He’s not giving you a hard time.
He’s having a hard time.
Empathy can change everything. A tiny shift in perspective that says my child isn’t trying to be difficult and get on my last nerve- he’s actually just having a hard time- will change how we respond to our kids.
As parents we feel a lot of responsibility to raise our kids well. We want them to mature and grow emotionally. We hope they won’t reach adulthood and still throw massive tantrums! We don’t want them to melt into a puddle of tears every time they get a little bump.
I am a pretty gentle person so when my kids cried or got hurt I would naturally try to comfort them. But I noticed my kids were more sensitive than other kids. Other kids might brush off a little bump, while mine were crying. Should I be tougher? Should I tell them it’s no big deal? Should I tell them not to cry?
Tried that. It made it worse.
And then I thought about how I would want to be treated. If I got hurt, would I want my husband to tell me it’s no big deal or suck it up? No. I would want empathy. I would want him to ask me if I’m okay, or to say that looks like that really hurt.
Granted it’s important not to overreact. We don’t want to make a bigger deal out of their bumps and bruises than we should. Kids play off of our reactions; if we look alarmed they might feel more concerned. If you have a toddler learning to walk and you freak out every time she falls this will shape her reaction to falling. If you smile at her and reassure her that she’s okay she will build her confidence. But when she really is in pain or upset you can comfort her.
The same goes for emotions. Kids feelings are raw and intense! They don’t know how to hold it together and their little brains are still working on logic and reasoning. Hunger and tiredness can also affect their moods, and, well, they affect mine too! If I’m exhausted I have way less patience with my kids than if I have a good night’s sleep. Having empathy for our kids’ emotions will help us to be patient and kind to them.
That doesn’t mean that you should give into their tantrums. Consistency is super important in parenting so you can keep to your rules and routines, but having understanding can help you to respond in love. Instead of just expecting your child to snap out of what he’s feeling, talk to him about how he feels. Express understanding and concern. It’s amazing how empathy can de-escalate a situation! When our kids feel heard and seen and loved they can calm down much faster than when they feel brushed aside. Whether it’s a physical injury or an emotional wound, these 10 phrases can really help you to deal with your child with empathy.
I know this is easier said than done. I’m certainly not a perfect parent and too often I react rather than respond in empathy. The thing is, we are human too! Sometimes our kids do get on our last nerve and we lose it. Have grace for yourself when that happens; don’t be afraid to tell your kids you are sorry if you mess up. Let them see how you process emotions too!