: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings.
Okay, so you have read the title of this post and read this definition of empathy and you are still thinking “I don’t get it. How will empathy help my parenting? Of course I empathize with my child, I love them and when they hurt I hurt”.
That’s what I thought too.
Think about it. How many times have you been in situations like this:
–Mom, I’m tired.
Honey, you can’t be tired, you just had a nap.
Mommy, I am not hungry.
You: Yes, sweetie, I am sure you are. It’s dinner time so come and sit at the table.
Hysterically crying in the grocery store: But Mommy, I want the red applesauce.
You: Honey, I am sorry, they don’t have any red left. We will have to get the regular kind.
Continues crying: But Mommy!!!
You: Okay, that’s enough. You are making a scene and it’s not a big deal. It’s just applesauce.
At the time, when I was in these situations I thought I was doing the right thing. After all, I wasn’t yelling, screaming or punishing. Just calmly trying to navigate my children through situations.
But what I wasn’t doing was empathizing.
Who am I to tell my child whether he feels tired or not? Translate things into your world. Imagine that you finally get a night out with your partner for the first time in months, you go to your favourite restaurant, the one that has that dish you love so much and dream about only to find they took it off the menu. I know I would be very disappointed. How would you feel if your partner then scoffed at you and said “you are being silly. It’s just food. Who cares?”
Not very nice is it?
I know that hearing something like “I am sorry, I know how much you loved that dish. Maybe we can find another restaurant that makes it for next time” would help me feel better.
Now go back to the first scenarios. Imagine you are a child and your parents are your world, you depend on them for everything from food to shelter to love and comfort, and they are constantly ignoring or down playing your feelings? It could make you feel powerless, less important, and have low self-esteem.
What’s worse is that since you are little and just learning how to cope with these big feelings, without your parents to guide you, you don’t know how to react to them and may start acting out, yelling and screaming, kicking or punching.
So what can you do instead?
Empathize. Be present in every situation (as much as you can) and try to put yourself in his shoes. When he says “Mommy, I am tired”. Acknowledge him. “Oh you are? Hmm. That’s too bad.” And then you will be given the opportunity to learn more. “Well you just had a nap so why do you think you are still tired?” Maybe he needs a longer nap, maybe he had a bad dream. You would be surprised at the information your children will give you if you just listen.
Let’s go back to the grocery store. “But Mommy, I want the red applesauce!” You could say, “I know you do, and I am very sorry they don’t have it. I wish I had magical powers and I would turn all the applesauce in the store red. Abra Cadabra!” By now he is starting to lighten his mood. “How about we get the regular one now, and we will check another store for the red one later?” Or you could give him a choice. “Well, how about we get fruit cups instead then? Would you like the applesauce or the fruit cups?”
While this article merely scratches the surface of all the ways empathy can help your parenting (hopefully I will get to write a few more) but I just wanted to get your mind thinking a bit about they ways you interact with your children and how you can make them more positive.
Tip: A quick and easy way to help do this is to always try to let your child have the last word. Think about it. When you are commanding or not listening you will usually have the final say. By challenging yourself to let your child have the last word, you will have to listen to what they are saying, think about it, and put them back in control. Try it today, and then let me know how it goes in the comments section.