It's 8am and your child is having trouble getting ready and out of the door for school. You are definitely going to be late to work and this has happened for the third time this week. Understandably, you are frustrated and you scream at your child to hurry up. This scenario is relatable to most parents and a common response when your child is not behaving the way you expect them to. However it is not the most effective means of resolving the problem. Your child has time management issues and needs to learn strategies to improve this.
Reacting with frustration puts the focus on how you feel rather than what's happening with your child and why they are struggling to get ready on time. Instead, if you use empathy - it allows you to not only express what you see and feel but also your child's feelings. It compels you to stop and think about what you may not be seeing.
So how does one parent with Empathy?
Firstly, empathy is not about feeling sorry rather it is about feelings; you must understand what your child is experiencing - both the challenges as well as how this affects their emotions.
There are four main elements of empathy:
Perspective; Do you believe your child is trying their best? Ask yourself this question and put aside your own feelings and reactions to understand the situation through your child's eyes.
Don't Judge: Take a step back before jumping to conclsuion about what's going on with your child. Consider What more do I need to know about what's going on here?
Communication: Allow your child to express their feelings without jumping in with phrases like "What you need to do is..". Instead, try reflective phrases like "It sounds like you..." or "I hear that you .." Ask yourself - how am I reacting in this moment? How do I convey that I am listening to my child?
Understand your child’s feelings: Try to remember a time when you felt the same way ( whilst remembering your child will have their own unique experiences), tap into this and find a way to get what your child is feeling. Consider what else do I need to learn about how my child is seeing or reacting to what's happening?
Responding to your child with empathy will take time and practice, the more you are consciously trying to be empathetic and the more you do it, the more natural it will become overtime. A few more strategies to do this are given below:
Ask Open Ended Questions
Use "I" rather than "You" statements
Take a "Time Out" - if you are finding it difficult to remain calm, explain this to your child and say the situation will be discussed later. This is a good way to also model Self Awareness and Self-Control.
Validate your child's feelings - you may not be okay with your child's behaviour but its important you let your child know their feelings are real and they have the right to feel the way they do. Never tell your child their feelings are 'Right' or 'Wrong' as there is no such thing.
Disclaimer: The following information is not a suitable replacement for therapy or professional help. Mental health is very complex and there are various individual differences due to circumstances, genetics and life experience. All information published has been generalised and done in good faith. However, we will not be liable for any actions taken as a result of this website/post. If you are facing mental health concerns, it is important you reach out to a professional. You may also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further support.