staff group...
Read more
Frequently asked questions by foster carers: Behaviours that challenge
Frequently asked questions by foster carers: Behaviours that challenge Written by: Noel Macnamara
In Australia, there are about 18 thousand children and young people in foster care. Most foster carers will be the first to tell you how rewarding it is – but...
Read more
Understanding the needs of kinship carers in Australia - Research brief
Understanding the needs of kinship carers in Australia - Research brief Written by: Lynne McPherson Janise Mitchell Kathomi Gatwiri Noel Macnamara
Kinship care placements in Australia are now more prevalent than foster care. They are the fastest growing form of out-of-home care in this country (AIHW, 2021). On 30 June 2019,...
Read more
Sibling placement in out-of-home care - Research brief
Sibling placement in out-of-home care - Research brief Written by: Lynne McPherson Kathomi Gatwiri Janise Mitchell Noel Macnamara
The significance of sibling relationships for children and young people in out-of-home care is well documented by national and international scholars (Luu, Conley, Wright & Cashmore, 2020). These relationships offer...
Read more
‘Drop and run’ - the experience of kinship carers in the Australian child protection system
‘Drop and run’ - the experience of kinship carers in the Australian child protection system Written by: Noel Macnamara
Recent research was conducted by the Southern Cross University and the Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care (McPherson, Gatwiri, Day, Parmenter, Mitchell & Macnamara, 2022) into the experience of kinship...
Read more
“If you don’t feed the staff, they’ll eat the kids” Kevin Creeden on self-care and harmful sexual behaviours
“If you don’t feed the staff, they’ll eat the kids” Kevin Creeden on self-care and harmful sexual behaviours Written by: Cyra Fernandes
Kevin Creeden, Director of Assessment and Research at Whitney Academy Massachusetts and a speaker at the 2022 International Child Trauma Conference said in recent training, “If you don’t feed the...
Read more
Blocked care: ‘You’re not alone; it’s a brain thing.’
Blocked care: ‘You’re not alone; it’s a brain thing.’ Written by: Glenys Bristow
“No one knows what it is like to care for a child in trauma until they have cared for a child in trauma,” said Noel MacNamara in one of his...
Read more
What Was I Thinking? Handling the Amygdala Hijack
What Was I Thinking? Handling the Amygdala Hijack Written by: Noel Macnamara
Remember that time when you put the child you care for back to bed for the fourth time? Your thoughts suggested a level of desperation and wishful thinking, hoping that...
Read more
‘There was no support’: Getting kinship care support right
‘There was no support’: Getting kinship care support right Written by: Janise Mitchell Noel Macnamara
We did not and am still not receiving support requested or needed. Case managers or staff change without us being informed. Phone messages left at their offices and drop in...
Read more
The Caregiver’s healing gift- a mindful presence
The Caregiver’s healing gift- a mindful presence Written by: Sally Denning
For children and young people that have experienced trauma abuse and neglect, the presence of positive, safe, and attuned relationships can be significant in supporting their recovery. Actions that promote...
Read more
Fight, flight, freeze, and fibbing: Lying as a trauma-based behaviour
Fight, flight, freeze, and fibbing: Lying as a trauma-based behaviour Written by: Noel Macnamara
In almost every session I have run for foster and kinship carers, someone tells a story about a child or young person in their care who regularly lies. I can feel...
Read more
Why sleep is so important for children with trauma
Why sleep is so important for children with trauma Written by: Noel Macnamara
Many of you who know me know that I have a big interest in sleep hygiene and the children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC). To this end, I...
Read more
New years' resolutions and other goals for teens in care
New years' resolutions and other goals for teens in care Written by: Billy Black
When I was a teen in care, I found the (well-intentioned) focus on my progress from case workers and other adults exhausting. If I tried hard, I made “progress”, but...
Read more
Using mindfulness to support the wellbeing of out-of-home care staff
Using mindfulness to support the wellbeing of out-of-home care staff Written by: Noel Macnamara Jacqui Jones
Working in out-of-home care means being busy. We often have more work than we can reasonably manage. It’s also difficult to help others when there’s so much emotion and chaos...
Read more
Living with the Fast and the Furious
Living with the Fast and the Furious Written by: Noel Macnamara
You have opened your homes and your hearts to children who are unable to live with their parents. You want to help them access a better life. To feel safe,...
Read more