|Empathy for Kids|
|Posted on January 8, 2013|
Although it may seem in our parenting culture today that we have become more empathic to our children’s emotions, I am here to tell you that in fact we’ve just found a new way not to be. Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as: “Identification with and understanding of the thoughts and feelings of another.” Today we are only comfortable with our children feeling one emotion: Happiness.
Since we are only comfortable with happiness – sadness, frustration, worry, fear, restlessness, discomfort, boredom, irritability and uncertainty in our children are swiftly dis-validated, fixed, cheered-up or changed. Yet, these are human emotions that we all feel every day.
Most of us automatically try to rescue our children from these feelings. We routinely say, “it’s okay,” “everything’s fine,” “don’t worry,” “cheer up,” “I’ll fix it,” to “stop crying.” Instead of identification with or understanding their thoughts and feelings, we are essentially saying: “don’t feel that.” Our response is not empathic; it is simply another form of control, albeit more disguised than blatantly ignoring kid’s emotions.
Before we start getting harder on ourselves as parents, I have to say that I believe all of these responses are well-intentioned! Yet, I ask parents to look more mindfully at how trying to control our children’s feelings or trying to make them happy is not helping them mature emotionally. And it may even backfire where kids begin to feel like something is wrong with them when they are not feeling as happy as they think they should.
Instead we can normalize and validate children’s feelings. “That sounds upsetting, sweetie,” “I imagine that is frustrating!” “It is scary to try something new.” “It is sad to not get invited to the party.” “I always feel upset when I that happens to me.” When we normalize feelings, we are saying it is okay to feel and with that, kids process emotions much more quickly. They then move on and solve their problems.
Here’s a quick story. We had some friends over for dinner recently and the kids went downstairs after their dinner to watch a video while the adults tried to eat without too many child interruptions. Of course there were not enough seats for all the kids, and my youngest daughter came up crying that there was no chair for her and that no one would share one of their chairs. I immediately wanted to lecture (shut down her feeling) her on being a good host, and remind her that she always wants to have friends over. But I realized that would go nowhere. So instead I said, “That is so upsetting.” She folded up in my arms and lap and cried. When she cried out all her tears, she felt heard and seemed ready to solve her problem. I asked what she could do about it. I hinted that there were lots of pillows downstairs. She went back downstairs and I did not follow her – though I was tempted to fix her situation. Fifteen minutes later I checked on the kids and she was laying in a pile of pillows laughing with all the kids at the video. She did not need me to fix anything, she just needed to feel and vent and be heard and then she solved her problem.
Simply pausing, listening, normalizing and validating feelings, and refraining from fixing is empathy. It allows kids to process their feelings and solve their problems. We can even be empathic when we say no. “I imagine it is frustrating when you don’t get what you want.” “I imagine you will feel upset because I made a dinner that I know you don’t like, but I am still going to ask that you try it.” We can relate to the experience of disappointment and validate their feeling, even if we are one ones setting the limit. Try this!
No spam promise - only our latest news and freebies!