5 ways to parent with empathy instead of apathy
Yesterday we shared this post on our Facebook page. We love the idea of finding lots of different ways to be kind to your child, and some of them are so simple. One of these was to ‘listen for the feelings behind your child’s words’.
When this really matters is when your child is highly emotional, and particularly when they are stressed. It can be quite easy to dismiss children’s feelings at these times, and we’ve all probably given the “it’ll be fine”, “don’t worry, stop fussing” type responses. The thing with these responses is that they are apathetic; at best, they show a lack of interest, at worst they show a lack of feeling.
But there is another way – parenting with empathy. When you parent with empathy you succeed in connecting with your child as well as sharing their big feelings and helping them to process these. Now here’s the brain bit: when you help your child to put words to their feelings, you are supporting the development of corpus callosum - the part of the brain that plays a role in social intelligence. And when you help your child to reflect on difficult moments rather than just react to them, you are helping to develop the frontal lobe – the parts of the brain that are responsible for imagining, reasoning and problem solving. So ultimately, your child will not only become more resilient when faced with something difficult, but they will learn how to show this same empathy for others.
So, what is empathetic parenting all about? It’s about listening for the feelings behind your child’s words. It’s about not being apathetic.
Here are 5 ways to respond with empathy instead of apathy:
Apathetic: “Come on, you’re fine. It didn’t really hurt”
Empathetic: “Oh no, did you just fall over? I bet that hurt! Come here and show me, see if I can kiss it better”
Apathetic: “If she’s being mean to you then you should just play with someone else”
Empathetic: “You must have felt hurt and left out when she said that. Do you want to talk about it?”
Apathetic: “It’s only a little toy, it doesn’t matter if you can’t find it”
Empathetic: “I can see you’re upset about losing it, that was one of your favourite things to play with. Let’s have a good look for it together”
Apathetic: “It’s just a game, if you can’t take losing then you’ll have to play with something else”
Empathetic: “I know, it feels horrible when you lose a game, I don’t like it either. Let’s keep playing and see if we can practise coping with how it feels”
Apathetic: “It’s way past your bedtime, if you don’t go to bed right now you’ll go early for the rest of the week”
Empathetic: “I can tell you don’t want to go to bed right now, you still want to play, don’t you? I know, but it’s important for you to get enough sleep. I’ll come up with you and tuck you in”
It can sometimes feel like you're being permissive when you parent with empathy, like you're allowing your child to 'get away with it'. But the truth is that parenting with empathy allows you to connect with your child in a way that says: "I get it, I know it's hard, I have your best interests at heart." Most of all, it says: "I love you."