This especially holds true for the parent-child dynamic.
Empathy involves the ability to put ourselves in our children's shoes and see the world through their eyes.
While many parents, and ‘adults in the room’, believe they are empathetic, it can be challenging to maintain this perspective when we are upset, angry, or disappointed with a child.
It is important to note that empathy does not mean
‘agreeing with everything a child does’.
Rather, it means making an effort to understand and validate their point of view, even if skewed.
Of course, their view is different. They’re a growing children.
Understanding their point of view allows us to appreciate their struggles and challenges without judgment.
Examples of Frustration Compromising Empathy
Let's consider two examples that demonstrate how frustration can compromise a parent's ability to empathize:
Example 1: John's Homework
John, a seemingly intelligent seventh-grader, struggled with completing his homework.
His parents believed he could do better if he just "put his mind to it" and frequently urged him to "try harder."
They even threatened to restrict his participation in after-school sports if he obtained grades lower than a B.
While their intentions may have been good, John experienced these words as judgmental rather than helpful.
Instead of motivating him, they increased his frustration with school. The parents' approach worked against their goal of motivating John.
Example 2: Sally's Shyness
Sally was an eight-year-old girl who often felt anxious and overwhelmed in new situations.
Her parents encouraged her to say hello when meeting family friends but failed to understand her shyness as an innate trait.
They told Sally that if she didn't learn to say hello, people wouldn't want to be around her.
However, repeatedly reminding shy children like Sally can heighten their anxiety and lead them further into withdrawal from uncomfortable situations.
In this case, the parents' desire for Sally to be more outgoing overlooked her inherent temperament.
(It’s always worth noting: every child and situation is unique; while seeking insights, adapt any perspectives and strategies to suit your family and child's individual needs and personality.)
How Do you Cultivate Empathy in Parenting?
To cultivate empathy as ‘the adult in the room’, we need to consider how we would feel if someone said or did the same things to us as we interact with our child.
It sounds simple, however practicing it is challenging. This is an understatement.
Would we find it helpful if someone just told us to “try harder” when we were struggling with an activity?
Would we appreciate being told to “go out and make friends” if we were shy?
While we can encourage learners into ‘safe stressful situations for growth’, we need to let them know:
- their experience is acknowledge and understood (here we need empathy)
- they are supported in the action toward the growth (here we need patience)
Empathic statements, combined with words of encouragement and active support systems are more likely to lead to success, self-worth, and resilience in our children.
For instance, a father can acknowledge his shy daughter's difficulty in saying hello and offered support in making it easier for her in the future.
This nonjudgmental validation creates an environment where resilience can thrive.
The Power of Empathy in Building Trust, Communication, and Emotional Well-being
Remember, empathy does not mean giving in or condoning inappropriate behavior; rather, it allows us as a ‘psychologically wise adult’ to connect with a child on a deeper level.
It fosters trust, communication, and emotional well-being within the parent-child relationship.
Wishing you all the best on your journey
as ‘the psychologically wise adult in the room’.
Engel, J. (2018, December 19). How empathic and active listening can improve workplace communication. Forbes. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/12/19/how-empathic-and-active-listening-can-improve-workplace-communication/
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Preparing people for change. Guilford Press.