Children need to understand that we can genuinely relate to what they are feeling. This occurs if they feel unconditionally loved and supported by us. This does not mean that we are accepting and agreeing with their every behaviour. It simply means that we should acknowledge their feelings (even if inflated) before we can help them redirect their emotions.
It is all too easy to inadvertently undermine or dismiss our children’s feelings. Sometimes we think that we are trying to help them overcome a painful emotion or experience. But when a tearful child hears an adult say “There, there, don’t worry, everything will be fine” the child is more likely to feel disregarded.
What the child really needs is an acknowledgement of their feeling in the form of an empathic statement. This can be something as simple as “It must have been a shock to fall like that”, or “I can see you feel really hurt by it”. Once your child knows that you can appreciate their distress they will be more accepting of your suggestions as to how he or she can feel better.
Acknowledging someone’s feelings, particularly a child’s, tells them that it is OK for them to have that response. It also tells them they should be able to trust their feelings in the future too.
Here are a few empathic phrases that I have found to be helpful to use over and over again:
- “I know you’re feeling angry and a bit out of control. Some quiet time on the sofa might help you.”
- “You’re really upset about something, but it is not okay for you to yell at your brother. I’m here when you want to talk about it.”
- “All of those feelings can’t feel good. How can I help you right now?”
- “I can tell something is bothering you, but calling me names is not going to help. We’ll talk about solving the problem when you are calm.”
The Empathy Quotient is intended to measure how easily you pick up on other people’s feelings and how strongly you are affected by other people’s feelings
THE FOUR COMPONENTS OF EMPATHY
There are four main components of empathy. Keeping them in mind can help you show your child he’s loved for who he is. It lets him know that you see what he’s going through as more than just a problem to “fix.”
Putting your own feelings and reactions aside to see the situation through your child’s eyes.
Not jumping to and expressing conclusions about your child’s situation.
Tapping into your own experiences to find a way to get what your child is feeling or to remember a time when you felt the same way. (Be careful not to overdo it, however. Your child’s experiences are his own.)
Letting your child express himself without using “fix it” phrases like “what you need to do is….” Instead, try reflective phrases like, “It sounds like you…” or “I hear that you…. When you’re empathetic, it shows that you’re trying to get past your own feelings to understand his perspective. It shows him you’re practicing self-control. Watching you model that can help him manage his feelings more effectively, too.