Empathy and How to “Get It”
As I walked out of my daughters’ school the other day, I witnessed an exasperated mother pleading with her toddler to stop crying. Soon, the begging turned to ordering, while the toddler’s wailing and howling became louder and louder.
I recalled times that I, too, had directed my children to stop crying and how it inevitably made the situation worse and prolonged the behavior I wished would stop.
Whenever my kids push my buttons and I feel utterly powerless, parenting requires me to do something that feels completely unnatural to help turn the situation around: see it from their perspective.
Carl Jung said, “What you resist persists.” When your child is upset and having a tantrum — whether she’s a toddler or a teenager — arguing, denying, or resisting their experience will only make them scream louder to be heard.
Want them to calm down? They need to feel heard. They need to know you GET IT. That you understand what they’re going through (even if you don’t agree with it).
This is so hard to do when we just want them to LISTEN TO US. We think, “If only they’d heed my advice and learn from my experiences. If only they'd listen to me!”
But the reality is that as a parent, YOU need to understand your child before she’ll be open to learning anything from you.
You’re not a bad parent because your child is crying. Kids cry. A lot. And it’s ok. It’s not a sign that they’re weak or immature. It’s just their way of communicating that something’s upsetting them because they don’t know how to express it any other way at that moment.
This might sound silly or fake at first (remember – this stuff doesn’t come naturally), but just reflect back to them what you observe:
“You’re upset. You’re really upset right now. You wanted to press the elevator button and I did it instead. That’s so disappointing.”
Inside you might be thinking, “Geez, kid. It’s just a stupid elevator button. What’s the big deal? Get over it already.”
But to your child, it IS a big deal.
Suppose you locked yourself out of your car and had to spend the next couple of hours waiting around for someone to come help you retrieve them. In the meantime, you missed an important meeting at work that resulted in losing money for your company. Now imagine that you called a trusted friend to share how upset you were and her response was, “Well, maybe next time you’ll be more careful about where you put your keys.” Or “Quit complaining. It’s just money. Get over it.”
You'd probably think twice before calling that “friend” again. You’d want her to be just as upset as you were. You’d want her to validate and support you. Just knowing you had her in your corner would help you relax a bit. The last thing you’d want is to be lectured on responsibility or told that your feelings weren’t justified.
Your child really NEEDS you to GET THIS more than anything.
When your child feels heard, understood, and validated, she’ll feel calmer and more connected to you. When she’s calm and connected, she’ll be waaaay more likely to listen to your valuable wisdom and parental guidance.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
For more about this, read Connect Through Empathy.
In the comments below, tell me: Did you ever feel like your own parents didn't “get it?” What was that like for you? How did it make you feel? How did it impact your relationship?
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